The springs may draw the crowds. But there are plenty of places in Southwest Florida where manatees can be spotted as well.
On Sanibel Island, walk or bike the extensive network of trails, roads, and boardwalks that explores the 6,400- acre J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge ( 239- 472- 1100, fws. gov/ dingdarling). You will find excellent observation decks where you can search for manatees along Tarpon Bay, Pine Island Sound, and the many channels and waterways found throughout the preserve.
Large numbers of manatees can be found at Manatee Park ( 239- 690- 5030, leeparks. org) in Fort Myers between November and March, congregating in the warm water generated by a nearby power plant. The park offers interpretive programs throughout the year and keeps up an excellent Web site that details current manatee sightings and water conditions.
If you’re lucky, you could spy a manatee while plying the Caloosahatchee River in a canoe or kayak. This scenic river passes Cape Coral and Fort Myers on its way to San Carlos Bay. You might also catch a glimpse of a manatee in the Gulf of Mexico, whether you’re sunning on the sand or at the helm of a boat.