Wesley Chapel, Florida (high 82, low 62)
We have been wanting to do some kayaking, and yesterday was the day. We wanted to paddle on one of the crystal clear rivers in the area, and we chose to go to Crystal River, Florida.
We were hoping now too many tourists would be there this close to Christmas. Florida draws tourists from all over the world and it seems everybody wants to swim with the manatees.
Crystal River, is about 60 miles north of us and an easy drive up the Suncoast Expressway. It was a bit chilly in the morning and we were wondering if it would be too cool to be on the water. We wore shorts, but brought jackets, just in case.
We have a favorite place to launch the kayaks, which gets you very close to the beautiful Three Sisters Springs, with minimal paddling. It’s not that we don’t like to paddle, but we just don’t care much for Crystal River. In our opinion, it’s not the prettiest or most exciting river in Florida, except for the springs.
There are a lot of places to launch boats in the area. Manatee swims are very, very popular, so if you want to swim with them, or just take a boat ride to see them, there are numerous places to do so. You can rent snorkel or scuba gear, kayaks or boats.
Our favorite place to launch is “A Crystal River Kayak Company.” It’s right off of the highway at 1332 SE Hwy 19, in Crystal River, Florida.
To look at the place, you would never know there is river access right behind their shop.
They charge $5.00 per kayak to launch, which is a fair price.
We went inside to pay and saw this pretty red inflatable kayak.
We have Sea Eagle Fastrack 385 kayaks, which we love, but we were attracted to this pretty red color. It would show up nicely in my photos, don’t you think?
We checked it out, because people are always asking us about our Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks. They are nice, but pricey. I believe they are well over $900 now. They have redesigned our 385 model and just looking at pictures online, the new ones seem a little too low in the water to me.
You can get less expensive Sea Eagles for about $300.00, but to us, they are not sturdy enough for serious kayaking. We paddled one, but were not happy with the way they handled. A lot of people love them, but they wouldn’t work for our needs.
Our 385 Fast Track kayaks have a rigid keel, with a skeg for control and steering, and a hard floor which you can actually stand up in if you want to paddleboard. If you are interested in the Sea Eagle 385 FT kayaks, click here for my review when we first got our boats a couple years ago.
If you are interested, we bought our kayaks from Inflatable Boats 4 Less, and have been real happy with the service we received from them.
If you are looking for an inflatable that is a little less expensive, this Cayman II might be something to consider.
It looked to be made very well and was very similar to our Sea Eagles. If we were in the market for a kayak this would certainly have been up for serious consideration.
It has a rigid bottom like ours, as well as a skeg.
I asked the lady at the shop about them. She said she just got it and would be able to sell them at $549. I explained that we get a lot of questions about our boats and that I write a blog and would post information on the blog, if she wanted me to.
She said she could order the boat and have them shipped anywhere in the country.
We didn’t take the boat for a paddle, so I can’t confirm how it handles, but I would imagine it would be very similar to ours, as it was a very similar style. The shop website is here. You can rent kayaks from them also.
The down side to an inflatable kayak is that they need to be de-flated after use, which means drying them out and folding them back up after you deflate them. Since ours has a separate floor (unlike some models) it makes getting them dried off a little more trouble. The inflation process is pretty quick and much quicker than the deflation process.
Okay, enough about kayaks, and on to the beautiful river.
We launched behind the shop. You can park very close, so you don’t have to carry the boats very far.
It is set up for ease of getting in and out of the boats.
Since the river flows into the gulf, it is affected by the ocean tides. (hope I got the effect/affect correct) Yesterday, it was extreme low tide because of the full moon and I thought we would have to carry our boats in several different areas. Fortunately, we managed to float over all the low areas, which looked to be 3-4 inches deep.
Once you launch, you have to go down a shallow canal, then underneath a culvert to more canals.
The next picture is deceiving, because of the reflection. You are actually seeing the complete reflection of the bridge. We actually paddled right through the center of what looks to be the oval shape of the culvert.
Out the other side to another canal.
You can actually see fall foliage, Florida style, as we approach the main part of the river.
Once you get into the main river, it isn’t far until you can see the manatee hangout area near the entrance to the Three Sisters Springs.
Motor boats can’t enter the spring area, so they anchor right outside, anchor and drop off their snorkelers.
There are a lot of manatee in this area during the winter months. In the summer, manatee stay out in the gulf and Atlantic, but when the ocean waters start getting cold they migrate to the “warm” waters of the springs. Florida springs are a year round temperature of about 72 degrees. Some people (like Sherry) might think that’s warm, but let me tell you, it’s pretty chilly to us! We think 72 degree water calls for a full wetsuit!
There are quite a few boats outside the springs, but they are all very, very cautious and you don’t see any speeding. Planes fly overhead to keep an eye on both the boaters and the snorkelers. Harass a manatee and get a ticket.
On the Gulf Coast, they are much less strict than they are on the east coast of Florida. When we kayaked at Blue Springs (east coast), we got yelled at from a ranger because we stopped to take a picture, and there weren’t even any manatee nearby. You can’t even stop and “smell the roses.” I also got yelled at when a manatee swam over to my boat. I couldn’t back up because there was nowhere to go. I am all for protecting manatee, but they carry it too far. Manatee seem to like to interact with people and will frequently come up to your boat, stick their nose out of the water and look at you. When I’ve been in the water with them, I’ve frequently had them come right up to me like they wanted a belly rub.
You can see from the next picture, that they have a roped off area where people and boats are not allowed. The manatee can go there to get away from people and take a nap.
The brown shapes you see are manatee. It was pretty warm out by this time, so many of them were in the river.
We decided to head into the springs. You can see how they prevent boats from entering. We could barely squeeze in our kayaks.
Once you get past the barricade, you enter a narrow tunnel like area.
The water is very shallow and very clear. It’s beautiful.
Then it opens up to a large “room” like area which is where one of the springs is located.
We take our time and enjoy the beauty.
After a while, we head over to the other two spring areas. Each is a little different, but each is beautiful.
We do more sitting than paddling.
You can see Al really gets comfy.
Most of the manatee seem to hang out outside of the spring area, but you can find an occasional straggler inside.
Yesterday this baby was there. I worried because I didn’t see his mother anywhere.
This guy from the wild life service, was taking photos. I assume he will be looking out for this little guy, if he is an orphan. Manatee are highly endangered and very much loved and cared for in this area.
We hung out in the spring area for a couple hours, then paddled back out into the river and hung around there for a while longer.
This kid had his own private manatee who seemed to enjoy interacting with him.
He was careful not to touch the manatee, but it was difficult because the youngster kept swimming right up to him.
The weather was very nice and warm, but when we noticed it starting to get a little cooler, we decided to head back.
It was a lovely day.