Emily & Silent Partner
In our continuing series on places we’ve stayed in the Airstream, I am proud to introduce Manatee Springs State Park.
Florida’s state park system portal can be used for searching availability and making reservations here. This park is located near the bucolic town of Chiefland, which itself is roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive from Tampa and 1 hour from Gainesville. This park was extremely busy and we had one night where we thought we might wind up at Walmart due to overcrowding. This is also the first place I dented the Airstream. More on both issues later.
Amenities & Activities
Manatee Springs State Park has one entrance off of Manatee Springs Road a few miles west of Chiefland. The road is rural and offers a beautiful drive through quintessential Florida farmland. The entrance is closed at night and secured with a code supplied at check-in time, though at the time we stayed there the gate had been destroyed in a crash.
There are two campgrounds in this park, Hickory to the north and Magnolia to the south. The Hickory campground is the smallest one forming a rough circle around an old but well maintained bath house.
The Magnolia campground is split into an older set of sites on the west side called Magnolia 2 and a loop of newer and larger sites on the east side called Magnolia 1. Both Marnolias circle around their respective bath houses. Magnolia 1 far and away offered the newest and nicest bath house. Sadly none of the campgrounds offered laundry so we did our laundry at Market Place Laundry.
We had the pleasure of staying in all three loops and found they all sat deep in mixed softwoood/hardwood forest. As with the other Florida parks we stayed at, this kind of foliage uniformly interfered with satellite reception. Our sites varied between 50 and 30 Amp electric and all supplied city water but no sewer so we towed to the dump station once a week. There was also zero cell phone reception which turned into a headache for me and my work. All the sites we stayed at were on fine sand so again we spent plenty of time cleaning the Airstream.
Though the park was very busy, especially on the weekends, the traffic on the campground loops seemed light and the noise low. Traffic on the main road and the day use area was heavy. Nighttime was particularly special as this is when the deer, owls and armadillos came out to play. It was somewhat routine, though discouraged by the staff, for people to place corn cobs and other offerings to attract the critters. We refrained from this and simply enjoyed whatever visitors came our way. Armadillos are a hoot!
The primary reason we visited this park is, of course, the springs.
Manatee Springs is a first magnitude spring producing up to 100 million gallons of fresh water daily, which subsequently feeds into the Suwannee River. I learned to scuba dive with my dad here back in the 80’s though this time my partner and I only snorkeled there. The springs are warm but still required a 3mm wetsuit to stay comfortable. The water is positively teeming with life including turtles, fish and many kinds of aquatic plants and offered hours of wonderful diving.
Manatee Springs is so named not only for the springs, but for the manatees that can frequently be found here as the water from the springs offers a constant temperature around 72 °F (23 °C). We had the pleasure of diving while several manatees were visiting and watched them watch us. The are incredibly gentle and also surprisingly white!
Manatee Springs offers a wide range of other activities including scuba diving, kayaking, boating, hiking, bird watching and yes, mountain biking. While we were there I also managed to pick up a little liquid entertainment.
Manatee Springs offered superb mountain biking across miles of trails on the north end of the park. I made time to ride a couple hours a day constructing my own loops out of the Scenic Trail, Shacklefoot Trail, Clay Trail, Hornet Trail and a wide range of offshoots and connectors. The trails are very sandy but entirely enjoyable on a standard 29er/27.5 2.3″ tire.
I found the trails to be nearly deserted regardless of how busy the park itself was. This gave me deeply enjoyable quiet time swooping through the gently rolling forest, though I nearly had a heart attack coming upon a flock of wild turkeys. I also saw what I believe to be a rare Eastern Indigo Snake, but I could be wrong. On these rides I also saw black vultures and found evidence of, but never saw, wild pigs.
What Could Go Wrong
I’ve mentioned before, lots of thing go wrong RVing.
It was about this time I had to laugh or I would cry. It was also about this time I was beginning to realize we’d need to visit a dealer, too much stuff was breaking (and being broken by me).
I use a iOS application called Coverage to assess the suitability of a camp site before we book there, as my living depends on the internet. This application clearly shows Manatee Springs has terrible coverage but for one reason or another I convinced myself the booster would save us.
At best the booster got us 1x signal which was sufficient for voice but not data. There is a small concession near the springs that offers WiFi and I tried to work there a couple times but everyone else realized this too and by lunchtime the service was unusable.
Because of this I had to commute into Chiefland every day and squat at a Dunkin’ Donuts. I didn’t leech their WiFi though, I brought the MiFi. I also bought plenty of donuts and coffee to say thank you.
Why would a sewer cap snap? I don’t know.
Manatee Springs is when we began to realize our shower door was possessed. The glass was sliding out the bottom of the frame! More on that little gem in later posts.
My ‘Expert’ Parking Skills – And $3600 Later
There are two kinds of RV’ers – those that have accidents and those that lie about it. *Emily, 2016
We stayed at Manatee Springs State Park for two weeks but for one of those 14 days I simply could not find an open site. My partner and I routinely stay at Walmart while on the road and we decided one night at the Chieftan store would be just fine.
As luck would have it, though, on the Friday we were supposed to leave I was coming back from Dunkin’ and a very nice ranger at the entrance told me they’d had a cancellation. I raced over to the site and took a cursory look, decided it would be fine, then raced over to the concession with my laptop to make the reservation (because I couldn’t get cell phone coverage).
This is a super annoying feature of the Florida park system: The rangers can’t make reservations. I was stressed out by the crappy WiFi signal and struggled with the reservation system but ultimately snagged the site.
At this point I raced over to the trailer, hooked up and towed us over to the site. You can see where this is going. Going fast, rushing and not thinking with an RV does not go well.
It was at this point I began to realize this site was a little strange, owing to some peculiar wooden bumpers the park had clearly recently installed that limited my turning radius on the back-in. The site also had some poorly placed coral boulders that seem to have been there to convert the site from a pull-through into a back-in. They forced me into a strange angle.
Regardless of the reasons, I found myself in a very technical back-up scenario. I was going very very slow, and paying very careful attention to the nose of my truck. But not to the trailer. At a walking pace, or even slower, I jackknifed the trailer.
Though I wish now I had more pictures I just couldn’t bear to take any. I felt like an idiot. In the end I dented the driver side road segment and the rock guard. Total repair cost: $3600.
Airstream Build Quality
I’ve said many times before I love my Airstream. Still, the Airstream doesn’t always love me back. One of the more amazing problems with this model Airstream is the vents in the ceiling have a habit of dropping out at strange times…. like the middle of the night… and falling on you.
Manatee Springs State Park has ‘it’. Oh yes it does. Manatees, clear water, swimming, darn good hot dogs at the concession, miles of biking and unbelievable wildlife. We deeply enjoyed our stay here and often talk of returning. Should you find yourself in the area I highly recommend you stay a while, enjoy the critters and explore the trails!