Manatee Excursion in Crystal River
I have always been fascinated by creatures that make their home in the water - schools of fish, dolphins, urchins, you name it. I’m always curious to get a closer look. I tend to get a bit giddy. So when we found out Russ’ sister, Annette & hubby Mike where going to be staying in Homosassa Springs in the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast, we were certain we were going to pay them a visit. The Crystal River is a very short river which flows between Kings Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is well-known for it’s 30 natural springs which add millions of gallons of warm water to the river every single day. The warm water attracts large numbers of manatees to this area in the cold winter months.
Kayaking this area was without a doubt on our bucket list! So while we were staying with our good friend’s Jay & Karen in Palm Harbor, we all took one day to head just over an hour North to Crystal River. The morning of, we realized we were without our kayak paddles and swimsuits - ugh, seriously?? They were safely tucked away in The Big Tow’er which was in the shop getting some TLC. Without a suit, I was a bit bummed that morning realizing I wouldn’t be able to swim with the manatees. When Russ pulled the car into a Walmart parking lot, we were a bit confused. Why was he stopping here? He nudged Karen and I out of the car and gave us a 12-minute window to find a bathing suit. What girl can find a swimsuit in 12-minutes? THIS GIRL! Thanks Karen for helping me grab up half a dozen suits to try on in a panicked state. Our second problem was solved when the kayak rental place was able to give us a set of paddles to use. Crises adverted! (No, I didn't have to google the “plural of crisis”). Okay, yes I did!
The four of us met up with the other four in our party (Annette, Mike, Jason (nephew), & Christine (Marry that girl already, Jason!). After some paperwork and safety videos, we were all aboard our kayaks and starting our paddle toward Three Sisters Spring. The waterway featured natural lush vegetation in vividly clear waters. We spotted many birds, turtles, and fish as we paddled through the mangroves. After about a 10-minute paddle, we arrived at Three Sisters Spring which is a popular spot for manatees. While the winter weather cools the Gulf of Mexico, the springs stay at a constant 72 degrees all year round. Near the entrance to the Three Sisters Spring, there was a roped-off area that was considered a manatee resting area. It was here that we excitingly spotted our first of many manatees. We kayaked along the roped off area and before we knew it there was a large gray creature swimming directly under us - magical for someone who gets giddy about sea creatures. It was here that I made my declaration that I was getting in to get a closer view of these gentle giants. See you can’t kayak into the Springs in the winter, but there is an area to tie up kayaks if you want to swim in. As I was the only one in the group who decided to venture into the Spring, Russ dropped me off where I suited up with my wet suit, mask, and snorkel. Don’t worry, no pictures were taken of this as it might induce nightmares! Lucky you!
The water was a bit chilly, but not nearly as bad as I had prepared myself for. I usually think anything below 102 degrees is too cold for me. Guess it was my adrenaline at work. After a quick wave goodbye to the paddlers in our group as they continued on, I followed a small group of swimmers into the spring. While the area was not very deep, they asked for you to swim, rather than walk to eliminate sand being stirred up which would ruin the clarity of the water. The current was pushing out of the Spring so swimming in took quite a bit of work, especially when trying to not kick your feet. Once in the main area of the Spring, I spent a lot of time just floating and observing. I came across another manatee resting area where there were about a dozen manatees resting on the bottom. Occasionally the manatees would move around or come up for a breath of fresh air. It was incredible being so close to these magnificent creatures. I just might have squealed when I spotted a baby manatee or to be political correct, a manatee calf.
While I could have floated face down watching these creatures for the rest of the day, I ventured back into the river to meet up withmy ride. I waited along the side for Russ and felt a bit like a hitch-hiker looking for a way back to the car. I hopped (okay, flopped) back into our kayak and we started the return trip to where we had launched. I was able to hear from the group about the numerous manatees and other creatures they had spotted during their paddle toward Kings Bay. So whether you feel like getting wet or not, as long as the temperatures are in your favor you will more than likely see quite a few manatees.
While this experience was really, really cool it isn’t as serene as you might imagine. At just about every point, we were surrounded by other kayakers, snorkelers, and tourists boats. We were just as thrilled to see the manatees as we expected, but if you choose to do this, expect to be around lots of people. Crystal River proves to be a popular place to visit for both manatees and people alike!
I did discover I am quite a bit more like a manatee than I realized:
- I seek out places were warm water abounds.
- I share the nickname of “Sea Cow” when my attire consists of a wet suit.
- I enjoy a good nap especially when sand in water are close by.
- I am typically pretty slow, but can move fast in short bursts!
Overall, what a sight to see! It was a wonderful, January day spending time with friends we love - thanks for the fun times! We were all so mesmerized by these calm creatures. While we might have checked this off our Bucket List, that doesn’t mean we won’t be back to adventure in the area some more!