Single manatee

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lee County Manatee Park

Fort Myers

December through March, manatees flock up the Orange River to this warm-water discharge canal from the nearby power plant. The waterway is now a protected sanctuary, with a landscaped park and playground in addition to viewing platforms at water's edge, where manatees swim almost at arm's reach. Calusa Blueway Outfitters rents kayaks (kayaks/canoes from $15/20 per hour).

The park is signed off Hwy 80, about 6.5 miles from downtown Fort Myers, and 1.5 miles east of I-75.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Fort Myers attractions

1. IMAG History and Science Center

6.27 MILES

Exciting changes are afoot at this already fascinating science center, which will soon add interactive exhibits and even virtual reality, weaving in…

2. Edison & Ford Winter Estates

7.51 MILES

Florida's snowbirds can be easy to mock, but not this pair. Thomas Edison built his winter home in 1885 and lived in Florida seasonally until his death in…

3. Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

8.99 MILES

With more than 3500 acres of wetlands, this park is a great place to experience southwest Florida's flora and fauna. A 1.2-mile boardwalk trail is staffed…

4. Bowditch Point Park

19.7 MILES

At the island's northernmost tip, Bowditch is a favorite with families and picnickers. The small parking lot ($2 per hour) fills up fast, so come early…

5. Fort Myers Beach

19.94 MILES

Fort Myers Beach is long, long, long. The southern end is dominated by condos, with very little public access. The low-key middle has a large number of…

6. Lovers Key State Park

20.9 MILES

In the mood for a good hike, bike or kayak, with a chance to spot manatees in spring and summer? Come to Lovers Key, just south (and over a bridge) from…

7. Lighthouse Beach

22.11 MILES

The most photogenic of the beaches, Lighthouse Beach sports Sanibel's historic metal lighthouse (1884) on the eastern tip of the island. There's also a T…

8. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

24.46 MILES

The crown jewel in the National Audubon Society's sanctuary collection, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary provides an intimate exploration of six pristine…