Florida’s Crystal River and Citrus County are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. Citrus County, just north of Tampa on the Sunshine State’s west coast, is known for its epic springs offering a myriad of aquatic adventures as you swim with manatees or paddle scenic spring-fed rivers. If you prefer not to dip your toes in the water, embark on a picturesque hike down winding trails or pedal pathways through miles of natural beauty. Whether you prefer an adventure on land or water, this incredible destination is a hidden gem waiting to be explored.
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Swimming with Manatees
Dive into the crystal-clear waters of the natural springs in Crystal River and Homosassa to get up close and personal with Florida’s gentle giants. The region is known as the Manatee Capital of the World and it’s the only place in the U.S. where you can legally swim with the manatees. While some manatees are year round residents, the majority can be seen in the warm waters of Florida’s natural springs from November through March. The boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa are two great places to see the manatees from a drier point of view. Whichever way you choose, there are plenty of ways to watch these gentle giants.
Whether you’re an avid cyclist or just enjoy cruising, Citrus County is lined with trails ready to explore. If you’re looking for an off-road adventure, miles of rugged mountain bike trails weave through Withlacoochee State Forest and Crystal River Preserve State Park. Prefer the paved path? Citrus County is home to three paved trails, including the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail that winds through forests and quaint small towns along scenic lakes.
Anglers can enjoy the best of both worlds, with top-notch saltwater and freshwater fishing in one destination. Citrus County is home to 25,000 acres of rivers and lakes, including the 30-mile-long Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes — one of Florida’s best freshwater fishing spots. You can plan on catching your share of Bass, Crappie and Bluegill. Homosassa and Crystal river provide anglers with the option of inshore or offshore fishing. Inshore species, such as Redfish, Snook and Spotted Sea Trout, dodge in and out of the mangroves. Offshore anglers have their shot at Red and Gag Grouper, Cobia, Grey Snapper and Hogfish.
A different type of outdoor adventure happens during late-spring through summer in Citrus County. Take the family on a u-pick excursion at one of the local blueberry farms for a day of family fun. The region is home to a number of blueberry farms that allow you to pick your own berries. It’s not only a great way to connect with family, it’s also a great way to meet local farmers. Bette’s Blues Blueberry Farm in Citrus Springs is a family owned and operated farm that offers a variety of blueberries as well as thornless blackberries and peaches. In Inverness, you’ll find Misty Meadows Blueberry Farm and Florida Best Blueberries. Besides the blueberries, obviously, each is well stocked with local honey and fresh made jams.
Whether you plan to explore the crystal-clear waters of Citrus County by kayak, paddleboard or canoe, there’s no better way to experience Florida’s beauty than paddling the labyrinth of springs, rivers, bays and lakes. Three Sisters Springs is a must-see in the area and paddling through these pristine waters is one of the best ways to explore this natural oasis. If you visit during the winter months, you’ll likely meet a manatee too. Another hot spot to explore is the spring-fed Chassahowitzka River and its series of limestone caves or take a kayak tour through the mangrove islands and mud flats of the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve.
A truly unique summer experience in Florida, scalloping is a family-friendly underwater Easter egg hunt and Citrus County is a scallop hunter’s dream. Search through fields of grass and sandy patches for bay scallops in the warm shallow waters near the Gulf of Mexico. Homosassa and Crystal River are some of the most popular scalloping grounds in the entire state. Many of the nearby restaurants throughout Citrus County will cook your catch, so you can dive for your dinner and then savor your bounty.
Hikers can find plenty to explore in Citrus County, which is home to thousands of acres of wide open spaces. In fact, the region is home to Florida’s third-largest state forest, the Withlacoochee State Forest — a prime hiking spot that includes varied terrain and caves. Lace up your hiking boots and take a trip through Crystal River Preserve State Park to discover a protected piece of old Florida. Walk the 7-mile loop in the cooler winter months, or try the Eco-Walk Trail year round for an easy and informative hike through the Preserve’s diverse habitat. You’ll find peace and quiet, as well as plenty of wildlife during this journey.
Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County are teeming with outdoor activities that showcase some of the Sunshine State’s finest treasures. From its epic freshwater springs and hiking trails to fun blueberry farms and friendly manatees, it’s easy to see why this area is known as the Nature Coast. Visit DiscoverCrystalRiverFL.com to plan your adventure and explore some of Florida’s natural wonders.