Steffee Landing Paddling Center on Shingle Creek

Steffee Landing Paddling Center on Shingle Creek
Recently, we had some time on our hands so we visited the Steffee Landing Paddling Center located on Shingle River.
Steffee Landing Paddling Center on Shingle Creek
They rent kayaks for a reasonable fee and were more than happy to give us instructions. The first pleasant surprise was that getting into a two-person kayak was easy and safe. It turns out that they very stable, even more so than canoes. Paddling is very easy, particularly if you ever used a canoe. Within minutes, we were enjoying a paddle down the river towards a Cypress Forest. We chose this direction because we wanted to see the forest, but we also could have gone upriver as well.
For a couple of hours, we were very relaxed and in harmony with the Florida wildlife. During that time, we saw osprey fishing, as well as turtles, sunbathing and swimming.
Also, we saw fish in the clear water, some over a foot long and not very afraid of the boat. There are also hiking and biking trails at the same landing as well as at other landings on the creek. Fortunately, for us, it was a slightly cool and overcast day. Between the weather and the shade of the trees, we were not sunburned or overheated from the paddling. Still, we would suggest you bring drinking water and suntan lotion with you. You might even want to pack a snack to eat on the way.
We paddled by other kayakers going in the opposite direction and shared our sightings with each other. At the furthest point from the landing, we were in the heart of a Cypress forest and the open waterway was becoming very narrow.
At that point, we opted to turn around and slowly head back. I must admit that Kayaking on Shingle Creek is an experience to savor while slowly cruising along and observing Florida’s nature at its finest.
As an interesting side note, the Steffee Landing is located just off the very busy highway US 192. You would never expect to find the very tranquil world there waiting for you to enjoy. All in all, it was an afternoon of pleasant surprises around each and every turn in the river.


Steffee Landing Paddling Center on Shingle Creek

Discovering Florida’s Manatees

Discovering Florida’s Manatees

Discovering Florida's Manatees

Discovering Florida’s Manatees

Your winter trip to Florida will be more exciting if you take the time to experience the manatees in their natural habitat. These gentle giants are fascinating to watch and you may learn something about them along the way. We were happy to learn about Crystal River and how to find the manatees.

Where Do I Find Them?

Crystal River is located along the gulf coast about 90 miles from Orlando. The city is situated around Kings Bay.  Kings Bay is the headwater to the Crystal River. There are about 30 known springs in the bay.   These springs provide a consistent water temp of about 70-72 degrees, making the area ideal for the manatee. Manatees can be found year round in the bay. However, the population rises dramatically during the cold, winter months of  December-February.

A cow and her calf escaping the cold by swimming in the spring at Three Sisters Springs
A cow and her calf escaping the cold by swimming in the spring at Three Sisters Springs

About the Manatees

The manatees found in Florida are of the West Indian Species. Manatees are generally salt water animals. However, recent studies have shown that manatees need to have access to fresh water. This helps them to regulate the salts within their bodies.

Manatees, cannot survive in water temps below 68 degrees. They like to spend as much as 50% of their day submerged sleeping, rising about every 20 minutes for air.

Manatees are herbivores and are plant eaters, sometimes known a Sea Cows.  When eating they resemble cows grazing on land.  They are peaceful in nature.

Female manatees generally tend to be heavier than their male counterparts. They can weigh as much as 2000 lbs.

Calves can come to the surface on their own for their first breath.  Gestation is 12 months and weaning is usually complete in 12-18 months.

What We Learned

  1. First of all, you must decide if you want to see them by water or by land. Federal law requires there is no interaction between the land and the water. Meaning if you arrive by water (kayak or snorkeling tour boat) you must leave by water. You cannot go onto land at any time. If you go by land you cannot enter the water at any time.

2. The Endangered Species Act provides protection for the manatees.  You must follow the federal laws at all times.

 Some of these include:

You cannot initiate any interaction with the manatees. Look but do not touch!

You cannot access certain areas.

Avoid excessive noise around the manatees.


  1. According to The City of Crystal River’s website, Crystal river is “ is the only place in the United States where people can legally interact with them in their natural conditions without that interaction being viewed as harassment by law enforcement agencies. ”  Follow the instructions of the manatee volunteers and local/federal officials. They are looking out for the best interest of the manatees.
Kayakers and boaters near the entrance of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River.
Kayakers and boaters near the entrance of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River.

Access By Water


Kayak rentals are very popular in Crystal River. There are several businesses in Crystal River who rent them. Prices and launch locations vary by company.

Snorkeling in Three Sisters Spring, Crystal River
Snorkelers are enjoying themselves with the manatees in Three Sisters Springs, Cyrstal River.


Crystal River is the only place in the US where you can snorkel with the manatees. Several businesses offer tours. Most provide wetsuits, snorkels, and a training session. depending on the business, full or half-day tours are available.

I have been told this is quite the experience and I may consider this next year.

Here is a YouTube video of one family’s experience.


Access By Land

The only spring in Kings Bay that is accessible by land is the Three Sisters Springs with the  Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge managing the area.  We chose the land entry and our experience with the manatees was incredible. The boardwalk provided us ample to time walk the springs and view the manatees.  Grassy trails also took us to other areas to view manatees in the canals.  The only entry into the refuge is by trolley. To purchase tickets for the trolly, click here.

It was a perfect break for us from the theme parks and we learned a lot from the manatee volunteers about these gentle sea creatures.

#mantees #floridawildlife #crystalriver

Posted by Joanna at

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Alligators… Love At First Sight

For me it was Alligators Love At First Sight.

By Guest Blogger Dave


For me it was Alligators Love At First Sight. When we first visited Florida I must admit that one of the highlights I was looking forward to was seeing a real live American Alligator in its natural habitat.

I have always enjoyed nature and for me the alligator just seemed to scream nature at its wildest.  I was not disappointed, although where I first saw them was a surprise.  At one of the parking lots for the amusement parks I noticed some small drainage canals and wondered over to look and to my surprise found alligators.  Small ones, a few feet long, but none the less, alligators, one of which is pictured below.  For me it was love at first site and I continue to look for them every time we go back to Florida.

small gator MK


Where To Look For Alligators

When you visit Florida keep your eyes open around rivers, ponds and swamps and you will also most likely see one of the largest reptiles in North America, the American Alligator.  The alligator was first named by the early Spanish explorers and was called el lagarto, which meant “the lizard”.  Over time it was slowly changed to just alligator.

There are about 1.25 million of them in Florida today.  It was not always that way and hunting almost drove them to extinction.  In 1967 the American Alligator was designated as an endangered species meaning hunting was outlawed.  They bounced back in a big way, and by 1987 the Wildlife Service decided the American alligator was fully recovered and removed it from the endangered species.  It was also named the official Florida reptile in 1987.

If you don’t see one, you are not alone.  Sometimes I can go days without seeing even a tiny one and then all of a sudden I will come across one in a small pond in the middle of a very populated area.




Don’t Feed The Alligators

The last time I was in Orlando I visited the town of Celebration, an upscale community with a nice little pond in the middle and there was one, about four foot long, right up against some stone steps that lead to an outside eating area.  Normally they will shy away from people, particularly at this size, but this one did not seem to be bothered.

I would guess that some people have been throwing it food scraps when they are eating.  This is not only dangerous, but illegal in all of Florida.  The reason it is dangerous is because it teaches them there is food when people are around, and the next time someone gets too close with a little puppy or infant it will not know the difference between them and food.

Larger alligators do not shy from people and in fact look at us as potential food.  The average size of these large ones is about thirteen feet, but there are exceptions, and the largest ever caught, was just over nineteen feet.  As you can imagine, although I love to see them, when I walk near bodies of water, I keep my distance from the actual water whether there is a danger sign or not.

They can be hard to spot being black and looking a lot like a floating log.  By the way don’t lean too far off of a dock either when you see one.  The average adult alligator can leap up to six feet out of the water.


For me it was Alligators Love At First Sight.


Beware If You Drag The Wife Along

Still, I love to look for them and take pictures when I can. My favorite is above, and the alligator looks just as mysterious as I feel they are.  This particular picture did cost me a little grief; actually my wife got the worst of it.  I knew where to find this alligator as I had been to the pond before.

While there I had noticed that there were quite a few anthills, but did not worry about them because I could see them and after all what is a few ants.  Well, as it turns out not all the anthills were that visible in the deep grass, and these ants were more than the usual ones I knew of from living in Massachusetts.

These were Fire Ants, which I found out after dragging my wife to come see the alligator with me.  She had on flip-flops and happened to stand near a small nest of the ants while I was taking the picture.  Well…  do I need to say more?





The fact that alligators have survived for millions of years in basically the same form amazes me.  Clearly they are survivors and the only other animal dangerous enough to almost drive them to extinction is humans.

How have you encountered alligators in Florida?  Please comment below.

Picture of a leaping alligator is from Gatorland, which I dragged my family to. Gatorland is worth visiting if you want to see alligators. They have small ones, big ones, huge ones and even white ones.
Picture of a leaping alligator is from Gatorland, which I dragged my family to. Gatorland is worth visiting if you want to see alligators. They have small ones, big ones, huge ones and even white ones.


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