Wesley Chapel, Florida ( high 75, low 60)
On Sunday we made the 60 some mile north to Homosassa, Florida and toured the Homosassa River Springs State Park. If you missed the post, you can read about it HERE.
You can easily spend an entire day at Homosassa, but since we’ve been so many times, we made it a short trip.
So….after we left Homosassa, we decided to drive north a few miles to Crystal River Florida. Crystal River is the place in Florida if you want to see manatee.
There are numerous dive shops that will take you snorkeling, or diving to the springs. You can rent boats or kayaks. Or you can catch a bus to Three Sisters Springs and walk the boardwalk overlooking the springs to see manatee without having to get your feet (or butt) wet.
Crystal River is a typical Florida River in that it is fed from underground springs. Crystal river is mostly dark water and not particularly clear, but if you are near the different springs the water is blue and crystal clear, as you will see in the pictures below.
One tourist thought the springs were man made. He was shocked when he learned this was natural Florida. There are many, many similar springs all through Florida. If you visit Florida and only go to the beaches, you are missing the “real Florida,” and some incredible beauty. Not all the springs are created equal. Three Sisters is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful. We prefer it in the summer months when there aren’t many people. You might not see manatee, but it’s so incredibly beautiful, we don’t mind.
Three Sisters Springs are a group of three springs on Crystal River. We’ve kayaked there many times. If you want to see if from a kayaking perspective, you can see it here from a previous blog post. If you want information on where to launch a kayak, check out this post. If you want to see more manatee pictures, check out this one.
Three Sisters Springs had been purchased back in the 1940’s for a condo development. Fortunately, they had some financial problems and it was never completed. It is now a National Wildlife Preserve, and highly guarded and protected.
Although we had kayaked there many times, we never had walked along the boardwalk that is behind the springs. If you look at the pictures on the other blog posts I linked, you can see a nice boardwalk. We understood that it was only open a few days a year and we could never figure out which days they were, so we had never been able to see the springs from the boardwalk.
While at Homosassa springs, I asked a volunteer about the boardwalk, and she referred us to a shop in Crystal River, called River Adventures. They offer manatee snorkeling trips, as well as trips to the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. It turns out, you can now walk the board walk every day, but they have to drive you onto the property, through the locked gate. It was $5 for seniors, $6 for adults and after we found out that it was a National Wildlife Refuge, we wondered if we could have gotten in free with out National Park pass. They shop is not on the river, so they provide a bus to take on a 5 minute bus ride. They dropped our group off and there were several volunteers there to keep an eye on things, and answer questions. It was money well spent. You can stay as long as you want, but an hour is enough.
We got a different perspective of the springs by standing up over them, looking down. The springs are as beautiful by land as they were by kayak.
After we got off the bus, this was our first view of the clear blue water.
We walked onto the boardwalk. To the left is the river, to the right are the three different springs.
When you are on the main part of the river, and you come to a congested area, you know you have the right spot. This picture was taken from a year ago when we kayaked the springs. Notice the manatee by the yellow kayak? The area on the top of the picture is the roped off sanctuary area where no people or boats are allowed, but the manatee enjoy people encounters and will frequently swim right up to you.
Next you come upon a narrow opening to the right, that is gated. Snorkelers and kayaks can enter, but no motorboats. You paddle down a narrow channel into a narrow passageway. This was another picture taken from a year ago and it was much sunnier.
You paddle through the narrow channel like the one seen below.
You might come upon a snorkeler…or a manatee.
Soon it opens up to a big “room”, and this is one of them.
Incredible, isn’t it? Remember, other than the board walk, this is all natural. The dark spots you see are rocks on the bottom, but often those dark spots are manatee.
Most of the manatee were resting in the sanctuary area outside the channel to the springs. The tide makes it pretty shallow in the passageway during low tides, so they mostly stay outside of the spring area in their sanctuary.
This roped off area, is the sanctuary. No one is allowed in there.
A few come out to visit the people. The youngsters especially like to interact with people.
All of those dark spot are manatee.
The canal is pretty narrow, and if a manatee tried to swim in there to the springs, he is likely to meet up with a snorkeler. The wild life groups are are trying to get the spring area closed down now while there are so many manatee there, but of course the local businesses are fighting it. I personally think they should close it down, and only allow access via the boardwalk, but in all fairness, we’ve been there when there were no other people, and the manatee seem to prefer the sanctuary people outside of the springs. If you saw how shallow the entry way was, you’d understand. Perhaps, it would be helpful to them to dredge it out a little.
You can see in the picture below this woman walking/snorkeling through the channel with a few manatee right beside her trying to get into the same area.
(Sherry, you may not want to see this)
One of these manatee is a baby.
His mom is right next to him. Isn’t he cute?
We spent an hour or so walking along the boardwalk, soaking in the beauty of the real Florida. We’ve been there many times, but it never fails to amaze me.
If you want to see manatee, this is the best place….and you don’t even have to get wet!
It’s even prettier on a sunny day.
Just beware though. There are some strange critters in the Florida waters.
Pillsbury dough boy? (God is going to get me for that)
If you want to snorkel with the manatee, you can take one of the many boats. I believe it is $45 per person and that includes all the snorkel gear.
Kayaks can also be rented, or you can walk on the boardwalk and get a wonderful view without getting wet.
This family apparently doesn’t see the the need for a life vest for those two small kids. It’s pretty shallow where they are, but the entire river is not that shallow. Shame on them.
If you are in central Florida, I would highly recommend a trip to Crystal River and Three Sisters Springs. River Adventures dive shop is the only shop that has access to the boardwalk, as far as I know. The link to the shop is provided earlier in the blog. If you want to snorkel, there are many shops….but not all of them take you to Three Sisters Springs and the other springs are no where near as pretty!