These large marine herbivores frequent the waters of the Florida coast throughout the year but will retreat to the warmer waters of many natural springs as temperatures drop in the winter months. As the springs fill up with sometimes hundreds of manatees, it offers a chance to observe and be amazed by their size and gentle nature. Most natural springs restrict access to swimmers at the start of manatee season (mid-November until the end of March) so that manatees have a sanctuary away from humans in warmer waters. Crystal River, however, offers a chance to swim alongside these amazing animals year round.
Getting To Crystal River
Three Sisters Springs is located in the cute little waterfront town of Crystal River which is on the west coast of Florida, about two hours from Orlando. The boardwalk surrounding the natural spring offers picturesque views of the manatees from above and is always staffed with knowledgable volunteers. Be aware that there is no parking at the spring itself, but a trolley runs from in town and drops visitors off directly at the spring. The cost to enter the refuge is $15 during the winter months and $7.50 during the summer months.
Paddling On Crystal River
If you are looking for a little more adventure, consider getting in the water for some snorkeling. There are a handful of local companies that can take you out into Kings Bay, which is a part of Crystal River, to observe manatees from the boat or they will drop you off near Three Sisters Springs for some snorkeling in the crystal clear waters. I’ve personally never used a tour company to visit the spring so unfortunately, I can not give any advice. I instead launch my paddle board from Crystal River Kayak Company which is only a 10-minute paddle away from the spring. The staff is friendly and very knowledgeable; I can not say enough great things about this company! I also appreciate the fact that they have each person who rents a kayak watch a short video about manatee manners and the dos/
When To Visit Crystal River
As I’ve mentioned, the winter months are when the manatees return to the warmer water, therefore, making November through March the best time to see them at in Crystal River and Three Sisters Springs. If there are cooler nights during October you may get lucky and see a few if you arrive early enough in the morning. I’ve also found that cloudy days seem to offer the best visibility both in and out of the water. Manatees also seem to spend low tide times in the spring and then head out to the gulf as the day warms up and the tide rises. Be aware though that more manatees in the spring mean there’s more of a chance for them to be moving around and stirring up the water making it harder to see.
Respecting The Manatees Of Crystal River
As you spend time in the water remember to observe from a distance, do not touch the manatees and always stay at the surface while snorkeling. Always remember that you are in their space and you should remain respectful of that at all times. It is an amazing experience to be in the water with such giant, docile creatures. I personally believe that this type of encounter will push a person to care more about their daily impacts on their environment.
After Your Crystal River Adventure
After your adventure, you will most likely be starving so I suggest grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many local restaurants including a couple of my favorites Cracker’s Bar and Grill or Margarita Breeze. Both are situated right on the water and have large portions for a great price. Enjoy your time exploring one of my favorite areas!