As the warm sunshine gives way to cooler days, manatees begin migrating to their winter home of Florida. The colder ocean temperatures drive them into the consistent water temperatures of Florida springs, which remain 72 degrees year-round. Manatee season in Florida starts in the middle of November and lasts through March. There are several places to have a manatee encounter, but each spring has a slightly different way you can view Florida’s favorite winter guests.
During Manatee Season you can see HUNDREDS of Manatees gathered together at places like Three Sisters Springs, Homosassa Springs, and Blue Springs.
Kings Bay at Crystal River
For those wanting to take the deep plunge and swim with the manatees, you will want to head over to Kings Bay in Crystal River. It is the ONLY SPRING AREA where you are allowed to get in the water with a gentle sea cow. Several touring companies offer this experience, such as Manatee Tour & Dive with Swim with the Manatees at Hunter Springs Kayaks and Tours. If you have a watercraft, such as a kayak or a paddleboard, you can launch from Hunter Spring Park to enjoy a short paddle over to Three Sisters Springs. You will want to wear a wetsuit for this excursion, either 3mm or 5mm, depending on how easily you get chilly. If you are on a tour, most of them provide you with a wetsuit and snorkel gear and are included in the tour price. You will also want to bring extra clothes and layers to change into after you are done swimming. The colder the air temperature, the more likely there is a plethora of manatees in the spring. You will see manatees as you paddle or enjoy a boat ride from the marina to the spring. Once at the actual springhead, there is a roped-off area. No one is allowed to go into the roped-off area because that is the manatee's home. Any manatees that want to swim up and say “HI!” outside the roped area are totally okay. As a guest in the manatee's winter home, there are a few rules: no diving down to the manatee, no chasing, or trying to make physical contact with the manatee. Now, if the manatee comes up to you and starts chewing on your neoprene boots, which will happen, that is fine. You are merely an observer in their habitat. There are volunteers in bright-colored vests in kayaks that will be keeping an eye out to make sure you are obeying proper house guest rules. But definitely enjoy this magical opportunity to come face to face with these famous Florida residents. If you are not wanting to get wet, there is a boardwalk path you can stroll from the state park side of Three Sisters Springs and catch glimpses of the manatees from there.
Florida Springs Passport Holders will receive an EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT for the Manatee Tour & Dive with Swim with the Manatees at Hunter Springs Kayak Rentals. Become a Passport Holder TODAY!
Blue Springs State ParkBlue Springs is another major hub for manatees in the winter months. They close off the spring, which is open for tubing and swimming in the summer, to make way for the winter house guests. You can’t swim with the manatees here, but you can rent kayaks or paddle boards to get a closer look. Just like Three Sisters Springs, there is a roped-off area that you cannot enter. No worries, plenty of manatees will swim out and pop by to say “Greetings!” Most tours launch from French Landing, which is just down the dirt road from the state park entrance. This is also the place you can launch from if you have your own watercraft. The state park also has kayaks available for rent. Even if you have the opportunity to see manatees by water, the boardwalk at Blue Springs is a really great way to view this fan favorite animal. The boardwalk stretches from the springhead to where it meets the St. John River. There are a couple of little jut outs along the path that gives you a better view of the spring from above. Blue Springs has special volunteers that go out every morning during the season and count how many manatee visitors they have each day. You can call ahead to the spring to find out the number, and they will have it posted outside the entrance.
Fun Fact, Blue Springs is home to our adopted Manatee, Gator! For more information on Gator the Manatee & Save The Manatee Club, click HERE!
Other Spring Locations for Manatee Sightings
Some other springs where you will have the chance to see a manatee are Weeki Wachee Springs; Home of the Mermaids, Silver Glen Springs up in Ocala National Forest; De Leon Springs, home of the famous Spanish Sugar Mill; The Chassahowitzka, where Seven Sister Springs is located, and Silver Springs, well known for their glass bottom boat tours. Now for Silver Glen and De Leon Springs, you will NOT have a manatee encounter at the springhead because it is blocked off for swimmers. You will need to paddle out onto the river to run into a manatee. Most state parks have kayaks for rent, or you can bring your own to drop in. Silver Springs State Park has a special launch area for all kayaks and paddleboard rentals. You can drop in your watercraft there for $6. There is no guarantee since the glass bottom boat tour doesn’t go far enough down the river, but there is a chance you might see a round mermaid friend.
Any body of water that backs up along the St. John River will have manatees swimming on down for the winter. You will also find them on the west coast near Crystal River and Homosassa. Always be mindful that we are simply observers of these sweet creatures in their habitat. Get excited about the manatee season and plan your next excursion to meet this friendly winter guest.
Florida Springs Passport Approved Tours
What to Pack
Snorkel Equipment | Wetsuit | Neoprene Booties | Bathing suit | Sunglasses | Sunscreen | Towels | Warm Layers for after paddle or swim (hat, sweatshirt, jacket, pants) | GoPro or Waterproof Camera | Kayak/Paddleboard | Water/Snacks
Manatees (of course!) | Cormorants | Anhinga | Blue Crabs | Local Fish
Become A Passport Holder
Florida Spring Passport Holders will receive an EXCLUSIVE DEAL on the Manatees Tour & Dive with Swimming with the Manatees at Hunter Springs Kayaks & Tour.