Most people who visit Wakulla Springs go for the gators. Still others want to check out where Johnny Weissmuller swung through the “jungle” as Tarzan in the 1930s and 40s or the dark, swampy thicket where the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” was said to lurk. Above all, travelers come to see the pristine tangled wilderness that is becoming rarer to find as Florida develops.
This is Wakulla Springs State Park, one of the most popular day trips from Tallahassee, Florida’s capital. A three-mile pontoon trip down the Wakulla River is the park’s biggest draw, giving visitors the chance to spot wildlife and plug into nature for the 45-minute ride.
On a sunny day, alligators can be spotted lazing on the banks of the Wakulla River or grimacing among the reeds and cypress knees along the shoreline. If they’re out, alligators make for splendid photography subjects, unlike the myriad fowl – great blue herons, white ibis, anhingas – which fly off right as you get them in your camera cross-hairs, or the manatees, which swim slowly just below the water line, never surfacing for their close-up. The park claims that between 20 to 30 manatees can be spotted swimming in the springs and river each day. I was satisfied to have seen a herd of about seven sea cows (another name for manatees) when I visited the park in December. There are only about 4,500 of these aquatic mammals left in the world and the estuaries and backwoods springs of Florida are one of the premier places to see them, especially in winter.
Wakulla Springs doesn’t have to be a day trip. On site is the grand Wakulla Springs Lodge, built in 1937 by Edward Ball, the financier and conservationist who owned this stretch of north Florida from 1934 until the mid-1960s when he sold it to the state of Florida for the establishment of a state park. The 27-room, Mediterranean-revival-style lodge is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and the surrounding park is a National Natural Landmark.
Image by wilsonb/Flickr