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The largest winter refuge for West Indian manatees on the Gulf Coast, Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Fla., is a natural inlet on the east side of Kings Bay. With five natural springs, Lake Crystal and a lush wetland, this 57-acre oasis is known for its unspoiled and undeveloped spring habitat, making it a prime manatee viewing spot.
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Three Sisters Springs is the perfect place to experience one of Florida’s greatest wonders, spotting a manatee in their natural habitat. Manatees can be seen from land or boat, and an on-site trolley tour takes visitors to a boardwalk where seeing these gentle giants gliding below the surface is possible.
One of the state’s most visually stunning springs, Three Sisters Springs has translucent blue water that adds to the majestic experience of watching the manatees glide below the surface. The winter months are the best time to see these famous visitors, as Nov. 15 to March 31 sees around 200 manatees at time, with the most recorded manatees at around 400-500 in January 2016.
While manatees can be found year round in Kings Bay, the area receives extra protections as a designated sanctuary in winter months and can only be seen from the boardwalk vantage point, while water access throughout the year can be limited depending on the number of manatees in the water.
In summer months, you might find manatees floating in 72-degree waters. There are strict rules on how to interact, called “Manatee Manners,” but it is possible to swim, kayak and canoe with the manatees on a scheduled tour. These gentle giants are often eager for you to rub their bellies. To swim with the manatees, visitors must schedule a tour or rent a watercraft such as paddleboards and kayaks, with the area’s independent vendors.
Wildlife watchers will delight at the array of opportunities in the area. Crystal River also is home to many native and migratory species year-round, and the 1.5 miles of scenic nature trails that surround Three Sisters Springs reveals picturesque views of Kings Bay, Magnolia Springs, Lake Crystal and the wetlands.
Three Sisters Springs
Address: 601 Three Sisters Springs Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429