Day Trip| Let’s Go Swimming with the Manatees

leisure swim coverDuring the cold months in Florida, we are treated with the chance to experience the migration of West Indian Manatees into warmer waters.

Manatee signThere are only a few locations where you can view hundreds of gentle giants gathering to keep warm in our Florida Spring heads.  But there is only one place in the world where you can get in the water and swim along side them.

The Three Sisters Spring, located in Crystal River, Florida, is just under 1.5 hours from West Orlando offers the opportunity to get close and even touch these incredible sea cows.

Spring entryCrystal River Florida National Life Refuge is last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, the headwaters of the Crystal River.   The springs in the bay, with their constant 72 degree Fahrenheit water, provide essential warm water refuge for the manatees that congregate there in the winter months and is critical part for protection these of the West Indian Manatee.

above and below kayakHere is what you need to know directly from the Crystal River Florida National Life Refuge – ”  Crystal River NWR is mostly accessible to visitors by water only. Only the Three Sisters Springs property provides land access between November and March (shuttle service), but no access to water is provided to visitors at this site. The Refuge doesn’t offer any water access facilities for visitors. However, there are a few free City boat ramps and private ramps (fee) available that provide access to Refuge waters.”

board walk viewMy sister and her family visited the Spring via the shuttle service to the viewing boardwalk area.  They were able to see the hundreds of Manatees in the Spring head. The kids really enjoyed it. Notice in the background the swimmers & kayaks, that is where we enter the area.

paddleboardingFor my birthday adventure, we decided to loaded up our paddle-boards and kayaks for a quick family overnight trip. We wanted to be in the water first thing in the morning, since the Manatees will leave the Spring area as the tide moves out in search of food.

I would highly recommend the Best Western Crystal River – recently renovated, great price, fantastic breakfast, and best of all right on the bay. We launched right from the hotel and was less than a 10 minute paddle to 3 Sisters Spring.

Kayaking crystal riverHave your own vessel, there are a couple public parks and Pete’s Pier (small parking fee)  where can also put in or if you rent.

Manatee paddle

Manatee Paddle tours & rentals

Or consider taking a snorkeling or paddle tour. We needed to rent another paddle board and Manatee Paddle were the perfect resource. They offer paddling (kayak & board) tours.

Staying warmEven though the public is permitted to swim with the Manatees, there are rules to follow and the National Wildlife Refuge has volunteers in and on the water monitoring the visitor’s behavior.

Enjoy and be inspired by just a few moments my boys captured on their  Go-Pro cameras.

Lets Swim

gentle giant

diver hand manatee

A friendThis calf hung out with my daughter for around 30 minutes, as she sat on her paddleboard. I loved seeing her giggle and be amazed as he would rise to see her. Perfect birthday gift that I will treasure forever.

Manatee smileIn the water or from above, I would highly recommend heading over to Crystal River to experience this incredible mammals yourself.

Resources:

Florida Fish & Wildlife ,  Swim with the Manatees , Crystal River, Recent Orlando Sentinel Article

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