Best Things To Do In Crystal River Florida
Crystal River is captivating for the many springs, the beautiful nature, and of course, the manatees.
There is an abundance of parks, trails, marshes, forests and history that are ready to be explored. The crystal-clear water of the springs is some of the clearest in the state.
People come to this city mainly for the manatees, however, there are many more things to do in Crystal River so, let’s explore.
Swim With The Manatees
If you have any sort of Florida bucket list, then swimming with manatees is probably on it.
Crystal River is one of the most popular places to swim with manatees in the United States which puts it on the list of the top places to visit in Florida.
The beautiful, turquoise springs leading into King’s Bay are one of the places manatees choose to come to over the winter. The water in the Gulf of Mexico becomes too cold so they swim into the outlet.
This makes it the perfect place to swim with these gentle giants. While there are hundreds of manatees here during the winter months, you can actually see the manatees here year-round.
That is because the mothers stay in this safe place with their little ones so in the spring and summer months you’ll often see baby manatees swimming next to their mothers.
You can explore the area on your own, however, if you would like a tour, one of the top companies for manatee tours in the area is Crystal River Watersports.
When you book with them, they provide a wetsuit and snorkel gear – everything you need to swim with the manatees and see them underwater.
The ride is about 30 minutes from their location to Three Sister Springs where the water is shallow and where many of the manatees are.
Then the whole group is led by a guide who seeks out manatees and makes sure everyone is safe while taking pictures that you are able to purchase later on.
Manatees are very gentle creatures that are herbivores who spend most of their time eating the vegetation on the bottom of the springs. Every few minutes they come up for air.
They can be quite curious creatures as well, so they might approach you. However, do not approach them in any way because they are still wild animals and it is important to respect nature.
Once the time is up, the group gets back on board the boat and heads back. If it is a rather chilly day, make sure to have something with you to bundle up since the air can feel quite cold on the way back after swimming.
Overall, snorkeling with the manatees is an incredible experience that is worth traveling to Crystal River.
How much does it cost to swim with manatees in Crystal River?
The average price for swimming with manatees on a public tour is $65-$75. Every company offers different packages and prices so make sure to look around and see which company fits you best.
Here are some of the tour companies that offer manatees tours to consider.
|Crystal River Watersports||Birds Underwater||Captain Mike’s||Explorida|
|Adult – Public||$75||$59.95 – $65||$75||$64|
|Boat – Private||$390 – six people – 3 hours||$449 – six people – $75 additional per person||$500 – six people||$575 – ten people – 3 hours|
|Kayaks||–||$35 – single seat|
$45 – two seat
|$35 – single – 1/2 day|
$45 – single – full day
$55 – tandem – 1/2 day
$65 – tandem – full day
Usually included in the manatee tour are a wetsuit, snorkel gear, bottled water/hot chocolate, a captain, and an in-water guide/photographer although that can vary with each company.
When going on a tour you will want to bring a swimsuit to change into, towels, water shoes optionally and a change of clothes.
Three Sisters Springs
The Three Sisters Springs are a beautiful turquoise color with water so clear you can see all the way to the bottom. It is one of the best springs to visit while in Florida.
Right before entering the canal from the springs, there is a deeper area where you can see the water rushing into the springs right from the ground which is very fascinating to see.
If you do not take a manatee tour, then you can rent clear kayaks to paddle around on your own.
As a first timer not knowing where to explore, a tour is helpful, however, if you want more time and freedom to explore, then getting out into the water on your own is the best option.
There are kayak rentals available at the Crystal River Kayak Company that are the closest to the Three Sisters Springs. Although you are still on a timeline by having to bring back the kayaks by 3:30 p.m. and make a reservation earlier since they book up fast. So, if you want a slower pace, bring your own kayaks with you.
There is no water access to the Three Sister Springs from the refuge and no land access from the water. It is best to have some kind of vessel with you since the only access is by launching a vessel from any of the public boat ramps or kayak launches.
There is also a boardwalk around the area that you can walk around on to look at the beautiful water and see if you can spot manatees from there.
Do you have to pay to get into Three Sisters Springs?
Yes, you have to pay to get into Three Sisters Springs. The general admission is $12.50 per adult in the summer (April 1st – November 14th) and $20.00 in the winter (November 15th – March 31st).
This includes access to the Three Sisters Springs for one day.
Crystal River Preserve State Park
The Crystal River Preserve State Park is more than 27,500 acres of hardwood forests, mangroves, marshes, and coastal scrub that is home to all kinds of wildlife.
This park is perfect for those who like to explore nature and get off the beaten path. The seven mile loop trail is perfect for a hike or a bike ride while observing the nature around you.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
This national wildlife refuge was specifically created to protect the Florida manatee. It is located along Kings Bay and spans about 80 acres.
The main focus of the refuge is to establish and maintain the necessary habitat for manatees as well as the birds and other wildlife.
This makes sure the habitat is balanced and the endangered species are protected.
Just like the winter is manatee season in Crystal River, summer is the scalloping season. The season starts at the beginning of July and lasts until about early September.
People come from all over to harvest some scallops. The limit is 2 gallons of whole scallops per person per day.
The harvesting is typically done 2-3 miles from shore on the gulf. Anywhere the eelgrass is, you are very likely to find the scallops.
The best part? Once you’re done for the day, you can bring your catch to a local restaurant that will cook it for you.
Monkey Island is technically in Homosassa but it is a fun stop if you are in the area and only 20-30 minutes depending where you’re coming from in Crystal River.
The very small island is located in the middle of Homosassa River and it is home to five spider monkeys.
The island started out as a pile of rocks that bottomed out plenty of boats before a local developer and business owner decided to do something about it.
He had his workers pile on more dirt and before he knew it, the piled on so much that it became a small island. He then put up a lighthouse and a few trees on the island to give it more appeal.
The monkeys were originally brought into the area for a different reason, however when that didn’t work out, they were placed on this island.
Since then for many years, the monkey island has been a unique tourist attraction. The monkeys are well taken care of and fed a special diet by the local resort.
Heritage Village Historic Downtown
Driving through Crystal River you will more than likely pass this area. The historic downtown of Crystal River has some unique shops and restaurants.
The goal of the main street is to showcase the historic significance of the area including the architecture and culture.
Follow the Crystal River Main Street Facebook page to see if there are any live events coming up or local food trucks selling tasty treats.
Coastal Heritage Museum
Built in 1939 with local limestone, the museum is a perfect historic exhibit of Crystal River. Over the years it housed everything from the city hall, the mayors office, the police department, jail, and fire truck.
Today, you’ll find exhibits, artifacts and pictures of the history of the area.
The museum is only open Wednesday through Saturday 11a.m. to 3p.m. but there is no cost for admission so it is one of the free things to do in Crystal River.
Coastal Art Gallery
The coastal art gallery is also located in the downtown of Crystal River. Among the many shops, this gallery is worth a drop in.
Here you will find work by local artists in the form of pottery, art glass, and wildlife art. Just take a look at the incredible art below!
If you want to take a wonderful souvenir home with you, definitely check out this gallery and the surrounding shops.
Find Some Murals
It’s always fun to find murals at travel destinations and you can’t miss this one in Crystal River. It is located in the downtown area that one of the main streets of the city passes through.
However, this isn’t the only mural around town. There are a few more that you can find so be sure to look around if you are looking for fun instagrammable places.
Of course, many of the murals portray the manatees so you can capture your time in manatee county.
Crystal River State Archaeological Site
The archaeological site is a very historic landmark. It is located within the Crystal River Preserve State Park on 61 acres.
These burial mounds are where the Native Americans buried their dead years ago. There is plenty more to explore on this site with miles of trails as well as marshes for the best fishing opportunities.
If you go on the manatee tour with Crystal River Watersports, then you will be able to see the mound while passing by.
Otherwise, if you want to explore the site, there is a $3 admission per vehicle.
There is also an archaeological museum with exhibits and artifacts all about the prehistoric dwellers who used to live on these lands. Things like pottery and arrowheads are displayed that were found at the nearby archaeological site.
The museum is only open from 9a.m. to 5p.m. Thursday to Monday, while the park opens up from 8a.m. to sundown everyday.
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park
What was once a plantation with a sugar mill on over 5,000 acres is now a historic remnant. The mill was the centerpiece of the plantation providing sugar for the area.
Visiting the mill, you will learn about the complex history of slave labor running the mill as well as the turmoil of the country during the Civil War.
The park is located in Homosassa, just a short drive from the historic downtown of Crystal River. Once you get there, the ruins are situated very close to the road and can be easily seen.
After exploring the area, there are picnic pavilions, tables and grills perfect for a quiet lunch under the oak trees.
Hunter Springs Park
Hunter Springs Park is one of the most loved parks in the area. This is because it offers everything all in one place.
Enjoy one of the 70 natural springs, a beach area, a roped off swimming area, a kayak launch, a boardwalk along the waterway, a playground, and picnic tables.
In the colder months you can spot the manatees in the springs, swim in the freshwater and lounge around on the beach.
The park requires a parking fee to be paid, however, if you don’t mind a short walk, there are free lots available in close proximity.
Fort Island Gulf Beach
If you’ve done all the things that Crystal River is famed for and are ready for a relaxing day at the beach, make your way to Fort Island Gulf Beach.
It is one of the best things to do in Crystal River with kids where everyone can have a great time. The beach features a large sandy beach with a fishing pier, free boat ramp, picnic tables and free parking.
From the boat ramp launch site you get access to the Gulf of Mexico and Crystal River.
You can swim at Fort Island Gulf Beach in the swimming area where the water is shallow and calm.
The Crab Plant
Crystal River is a seafood lovers delight and The Crab Plant is one of the top restaurants to experience everything the seafood scene has to offer.
You have a choice of stone crabs, blue crabs, grouper, salmon and shrimp. If you choose the crabs, which is a popular choice of many who come here, you will be greeted with huge buckets of steaming, hot crabs.
Not only do they have a restaurant but they also have a seafood market available to the public with a promise that you won’t find seafood anywhere more fresh than there. They operate their own boats and bring fresh catches daily.
Best Time To Visit Crystal River
The best time to visit Crystal River depends on what you want to do. If you want to visit during manatee season, the best months to visit are winter month approximately mid-November to March. If you are more interested in harvesting scallops, the scallop season is from July 1 to September 24.