Where to See the Manatees – Kayaking Three Sisters Springs

If you want to kayak with manatees, this is your guide to kayaking Three Sisters Springs.

Crystal River, FL is famous for their natural springs and it’s known as “The Manatee Capital of the World”. There are over 70 natural springs that feed the Crystal River and Kings Bay. In winter, at Three Sisters Springs, manatees gather in the 100s to keep warm. It’s a beautiful place to kayak, paddle board and snorkel! Below is all you need to know on kayaking this magical place and when to see the manatees!

Note that this travel guide to kayaking Three Sisters Springs contains affiliate links, where I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Table of Contents

Kayaking Three Sisters Springs

Three Sisters Springs is one of the most popular springs in Florida and kayaking it has been on my bucket list. My family and I headed out on a quest to see the breathtaking natural springs and hopes to see manatees on a hot day in September. We were 6 kayaks deep, 13 paddlers in total.

Looking for kayak rentals?

There’s quite a few kayak rental options in Crystal River, however we rented and recommend – Paddles Outdoor Rentals. They have great reviews and are priced well offering swim with the manatees and kayak tours.

Choose from guided eco tours or self-guided. If you really want to see the crystal clear waters of the springs and the manatees, rent the clear kayak!

Clear Kayak Ecotour of Crystal River | Credit: tripadvisor.com

The gift shop is also cute! We bought the kids new goggles and shark teeth before heading out to the kayak launch.

kayak rentals crystal river

Where’s the kayak launch?

Our kayaks were waiting for us right at the kayak launch, Kings Bay Park. The park has a playground, restrooms, and great spots for fishing on the dock and along the riverside. Parking is $5 and the lot can get full if you go later in the day. I’d recommend going early!

Three Sisters Springs kayak launch
Kings Bay Park – Three Sisters Springs kayak launch

Map to Three Sisters Springs

three sisters springs map
Crystal River Springs Map to Three Sisters Springs from Kings Bay park kayak launch.

Getting to Three Sisters Springs

From the kayak launch to Three Sisters Springs it took around 40 minutes. Keep in mind we had a large party so we likely added 10 mins.

kings bay cyrstal river florida

I was a bit surprised by the paddle to the springs – we launched in the bay and then headed into a residential intercoastal waterway before reaching the springs.

I always envisioned we’d kayak through dense tropical woodlands – ha! You’re sharing the waterways with boats, but paddling in a no wake zone the entire way which is still good for beginners.

Three sisters springs kayaking
Almost to the springs!

Three Sisters Springs

After passing rows of homes on your right side with the nature refuge on your left, tucked away was the entrance to Three Sisters Springs, also called Idiots Delight.

The water changes immediately as you enter from a dark brown to turquoise blue.

Water so crystal clear you can see every pebble at the bottom. The spring has one entry and exit point which was pretty congested with a lot of others exploring the spring during our visit.

The beautiful lagoon is only accessible by water. No motorized vehicles are allowed in the springs.

We spent around 40 mins exploring and swimming in the springs. Unfortunately we didn’t see any manatees during our paddle but it was also about 100 degrees in September.

The Best Time to See Manatees

November through March is your best chance to see manatees in Crystal River Springs. When the water temps in the Gulf of Mexico dip below 68 degrees, manatee’s come to Three Sisters Springs to stay warm in the 72°F (22° Celsius) water year-round. 

crystal river kayaking
Three Sisters Springs swim with the manatees. | Credit: gomanateefest.com

If kayaking isn’t your thing – you can see the manatees and Three Sisters Springs from the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s the only national wildlife refuge in the United States to protect habitats for the Florida manatee. The 57 acre refuge has hiking and bike trails, wildlife viewing and a boardwalk that overlooks the spring.

Can you swim in Three Sisters Springs?

Yes, you can swim in the springs. The temperature is 72 degrees year round. This is the only location in the US where you can swim with manatees.

three sisters springs swimming
My daughter swimming in the springs.

What’s a group of manatees called?

A group of manatees is called an aggregation. They’re not often found in large groups together but usually they’re solo or in pairs. When a group of manatees gather, likely they are mating or trying to keep warm near a large food supply.

When is the Florida Manatee Festival?

The 36th annual Florida Manatee Festival will be January 14th & 15, 2023 in Crystal River, Fl. The event will have live music, food vendors, manatee tours, and fun for the kids!

What’s Nearby

Manatee Snorkel Tour with In-Water Photographer

Wetsuits provided! Snorkel up close with manatees and get your magic moment captured by a divemaster photropher.

View & Book

Hunter Springs Park

Credit: Crystal River, FL

Looking for Crystal River springs swimming? Hunter Springs Park has fresh water springs and a beach shore making it a must see spot. It’s accessible by kayak and should be part of your journey as you’re visiting Three Sisters Springs.

The park has a roped-off swimming area, kayak/canoe launch, a boardwalk along the water, a playground, picnic area with grills, and restrooms.   This park is a great kayak launch point.

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About Me

Hi, I'm Carly! While working full time, we travel and explore as much as we can. Especially on the weekends. I want to inspire you on new places to see and fun things to do as a family while juggling it all.

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