Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River

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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. Swimming with manatees in Crystal River is the best option if you want to get up close and personal with these gentle giants.

The crystal clear water of Three Sisters Spring.
It’s easy to see while snorkeling in the crystal clear water of the Three Sisters Spring.

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.

A clear shot while swimming with manatees in Crystal River.
A curious manatee comes in for a closer look in Crystal River.

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.

Where to Launch for Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River

I instead launch my paddleboard 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/dont’s of being in the water with them.

Kayak Prices for Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River

It is only $6 to launch your own personal kayak and rental prices for 2 hours range from $25 for a single or $35 for a double kayak. They also rent out snorkeling equipment as well as wetsuits which I highly recommend if you are entering Crystal River in the winter months.

The paddle towards the Three Sisters Spring for a swimming with manatees in Crystal River experience.
The 10 minute paddle from the closest launch to Three Sister’s Spring.

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.

Conditions for Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River

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.

A very clear shot while swimming with manatees in Crystal River.
The clearest water to view manatees is just outside the Three Sister’s Spring of Crystal River.

Respecting the Wildlife while Swimming with Manatees in 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.

A snorkeler swims in the crystal clear water of a Florida spring.
Swimming through the crystal clear water of the Three Sister’s Spring.

After Your Swimming with Manatees in 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!

For other great Florida spring adventures, be sure to check out my other posts Paddling Weeki Wachee and my 5 Favorite Natural Springs Near Orlando.

4 thoughts on “Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River”

  1. I’ve been looking into doing this for some time now and so was especially excited to read your post! I knew I wanted to experience it, but none of the specifics and it’s been surprisingly difficult to find information on this. Thank you for all of the information that you have included – I look forward to using it as a resource for our next vacation! (Also, thanks for suggestions for places to eat afterward.) And, good call on respecting the safety of the manatees. I wasn’t sure if it was like dolphins who come right up to you, and now i know!

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