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Why Crystal River is the Premier Destination to Swim With Manatees

The end of November brings a chill to the air in the colorful coastal town of Crystal River, Florida. And with it the arrival of manatees.

Tucked in along Kings Bay off the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River prevails as an ecotourist’s dream. Home to the largest manatee migration in the world, the allure of these gentle giants compelled our team to visit this sanctuary on Florida’s Nature Coast.

Arial picture Manatee migration to Three Sisters Springs Florida
Arial photo of manatees gathering in Crystal River’s natural springs. Photo Courtesy of Instagram: Three Sisters Springs

Composed of over 70 natural springs, they keep Kings Bay at a cozy, constant 72 degrees. This makes Crystal River the ideal climate for manatees fleeing the dropping temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico.

With nearly 500 manatees migrating to Crystal River each winter, it has become the most significant natural winter refuge for manatees in the world.

SUP Crystal River Florida
Standup Paddle Boarding in Crystal River and Three Sisters Springs. Photo Courtesy of

Of the numerous springs in Kings Bay, Three Sisters Spring remains, by far, the most beautiful and sought after by both locals and traveling adventurists. And so, became the prime target of our adventure. Our goal? Swimming with manatees!

Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs

Under the guidance, of Hunter Spring Kayaks, we launched kayaks from Hunter Springs Park. A short walk from picking up our gear, we stepped off the smooth white sandbar and into the calm, chilly waters.

launching kayaks into Hunter Springs
Pushing off at Hunter Springs Park in search of manatees

Although the waters of Central Florida can be frigid this time of year, the brisk paddle through the bay quickly jumpstarts both your excitement and heart rate as you glide towards Three Sisters Springs.

This 30-minute paddle through Kings Bay allows plenty of time to appreciate some of the smaller springs before entering the mouth of Three Sisters.

After docking our kayaks, we slipped into the cold, turquoise spring. The waters gradually shift from verdant emerald green, overhung with spindly trees adorned with Spanish moss, to placid Caribbean blues surrounded by sprays of palmettos and palms.

swimming with manatees with Hunter Spring Kayaks
Our excellent guides at Hunter Spring Kayaks gladly photographed our excursion, leaving us to carelessly explore.

Drifting along in silence, disturbed only by a brisk breeze, we anxiously anticipated spotting a manatee.


Fortunately, our visit to Three Sisters coincided with a cold front moving into the gulf, drastically increasing the manatee population inhabiting the cove. Slowly, several inquisitive, algae-covered manatees welcomed us to the spring while many others swam in during our exploration.

Slow-moving and docile by nature, manatees appreciate a calm and passive presence. Passive observation ensures your best chance at an up-close manatee encounter.

swimming with manatees at Crystal Rivers

A swim in Three Sisters Springs submerges you in untampered beauty and serenity. One can’t help but marvel at some of natures most charming creatures.

Manatee Season

Despite their rotund physiques and topping out at over 1,000 pounds, manatees only have 5% body fat. This leanness, in part, plays a role in why these mammals can’t tolerate water temperatures below 68 degrees.

swiming with a Manatee up close atThree Sisters Springs
Upclose and personal with manatees

Their need for warmer waters compels them to migrate from the gulf into the Crystal River area each year.

Manatee season ranges from late November to the end of March. But if you can’t travel during this season, don’t cross this off your bucket list just yet!

Approximately fifty manatees live in Kings Bay year-round. That means you can still go swimming with manatees any time of the year!

But if you want to see the migration of over 500 manatees to the area, visit during prime manatee migration season.

Local Attitude Concerning Crystal River and Swimming with Manatees

viewing manatees from the shore of Crystal River
Viewing manatees from the shore

Crystal River is the only place in the United States where it is legal to swim with manatees in the wild, and the locals know what a good thing they have. When you visit Crystal River there is an admirable tone of conservation and preservation of this natural gift.

The state of Florida and local water authorities have put great effort into policies that will keep this haven in place for centuries to come. You will find you can’t visit and delve into its natural splendor without picking up that tone; it leaves you better than when you arrived.

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  • James Grundy says:

    Absolutely Love this Lori. I fell educated on the migration of Manatees and the pictures are stunning!

  • Peter Cohen says:

    Was just there the 3rd week of April 2022 and there were still manatees swimming around and actually what we believe were several sightings of melodies breaching the water and maybe during the height of mating. Lol

    Also sat quietly at the mouth of the SpringsAnd was approached by A pregnant mom and a nursing baby!

    The only thing that ruined my video was me doing baby talk to a mandate. It’s embarrassing as a grown 53 year old man.

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