A Guide to Observing Manatees in Three Sisters Springs

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If you’re planning a winter trip to Florida, you won’t want to miss out on seeing 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 to Find The Manatees

The city of Crystal River is situated around Kings Bay, which is the headwaters of the Crystal River. Thirty springs in the bay provide a consistent water temperature of about 70-72 degrees, making the area ideal for manatees. During the colder months of December to February, these gentle giants significantly increase in population and can be frequently spotted in the bay.

Fun Facts About the Manatees

Did you know that manatees, those gentle giants of the sea, need a little bit of both salt and fresh water to keep their bodies balanced and happy? They’re like us, always looking for that perfect balance! They’re not fans of cold water, preferring to chill in temps above 68 degrees, and snooze under the sea for half the day. They follow a completely plant-based diet, just like land cows, and they are as peaceful as possible. The ladies are bigger, tipping the scales at up to 2000 pounds, and females give birth year-round so you may see a little manatee calf, who may be swimming around in these springs!

Key Takeaways from the Manatee Experience

Here are some important things to keep in mind if you plan on experiencing manatees in their natural habitat:

  1. According to federal law, there should be no interaction between the land and the water. Visitors arriving by water must leave by water while those arriving by land cannot enter the water at any time.
  2. The high tide is the best time to view manatees in the springs.
  3. It is important to note that manatees are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and visitors must adhere to federal laws at all times.
  4. The City of Crystal River’s website states that it is the only place in the United States where people can legally interact with manatees in their natural conditions without any legal repercussions.

Access By Land: Exploring the Three Sisters Spring Boardwalk and Crystal River Wildlife

The Three Sisters Springs Center is responsible for managing land access to Three Sisters Springs which is a unit of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. We provide a range of access options including shuttle service, walk-in, and bicycle-in options. This is the only spring in Kings Bay that is accessible by land. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge manages the 57-acre refuge, which includes wetlands, Lake Crystal, Magnolia Spring, and Three Sisters Spring.

To park, gain admission, and access shuttle services to the refuge, visitors should head over to the Three Sisters Springs Center. The address is 917 Three Sisters Springs Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429.

Parking at the boardwalk is restricted to a limited number of spaces designated for handicapped individuals only.

Additionally, the refuge boasts a boardwalk with multiple viewing platforms for watching manatees, as well as hiking trails that lead down to Magnolia Spring, where the manatees rest and eat. You may also speak with interpreters for more information on the sea creatures, and witness other local wildlife and birds.

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
Magnolia Spring with feeding and sleeping manatees

There is a picnic pavilion to bring along a packed lunch and take a short break.

Public restrooms are also available.

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.

Three Sisters Spring, January 2023

Access By Water: An Alternative Way of Accessing the Springs

The springs are also accessible by water. Many companies in the area offer boat tours, kayak rentals, and opportunities for snorkeling and swimming with the manatees. Prices and launch locations vary by company.

Kayakers and boaters near the entrance of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River.
Kayakers and boaters near the entrance of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River.


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

After receiving some positive feedback, I’m contemplating experiencing it for myself next year.

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

#manatees #floridawildlife #crystalriver

Posted by Joanna at vacationorlando.rentals

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