Photo Credit: Flickr
If you want to see Manatees in Florida, Crystal River is the place to go. On Florida’s west coast this small town is home to hundreds of manatees in the winter months. These graceful creatures make their way inland through Kings Bay, up the many canal systems and huddle around a number of hot springs in the area.
As you can imagine, we were excited to get out on the boards and go searching for manatees. There was only one problem. We went on March 20, 2015 aka the first day of Spring and the hottest day we’ve seen since arriving in Florida. The warmer waters meant that the manatees no longer needed the warmth of the hot springs. We’d really have to search for them if we wanted to spot one!
We rented out standup paddle boards from Manatee Paddle. Our 4 hour rental gave us plenty of time to explore the bay and the canals in hopes of seeing a manatee. Once down by the water we strapped our picnic supplies and snorkel gear to the board, hastily applied sunscreen and began our adventure.
Within 5 minutes we spotted a group of snorkelers all in a circle beside their tour boat. We knew that meant there was a manatee there!! We watched for a few minutes in hopes the snorkelers would abandon their find. We were told by the rental company that if you paddle up to a group of snorkelers, you’re likely to get yelled at by the tour guide for infringing upon “their” manatee. How rude, right! No luck for us as a second tour boat got in line to wait its turn. We paddled on.
Paddling through the canals we admired the beautiful homes with private docks, the peaceful atmosphere mixed with bird calls and jumping fish were a delight to paddle through.
We found the famed Three Sisters Springs, a tiny shallow crystal clear inlet with three hot springs. The place where manatees gather in the colder winter months. No boats, kayaks or SUP boards were allowed inside during this time of year. We tied up our boards as we watched the group beside us squirm and gasp for air as they tried to wade their way into the water, “We’re Canadians” they said to each other, implying that in Canada the water is much colder. I smiled to myself thinking, I’m Canadian too…I got this..and jumped into the water, expecting a bath like temperature. Much to my displeasure, I too gasped for air as the warm water felt like ice against my sunburned skin.
As we half swam half walked into the inlet, we began to see how beautiful the overgrown trees looked as they hung over the sparkling waters. We failed at taking pictures of this part of the trip, unfortunately. Once we got into the springs we found there were no manatees, just a lot of people also wading around aimlessly. The area is surrounded by a wooden walkway, which made us feel like the main attraction at a petting zoo as onlookers gazed at the humans wading through the water.
Photo Credit: here
We hoped to see manatees on our adventure, but we only caught a glimpse of a couple of surfacing manatees with snorkelers surrounding them. If we’re ever in Florida in December, we will put on some wetsuits and re-do this adventure in a heartbeat. The paddling was fantastic. The canal systems are beautiful and with very little wind the paddling is a joy. The open bay is a lot more windy, but there is so much to see. Sail boats, kayaks, extremely slow moving speed boats and other SUP boarders are all out enjoying the day. There is a pub and an ice cream shop at the north end of the bay which we didn’t have a chance to stop at, but will next time!
We would highly recommend visiting Crystal River between November and March for your best opportunity to see and swim with the manatees. We thoroughly enjoyed our rental boards from Manatee Paddle, the team was excellent. They gave us a map, told us where the best opportunities to see the manatees were as well as delivered and picked up our boards at the waterfront. We were given two $10 off coupons for Amy’s Bistro (across the street) with our Friday morning, 4 hour rental. The food we enjoyed at Amy’s after our sun scorched day was fantastic! You must try their cookies!