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Swim with the manatees at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge


· 2 min read

Just an hour and a half away from Orlando, Crystal River is a hidden gem and quiet sanctuary away from all the energy and activity of the city. Known for its crystal-clear springs, lush landscapes, and diverse wildlife, this park provides an unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts, families, and adventure seekers alike.

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Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Wildlife Refuge dedicated to the protection of the Florida manatee

Established in 1983, Crystal River is the only national wildlife refuge in the United States specifically created to protect habitats for the Florida manatee.

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Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge comprises over 70 springs and 20 islands in and around Kings Bay. These include the Three Sisters Springs, the last spring habitat in the Kings Bay that has yet to be developed. Also included is the King Spring, a sanctuary that provides a habitat for over 600 manatees that migrate to Kings Bay each winter.

As a wildlife refuge dedicated to the protection of manatees, it is no surprise that many visitors to the Crystal River are headed there for these marine mammals.

Can you visit the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge?

Yes, you can!

When visiting Crystal River, you will most likely be visiting the Three Sisters Springs. While the Three Sisters Springs property provides a shuttle service, the shuttle service does not include access to the waters.

The refuge does not provide any water-access facilities. So, for a proper visit to the refuge, you might have to look out for boat ramps that provide access to the waters, rent your own vessel, or join a guided tour.

Of the various options, a guided tour is probably the most convenient option for a planned visit to the refuge. While the wildlife refuge does not provide any official guided tours, there is a number of tour operators that offer guided tours to the Three Sisters Springs.

Source: Viator

Depending on your preferences on how you might like to see the manatees, here are some tours that you can consider:

When is the best time to see manatees?

The manatee season is usually in winter. It typically starts from mid-November to late March, where the manatees migrate to the springs of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

What can I do with the manatees?

There are several ways that you can enjoy the refuge and the manatees.

You can kayak or rent a SUP at the Three Sisters Springs, or if you prefer, you can snorkel and swim with the manatees!

Source: Viator

You can also simply observe the manatees from above the water surface. The most popular viewing point is from the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk.

But, while you are enjoying yourself, passive observation is encouraged. Be mindful not to disturb the manatees. Don't chase or run after them, and definitely do not ride or stand on these animals. Feeding is also strictly prohibited.

Be respectful to the environment and surroundings.

What else can I do at Crystal River?

While the manatees are definitely the main attractions at the wildlife refuge, there are also other things that you can do!

These include water activities like snorkelling and paddling; and in the off-season from April to early November, scuba diving is also allowed.

Source: Three Sisters Springs

In addition to the manatees, Three Sisters Springs is also home to a variety of other wildlife. Bring your binoculars along and look out for the different species of birds!

There are a number of trails that you can explore at Three Sisters Springs, each of the trails very manageable and below 1km in distance.