Manatees Everywhere at Three Sisters Springs | Florida

On our way up north from Fort Myers, Florida, we decided to stop in a town that wound up being one of the most memorable days of our road trip through Florida, to the town of Crystal River. The town itself was no different than the surrounding towns we’d driven through for hours. But for some reason, this town is the winter destination for countless Manatees during the winter months to escape the cold waters of the Gulf. And when we arrived at Three Sisters Springs, it felt like we stepped into a tropical jungle in another world with how blue the water was, and then the gentle giants swam into the spring.

For a few years now, I’ve seen posts online of people kayaking and swimming in crystal clear, blue waters, surrounded by dense green jungle, with the location tagged as somewhere in Florida. I always assumed it was somewhere in the Everglades National Park, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The town of Crystal River, where this national wildlife refuge exists, is a short 2-hour drive north of Clearwater, in the northern portion of the peninsula, on the edge of the gulf. This seemingly innocuous town, filled with strip malls and a large quantity of dive shops, is the home to the Three Sisters Springs where all these Manatees call home for the winter months.

As we walked through the entrance of the park and purchased our $15 tickets (with National Park Pass Discount of $5), we wandered over to the boardwalk area that surrounds the three springs. Aptly named, Deep Sister, Pretty Sister, and Little Sister, are all natural springs that provide fresh, clear water, into this stunning lagoon that looks like it’s out of the caribbean. Once we were up on the boardwalk, we immediately saw two Manatees swimming through the water, which turned out to be a mom and her calf. But they weren’t the only ones, because we could count almost a dozen right away, and that count was only going to rise as the afternoon passed by. 

Because there is no water access from inside of Three Sisters Refuge, you can really only get a good visual of these creatures from the boardwalk, that is, unless you take a seperate kayak tour that allows you to view the creatures from the water via the waterways that surround the refuge. But the best views come from the boardwalk as you could witness one-by-one, more and more manatees entering the springs, for a total of over 50 by the time we left. And no, this isn’t a zoo where the caretakers feed the animals, this is simply a protected area for these water cows to stay warm during the “cold” winter months in Florida.

Because there isn’t much else to do, we just stood along the boardwalk’s railings at different spots and just gazed at these gentle giants swimming about. Some played with their calves, while others just floated on by, rolling around every now and then. The blue waters made for a fantastic viewing experience and I recommend it for anyone passing through. But do note, there isn’t any parking on-site, so you have to park at the Three Sisters Springs Center and take the shuttle which is included in your ticket. And though this doesn’t come close to a close encounter that Courtney and I had while in the Florida Keys where it hung out with us in the water, this certainly is right up there because of how beautiful the scenery was to watch these Manatees. 

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