Places to Paddle tm
Canoeing - Kayaking - Rafting

Crystal River, Florida USA

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Copyright 2002 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Morris Friedman with photos by Robert McGraw
  • Date Submitted: 1/2002
  • Location: Kings Bay Three Sisters Spring, Crystal River, Florida
  • Class: 1
  • Distance Paddled: about 2 miles round trip
  • Water Level:
  • Water: fresh, clear, spring-fed
  • Wildlife: This area has crystal clear water, with white sandy bottom and is home to manatee, and several varieties of fish. Egrets, Herons, Osprey, Bald Eagles, Otters, Brown Pelicans, White Ibis in this area are abundant.
  • Special Regulations: Please just view these wonderful animals. Observe prohibited areas and discourage active touching or harassment. This could result in reducing the manatee's ability to survive when they return to the Gulf. It is illegal to feed or harass manatees in any way. This even includes approaching them in such a way as to disturb them.


  • Directions: The put-in and take-out for Three Sisters Spring is at Pete’s Pier, located 60 miles from Gainesville, Fl Take State Road 121 through Williston to U.S. 19 South to Crystal River, Fl. Turn right onto Kings Bay Drive, go 1/2 mile and turn right to Pete’s Pier. Parking is free without a trailer.
  • Fee: none
  • Description: A paved boat ramp provides easy access to the water.
  • Parking:
  • Facilities: Restroom is next to the marina office. There are numerous hotels and restaurants in the area.
  • Handicap Access:

Best times for paddling with manatee is between late October and mid March Start early in the morning when the manatee are most active. Tour operators begin tours around 7:30 a.m. so try to put-in around 7:00 a.m. for a lifetime opportunity to paddle and swim with these gentle giants.

If at all possible, visit Crystal River on weekdays as the weekends can become very congested with tour operators and dive boats.

What We Saw

The largest and only increasing herd of manatees in the United States makes its winter home in Crystal River, Florida. Manatees are large marine mammals, streamlined in shape, with adults averaging 1000 to as much as 1500 pounds in weight and an adult length of about 12-ft. Manatee migration in North Florida is seasonal and prompted chiefly by changes in water temperature. In South Florida, however, a second reason for manatee migration takes precedence, which is the need for fresh or low salinity drinking water. Near the middle of Florida's West Coast, a tributary called the Crystal River flows for about seven miles into the Gulf of Mexico. At the headwaters of the river are several major springs, Three Sisters being one of these from which hundreds of millions of gallons of clear, 72 degree water flows year-round.

When winter begins, and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico turn colder, two hundred or more manatees migrate up the river to Kings Bay, where they expect to find shelter in the relatively warm, fresh water. Since Kings Bay supports the largest wintertime concentration of Manatees in the United States, it has become a popular destination for tourists interested in learning more about these charming wild animals.

From the boat ramp, paddle left, take the left channel, go under the bridge and continue paddling upstream. You’ll soon probably see tour boats and snorkelers at various points along the river. At the end of the channel, turn left, then paddle a short distance where you’ll see a roped-off protected area on your left. Just beyond this you’ll see pylons which only permit small paddling craft and swimmers into the spring.