Everyone thinks of Crystal River as a mecca for Manatee-watching or swimming with the manatees. Manatees do FLOCK to Crystal River in the winter months when Gulf water temperature becomes too chilly for them so they head to the Springs where the water is a constant 72 degrees. In the summer, spotting a Manatee in the Springs is rare, but with the sparkling springs and pontoon parties that abound in the headwaters of the Crystal River, there are PLENTY more things to see, swim and snorkel. Here is our list of the Top 4 Boating “Things to do” in Crystal River for you to enjoy this summer.
1) Get on a Boat, Kayak, Canoe or Paddle Board
Of course, we think boating is the best way to see the REAL Florida, and the waters of Crystal River show off Florida at her finest. You can either bring your own boat and put in at the Port Hotel’s boat ramp (free for guests, $10 fee for non-guests) or you can also rent a pontoon boat from them at Port Hotel’s Marina Dive Shop. It’s a short distance to the springs, so the Kings Bay area is very popular for kayaking and paddle boarding. Whatever vessel you choose, don’t forget to watch the “Manatee Manners” video before you launch, and remember that all waters around the springs area are “no wake.”
2) Snorkel “Three Sisters” Springs
During the winter months (November 15 – March 31), the springs are closed to human visitors because it is a designated manatee sanctuary, so during the summer, when the Manatees move out to the Gulf, the Springs are open so humans can enjoy their pristine beauty. Concrete posts outside the springs area prevent boats from coming into the Three Sisters Springs, only swimmers, kayakers and canoes may enter. Boats can tie up outside the entrance and visitors can swim in. Make sure to bring your snorkeling gear and a noodle to float on. The springs area is around 6 feet deep, so unless you are tall, you will probably need a float or noodle to rest upon. Once you swim to the back “pool” where the three springs are located, you can enjoy the crystal-clear water, vents, sand boils, and three springs (two smaller and one larger, called the “Big Sister.”)
3) Picnic or Dock Your Boat at a Boat-Up Restaurant
A great swimming and picnic area is Hunter Spring Park. It’s located just around the bend from the Three Sisters Springs. It’s a popular swimming and picnicking area, so don’t be surprised if it is crowded, especially on the weekend. Drop an anchor and join the party! If you want to dine out, try Crackers, a fun waterfront restaurant with a tiki bar and plenty of fried Florida fish dishes to quell your seafood cravings.
4) Pontoon Party or Go Scalloping!
Plenty of pontooners anchor on the west side of the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge, just North of the Port hotel (as seen in the photo above.) This is the perfect place to hang out in knee-deep water for a relaxing afternoon. If you are up for a little more action, head out to the Gulf to go scalloping – a treasure hunt where the treasure sure is tasty at dinnertime!