Things to Do in Florida: Manatee Viewing Center

When people travel to Florida, one popular activity is trying to spot the local sea life, such as dolphins and manatees. Dolphins aren’t too hard to find. Stand on just about any pier or drive over nearly every bridge and chances are good you’ll spot one or two out in the water. Manatees, on the other hand, are much trickier to spot in the wild.

Manatees are endangered, so you’re working with a small population. It can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. However, manatees are mammals, so they need to stay in warm waters to keep their body temperature up. During the winter months, this means they tend to congregate in areas that typically have warm water. One such place is the Manatee Viewing Center at the Big Bend Power Station at Apollo Beach.

Manatee Viewing Center
Manatee Viewing Center

Here, water is taken from Tampa Bay to cool one of the power units. It’s then pumped back out into one of the canals, warm and clean. This area is now a designated manatee sanctuary and provides protection from the cold during the winter. When the waters of Tampa Bay get 68 degrees or colder, plenty of manatees retreat to this area.

Image via Flickr by USFWS/Southeast

After you’ve walked along the boardwalk and taken some time to watch the manatees roll and play, continue down the 900-foot tidal walk. This boardwalk leads you through the mangroves and out into the estuary where you can sometimes view birds, rays, and fish. Once you walk back, explore the butterfly gardens and head into the learning center to find out more about manatees and how they survive.

Finally, take a hike along the half-mile nature trail out to the 50-foot-high observation tower. Climb several flights of steps and take in the beautiful views of Tampa Bay. Along the way to the tower, you might spot several different species of wildlife including birds, raccoons, and turtles.

View from Observation Tower
View from Observation Tower

Things To Remember Before You Go:

  • Since manatees just need the warm water to survive during the winter, the Manatee Viewing Center is only open from November 1 through April 15.
  • The Manatee Viewing Center is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Easter).
  • The nature trail is open from 10 am to 4 pm every day, weather permitting (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Easter).
  • Parking and admission at the Manatee Viewing Center are both free.
  • Since manatees are endangered species, it is against the law to harass them in anyway. This includes touching them, feeding them, or riding them. Please look, but don’t touch when observing manatees.


Visit River Ventures



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