Just 15 minutes south of Crystal River is Homosassa Springs. Once a major tourist stop on the Florida railroad system, it’s now home to some of the most beautiful springs in the area, and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Refuge State Park! This was not really on our radar for our trip to Crystal River, but after a couple of locals recommended it, we decided to give it a try. We both said it was one of our favorite things we did! Here’s a quick guide so you can plan your trip here, too!
Are you headed there today? Here are the essentials up front:
- Hours: 9:00am-5:30pm (last admission 4:00pm), 365 days per year
- Admission: $13 for adults; $5 for children ages 6-12
- Food: There are food options both inside the visitor center as well as inside the park.
- Restrooms: Facilities are located in the visitor center as well as inside the park.
- Parking: There are multiple parking lots, as well as a trolley that will transport you from the farthest parking lot to the main entrance.
- Duration: Plan to spend about 2-2.5 hours here.
More here: The Best Tips for Traveling on a Budget
What to Bring With You
If you’re a planner like I am, you’ll want to be prepared! Here are a few things we’re glad we brought with us, and one we’re glad we didn’t:
- Water Bottle
- Bug Repellent
- Your Camera
- No food for the animals! There are places for humans to eat at the Visitor Center and inside the park.
Up your photography game: The Ultimate Photography Guide
Is this a Zoo?
Not really! It’s a refuge. The animals here are unable to live on their own in the wild, either because they were born in captivity, or they became too injured to be re-released into their natural habitats. They get to live in safety, and people get to see and study them so we can have a better understanding of their wild relatives.
What Animals Do They Have?
Here, you will only find species that are native to Florida, with one notable exception: Lu the Hippo! (More on him below!) Aside from Lu the Hippo, you’ll find manatees, snakes, tortoises, and even black bears! Four-legged friends include red foxes, deer, panthers, bobcats, and… Aligators! You can also see birds like American bald eagles, flamingoes, roseate spoonbills, vultures, and so many more. You can see all of the beautiful, native animals at your own pace on the park’s 1.1-mile pathway and boardwalk.
Keep reading: What to Know Before You Visit Crystal River
Lu the Hippopotamus
So… Why in the world is there a Hippopotamus in the Florida native-only wildlife refuge?! It’s an interesting story. Lu is an African Hippo who was born in 1960 at the San Diego Zoo. In 1964, he came to Homosassa Springs, and throughout his life, he starred in TV and movies! You may notice when you visit that he’s an excellent poser for photos, and he’s great at making eye contact! Pro tip: When Lu needs to do his business, be sure to stay out of the “Splatter Zone” of up to 20 feet!
When the exotic animal attraction where he lived was closed in 1989, hundreds of Floridians asked the governor to let Lu stay in Homosassa to live out his life. Because of the overwhelming effort, the governor made Lu an honorary Florida resident, and like so may retirees, he’s living his best life in Florida to this day.
While wild hippos can live to be 40-50 years old, hippos in a refuge like this can live past 50. Lu, however, is taking that a step further. When we visited in February 2022, he’d just turned 62!
Want more? Check out all my posts about Crystal River and the surrounding area on my dedicated United States Page!
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