Weekend Manatee Kayak Trip


Love the outdoors? Love snorkeling and kayaking? Explore this weekend and visit the manatees of Crystal River Florida. Now is the time to experience kayaking with manatees! Fun trip for a family, couple, or a solo trip. Follow along for tips to make your weekend memorable.

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Living in Florida has so many awesome outdoor possibilities! Doesn’t matter what part you live in, there is almost always sunshine! Depending on where you live in this beautiful sunshine state you can find a national park to explore, caves, natural springs, take a trip down to the Everglades, or get your adrenaline pumping on a fast roller coaster that has you gripping for life at one of the many adventure parks! There are so many fun adventures for you or your family and friends!

This weekend trip we explored the beautiful Crystal River Springs of Florida!

About Crystal River:

Located along the western coast of Florida, Crystal River is fed by natural springs. This coastal city is home to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Year round, and especially during winter, thousands of manatees travel to the Crystal River Springs for refuge, rest, and to enjoy the warm all year round 72 degree water temperature.  In January 2016, they had a record number of manatees around 400-500. We happened to go the weekend after! Recently due to the strange bout of cold weather we had, the Wildlife Refuge center and many organizations have helped to maintain the safety of the manatees from succumbing to the harsh cold waters. Manatees are precious animals and are often killed by boaters for simply feeding on local vegetation. National Wildlife Refuges allow us to learn, swim, and hopefully preserve these sweet mammals.

Three Sisters Springs:

Three Sisters Springs can be accessed by land or water.

Land: There is a boardwalk located within the springs that allows a great view of the manatees. If you prefer to walk the trails, you can find yourself on 52 acres of walking trails.

Water: You can access the Springs via Kings Bay. You can snorkel or launch your kayak at the boat ramp. Note, that the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is only accessible by water.

Manatee Manners:

The Refuge has a set of “Manatee Manners” to follow as to not disrupt the natural habits of the manatees. It is IMPERATIVE to follow these rules. Often, the manatees are tagging along babies, and they are following their natural instinct to swim into the springs. In order to preserve this site for future explorers, we need to follow the rules. The rules are posted everywhere, please abide by them.

  1. No chasing, cornering, poking, prodding, feeding, riding, grabbing.
  2. Do not:
    • disturb or touch a resting or feeding manatee
    • dive down on a resting or feeding manatee
    • separate a mother and a calf
    • enter a manatee sanctuary (they are clearly marked)
    • stand on a manatee (if its being said, its been done…)
    • actively engage in a tagged manatee


  1. Practice Passive observation
  2. Observe from a distance
  3. Avoid approaching manatees (manatees are here to survive undisturbed)
  4. Give them space, it’s their home.

Please visit this link for a great educational video. Adults and kids! We saw many misbehaving adults on our trip.


Where to stay:

There are various hotels, motels, and I’m sure by now there are some great AirBNB”s located in Crystal River. We decided to stay at a place right on the water, and had an easy kayak launch.

  1. Best Western
  2. Days Inn
  3. Plantation on Crystal River
  4. Holiday Inn Express
  5. The Port Hotel and Marina (our favorite place)

The others mentioned above can be found close or on the water. Various reasonable prices. Book here! I am a Booking.com affiliate and travel agent. When you click and book on my link, I will receive a small commission. 🙂


The Port Hotel and Marina:

We loved this place for the location, the price, the staff, the sunset waterfront view as we ate dinner, and the awesome kayak launch.

It is the only hotel located on the Main Spring. Very short distance with our kayak to Three Sisters Springs.

Onsite Dive Center, boat and kayak ramp, kayak rentals, snorkel rentals, and manatee tours are offered.

Hotel rooms are available for waterfront views with patio.

Pets are welcome.

Rooms are set up like a suite and offer a mini fridge and couch sofa. Perfect for a couple like us, or family.


  • we were able to store our kayaks out on the patio, score!
  • buy your snorkel gear at Walmart down the road. The dive center has most everything you need that you might have forgotten such as: bathing suits, sunscreen, wet suits, t-shirts, etc. But, SAVE your money and buy your gear at Walmart, if you forgot to bring it. 🙂
  • book ahead during January-March – it will be busy
  • bring warm gear. we happened to have beautiful weather when we went in January (it is Florida after all) so by the time we got done kayaking we were ready to get into the water.
  • Talk to the dive shop and see when the best times to see the manatees are. It is best to go early in the morning.
  • If you have your own kayak, you are set!

Map of Kings Bay and Springs click link:


Day 1:

Get out there early! Set your alarm if needed. We were out on the water by 7-8 am. There are great benefits for getting out on the water early such as : beating the crowd and tour boats, seeing the manatees as they are entering the refuge from the Gulf, less people, and clearer view of the manatees in the water.

If you wait too long, there will be so many people and that means tons of inexperienced “flippers” is what I call them. “Inexperienced flippers,” are those kids or adults that have no idea how to properly swim with fins, or are rude and don’t have manners. Excited kids OR adults that don’t care how they are swimming, or who they are kicking and they kick the ground multiple times, and obscure your view of the manatees. Nobody likes that!

We launched our Kayaks at the launch site at our hotel, literally right outside of our room practically. 🙂

We peacefully made our way to the Springs. As you kayak towards the springs, you have the chance to wave to fellow early morning risers, see birds, nice houses along the way, even maybe a manatee or two. As you paddle along, you will also notice “no wake” zones or red cones that say “no enter” or something similar. Please don’t go into these zones, they are safe zones for manatees.

We made our way down to Three Sisters Springs. You will see many tour boats, boaters, and fellow kayaks making their way to the springs. We kayaked over to “little sister,” “big sister” and “pretty sister.” Once you arrive at the springs, you will see people parking their kayaks in designated areas. The National Wildlife Refugee People are all around making sure people are obeying the rules, and will help guide you to the proper place to store your kayak before entering into the water. They are also out and about to maintain the safety of our beautiful manatees!

Kayaks stored, check!

Snorkel time! We put on our gear, took in those first breaths of stepping into the cold water and started swimming.

We took our Go Pro with us so we could get some awesome footage.

You can also buy the waterproof case here:


Now is your chance to have fun! We love to snorkel! It is so relaxing, take it in! Viewing these magnificent mammals in their habitat is so rewarding. They are are beautiful, sweet, and don’t seem to mind that we are swimming around in their home. Show them the same respect. We probably spent a few hours out and about in the water, looking at random fish swimming along, talking to people and  most importantly enjoying the sunshine!

After our day of snorkeling and viewing the manatees we worked up a serious hunger. We snacked back at the hotel for lunch, but wanted to continue to enjoy the scenery and decided to eat dinner at the hotel. Water, sunset, and view made our choice easy!

Dinner at the Margarita Breeze:

Enjoy a seafood dinner while watching the sun go down. The restaurant has a great menu for even the picky eaters. I had the coconut shrimp (sooo good) and he chose a steak. We had such an amazing view of the water and sunset, so relaxing to sit down and enjoy and look at our pictures of the day. 🙂

Day 2:

Sleep in? Nah, we are here to swim!

We rested and decided to get up, eat some breakfast at the restaurant and got on our way. In the morning, like I said earlier, the boats have all gone out early to see if the manatees have made it into the Spring. Some mornings they don’t. This happened to be one of them. After returning to the hotel we decided to hang out a little longer,  and took a quick trip into the springs. Their weren’t  any manatees that day.

But, the awesome thing about Crystal River is there is more to do even if the manatees don’t come around.

Hiking, more snorkeling, boat tours.

Other Activities around the area:

While you are on your way out stop and see the:

1.Weekei Wachee Mermaids-

  • They are apparently “world famous” from the website. But, they put on a show, “The Little Mermaid, ” in their large auditorium.
  • From their website- “Fish Tails- The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform underwater feats from the past six decades, including eating and drinking underwater. The show also includes several musical numbers. The Mermaids also give the audience historical information (via video), and technical aspect of the show.”
  • They perform 365 days a year.
  • Find more information here, https://weekiwachee.com/mermaids/

2. Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins– a quick stop if you have school age children to see and learn about sugar making process during the Civil War

3. Gulf of Mexico Air boat Ride and Dolphin Quest from Homosassa- take a 1.5 hr air boat ride through the marshes and speed through the canals looking for birds, dolphins, and other wildlife.

4. Copp Winery and Wine Bar– hidden treasure of local home brewed beer and wine. grab a pretzel to share with your beer!

5. Wildlife Refuge– mentioning the Crystal River Refuge here again to make sure to stop by, walk the boardwalk and see local animals in their surroundings, gators, etc. You really don’t want to miss these trails!




*Florida Law Requires that you do not touch a manatee.If you are so lucky to have one come this close, remain calm, stay still, and enjoy their presence. I had one almost push me out of the water, because it was interested! Just remember, do not touch.





Check out my other other trips:

Castles of Ireland and Scotland: https://travelaffari.com/index.php/2018/01/21/castles-of-ireland-and-scotland-beautiful-ruins-off-the-beaten-path/

Spain 10 day Itinerary: https://travelaffari.com/index.php/2017/12/18/18/

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