Crystal River, Florida, may look mysterious and untouched when you first arrive. That’s partially true. The small town is tucked away among a preserve on the Gulf of Mexico. In it lies wildlife, sea life, and windy waterways that can get you lost for hours. Keep reading to learn more about Crystal River and what to do once you get there.
About Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River, Florida, lies about 80 miles north of Tampa and 90 miles west of Orlando. The only landscape between the town and the Gulf of Mexico is the Crystal River and marshlands. The small town has a population of just over 3,200.
What Is Crystal River Famous For?
Crystal River, Florida, is famous for its wildlife, springs, river, and tributaries through the marshland. People come from miles around to see the manatees that migrate to the warm waters of the springs in the winter months. They flee the cool Gulf waters to the springs between November and March. You can catch a glimpse of the gentle giants on a kayak trip or during a swim in the springs.
Crystal River also has first-class fishing. Hiking the area’s unspoiled forests also draws visitors to the area. And like many towns in Florida, there’s a golf course.
9 Great Reasons to Visit Crystal River, Florida
Let’s take a look at the nine most fantastic reasons to visit Crystal River, Florida. Which will make the top of your list?
1. Three Sisters Springs
The most popular attraction in Crystal River, Florida, is Three Sisters Springs. It’s part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The Springs have crystal clear blue water that stays around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can reach the springs by shuttle service or by walking or biking. However, you can’t get into the water from the refuge, nor can you get onto land if you’re in the water. They’re serious about people following the rules and protecting the manatees. Be sure to read all of the fine print on the website before your visit.
You can kayak by launching at any public boat ramps or kayak launches on Kings Bay. You’ll need to navigate to Three Sisters Springs from there. Motorized vessels can also get to the spring this way but aren’t allowed inside. Kayaks and paddleboards are allowed from April 1 to November 14. The Springs can close without notice during manatee season.
2. The Crystal River Manatees
It’s possible to see manatees in the waterways around Crystal River year-round. However, during their migration to the Springs in the fall and winter, there are even more. Crystal River is the only place in Florida that allows you to swim with these marine mammals.
The best places to see manatees are in Three Sisters Springs and Homosassa Springs. With the warm waters of the natural springs, the manatees congregate there in large numbers from November to April. A benefit of viewing manatees at the Springs is that you don’t have to get in the water. Instead, it’s so clear that you’ll be able to watch them slowly swim around from above the surface. Observing from a distance is the best way to protect manatees in the wild.
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park is a refuge for rehabilitating captive-born manatees. They help them return to the wild. It’s an educational place to visit alongside the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
3. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s the only refuge created specifically to protect the Florida Manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee. The refuge preserves spring habitat in Kings Bay, which hosts King Spring and Three Sisters Springs. Both springs are essential habitats for manatees seeking refuge from the cool Gulf waters during winter.
Most of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is only accessible by water. Three Sisters Springs is an exception in that you can get to it by land from November through March.
4. Fort Island Gulf Beach
Fort Island Gulf Beach is a short drive or bike ride from downtown Crystal River, Florida. It has a sandy beach and a fishing pier. Sunset viewing and a swim in the gulf are good activities as well.
There are bathrooms and outdoor showers at the beach. It also has some covered picnic tables and a grassy area on the south side for lounging. There’s also a boat ramp that you can use for free. Note that while there are ample parking spots, it’s likely to fill up on the weekends.
5. Coastal Heritage Museum
The Coastal Heritage Museum is a history museum located in the old City Hall built in 1939. Its exterior is local, natural limestone, and the interior ceilings are magnolia wood.
The building itself is worth seeing, and the museum’s exhibits are equally fascinating. You can learn about the stories of pioneers who lived amid the citrus industry. In addition, old jail cells and other artifacts are on display.
6. Crystal River State Park
Crystal River State Park provides a biologically diverse estuary. It has more than 27,500 acres of scrub, pinewoods, hardwood forests, salt marshes, and mangrove islands. Most of the park is untouched. You get a true sense of an unspoiled part of Florida.
The park is open year-round. You can hike, bike, paddle, fish, and view wildlife. Boat tours are also available. Pets are allowed in the park but must be on a six-foot leash at all times.
7. Crystal River State Archaeological Site
The Crystal River Archaeological State Park is a national historical pre-Columbian landmark. Comprised of 61 acres, it contains burial mounds, temple and platform mounds, a plaza area, and a midden (a refuse heap). For 1,600 years, it served as an imposing ceremonial center for Native Americans. Archaeologists estimate that up to 7,500 Native Americans may have visited annually.
Today, the state park is a haven for history buffs. It’s also a good place for fishing, bird watching, and picnicking. Take a Heritage-Eco Boat tour to learn more about the area.
8. The Franklin Anderson Art Gallery
The Franklin Anderson Art Gallery displays contemporary and traditional artists and crafters from around the world. Pieces include acrylic and oil paintings, nature and landscape photography, art glass, pottery, wood, metal arts, sculpture, and jewelry. In addition, it has manatee and coastal artwork.
The art gallery is a great way to support the arts and a local business. They also sell art supplies and antiques. It’s open year-round.
9. Nearby: Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins in nearby Homosassa is worth a short drive to visit. The state park was once part of a 5,100-acre sugar plantation owned by David Levy Yulee, a former senator. Its steam-driven mill operated from 1851 to 1864 and supplied sugar to southern troops during the Civil War. The park has remnants of the masonry chimney, iron gears, and a cane press.
As you can see, there’s a lot to do in the small town of Crystal Springs, Florida. From manatees to history, you’ll find lots to explore. If a weekend getaway is all you have, try two to three of the activities on this list. Ready to put Crystal Springs on your Florida road trip?