The end of November brings a chill to the air in the colorful coastal town of Crystal River, Florida, and with it the arrival of manatees. Tucked in along Kings Bay off the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River prevails as an ecotourist’s dream. Home to the largest manatee migration in the world, the allure of these gentle giants compelled our team to visit this sanctuary on Florida’s Nature Coast.
Composed of over 70 natural springs, keeping Kings Bay at a cozy, constant 72 degrees, Crystal River boasts the ideal climate for manatees fleeing the dropping temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico. With nearly 500 manatees migrating to Crystal River each winter, it has become the most significant natural winter refuge for manatees in the world.
Of the numerous springs in Kings Bay, Three Sisters Spring remains, by far, the most beautiful and sought after by both locals and traveling adventurists. And so, became the prime target of adventure.
Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs
Under the guidance, of Hunter Spring Kayaks, we launched kayaks from Hunter Springs Park. A short walk from picking up our gear, we stepped off the smooth white sandbar and into the calm, chilly waters. Although the waters of Central Florida can be frigid this time of year, the brisk paddle through the bay quickly jumpstarts both your excitement and heart rate as you guide towards Three Sisters Springs. This 30-minute paddle through Kings Bay allows plenty of time to appreciate some of the smaller springs before entering the mouth of Three Sisters.
After docking our kayaks, we slipped into the cold, turquoise spring. The waters gradually shift from verdant emerald green, overhung with spindly trees adorned with Spanish moss, to placid Caribbean blues surrounded by sprays of palmettos and palms. Drifting along in silence, disturbed only by a brisk breeze, we anxiously anticipated ing a manatee.
Fortunately, our visit to Three Sisters coincided with a cold front moving into the gulf, drastically increasing the manatee population inhabiting the cove. Several inquisitive, algea-covered manatees welcomed us to the spring while many others swam in during our exploration.
Slow moving and docile by nature, manatees appreciate a calm and passive presence. Approach with calmness and passive observation for your best chance at an up-close manatee encounter.
A swim in Three Sisters Springs transports you to a time of untampered beauty and serenity. One can’t help but marvel at some of natures most charming creatures.
Despite their rotund physiques and topping out at over 1,000 pounds, manatees only have 5% body fat. This leanness, in part, plays a role in why these mammals can’t tolerate water temperatures below 68 degrees. Their need for warmer waters them to migrate from the gulf into the Crystal River area each year.
Manatee season ranges from late November to end of March, but if you can’t travel during this season don’t cross this off your bucket list just yet! Approximately fifty manatees live in Kings Bay year-round, which means you can snag a swim with them of the year! But if you want to see the migration of over 500 manatees to the area, be sure to pick your travel days during prime migration.
Crystal River is the only place in the United States where it is legal to swim with manatees in the wild, and the locals know what a good thing they have. When you visit Crystal River there is an admirable tone of conservation and preservation of this natural gift.
The state of Florida and local water authorities have put great effort into policies that will keep this haven in place for centuries to come. You will find you can’t visit and delve into its natural splendor without picking up that tone; it leaves you better than when you arrived.