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The Florida Manatee

Crystal River is home to the Florida subspecies of the West Indian Manatee, a large herbivorous mammal that grazes in our bay during the summer months and migrates in large numbers to our warm spring waters in winter.

During winter months, these gentle giants take advantage of the warm springs in Kings Bay to survive the colder ocean waters. The optimum time to find the large herds congregating in the crystal clear springs is when the Gulf of Mexico drops below 68 ° F/20 ° C, which is too cold for them to survive for a long period of time. In contrast, the springs flow at a constant 72 ° F/22 ° C - warm enough for the population to avoid Cold Stress Syndrome.

Citrus County in Florida is the only place in America where you can legally swim with the manatees. This activity is highly restricted elsewhere, although they can be spotted along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico (as far west as Texas) and on the east coast (the most northerly documented sighting being Massachusetts).

In the 1970s, the West Indian Manatee were placed on the endangered species list. Due to extensive conservation efforts, they were removed from this list and reclassified as threatened. Their population had rebounded from several hundred to over six thousand.

Some Manatee facts

  • Although nicknamed Sea Cows, the manatee is actually closely related to the elephant.
  • Manatees have a prehensile snout (much like their elephant cousins - albeit much shorter) which they use to grasp long beards and grass.
  • The largest recorded manatee was 15ft long and weighed 3,649 lb.
  • Although they appear fat, manatees are very lean animals comprised mainly of muscle. This is why they can't survive in cold oceans.
  • Manatees are often seen swimming at a leisurely pace, but their muscle mass and huge tails enable them able to move at 15-20 mph in short bursts when necessary.
  • Manatees have fingernails.
  • Manatees are a relaxed, curious species due to having evolved without any natural predators.
  • The main threats to manatee survival are boat strike and spring flows being affected by urban development and subsequent increases of water usage from the Florida aquifer.

Manatee Season: Nov 15 - Mar 31

During Manatee Season, Three Sisters Springs is closed to kayaking.

You can tie up your paddlecraft at a designated area near the entrance to swim inside, but please be aware that USFWS may temporarily close the springs to swimmers as well.

Manatees can be seen here year round.

We have a resident population that can be seen in the bay during the warmer months.

Has it been cold enough for the larger herds of manatees to congregate in Crystal River?

For an up-to-date reading of the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico, click this link and be taken to the US Geological Survey website page.

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Welcome to Manatee Season

It is that magical time of the year when our resident population of manatees are joined by their more adventurous family members, who are returning to our area for warmth and company.

Three Sisters Springs will be closed for paddling, but the surrounding waterways and bay will remain open to explore. If you want to go swimming either to enter the springs or see the manatees underwater, you will need to wear a wetsuit; if you don't have your own we have them available to rent. In fact, we have everything you need to go out and experience these awe-inspiring creatures.

Call to book your tour or kayak rental, and come with us to enjoy these animals in their winter home.

Manatee Rules & Regulations

The following actions are NOT allowed:

  • Chasing or pursuing a manatee.
  • Disturbing or touching a resting or feeding manatee.
  • Diving from the surface onto a resting or feeding manatee.
  • Cornering or surrounding a manatee.
  • Riding, holding, grabbing, pinching, poking, prodding or stabbing a manatee with anything, including your hands and feet.
  • Standing on a manatee.
  • Separating a mother and calf or separating a group of manatees.
  • Giving manatees anything to eat and drink.
  • Actively initiating contact with belted/tagged manatees and associated gear, including any belts, harnesses, tracking devices and antennae.
  • Interfering with rescue and research activities.

In addition to the above prohibited activities, the following waterborne activities are prohibited within Three Sisters Springs from November 15th to March 31st:

  • Scuba diving and fishing, including with hook and line, 

Paddle craft are prohibited from Three Sisters Springs from November 15th through March 31st, or later if emergency closures are in place.


Contact Us

Please call us to make a reservation.

Crystal River Kayak Company

1422 SE US Hwy 19, Crystal River, Florida 34429

(352) 795-2255

Open seven days a week

Open today

08:00 am – 04:30 pm

Please be advised that we close early on days of heavy rains and thunder storms. Please call ahead if in doubt.

We are open year round with the exception of two days: Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 


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