If you read the previous article listing which springs you can spot manatees, Manatee Season at the Florida Springs, you may remember the mention of Three Sister Springs. This spring is particularly special because it is lodged inside King's Bay, the only spring collection where you can get in the water with the manatees. The manatees regard this place as their regular home and can be seen throughout the year, though there are many more during the winter months.
Three Sister Springs is located near the town of Crystal River. Glass bottom boats have always been a way to connect visitors to the world beneath the water here in Florida. These boat tours started taking place at Crystal River, chaperoning visitors through King’s Bay in the 1950s. In 1972 Jacques Cousteau rescued and rehabilitated the first manatee, named Sewer Sam, at Three Sister Springs. You can learn more about this tale by watching the documentary, The Forgotten Mermaid.
Three Sisters Springs gets its name from the three “lobes”. From left to right, the spring lobes are Little Sister, Big Sister, and Pretty Sister, which contain 19 freshwater springs.
Three Sisters Spring is regarded as a refuge for the manatee, becoming part of the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge in 2008. The refuge organization was established in 1983 and worked for many years to slow down the commercialization of the Three Sister Springs area before taking it and the manatees that migrate there under its wing.
For more information about Crystal River Wildlife Refuge, head over to our next article - King's Bay | Crystal River Wildlife Refuge
Now, while it is a very cool experience to swim with manatees, there are some house rules. You will see volunteers in kayaks wearing bright-colored vests to ensure you abide by them. There is a roped-off area over a springhead where many manatees congregate. This area is for manatees, not humans. We are to remain outside the roped area and let the manatee come to us. There is no touching or diving down into the water to get closer to the manatee. No worries, the water is shallow enough to stand in, no need to dive down. And though you can’t touch the manatee, the manatee can most certainly touch you. Many will bump into you or chew on your neoprene suit. Just stand and enjoy being a content and giddy observer of the gentle sea cow.
When visiting Three Sister Springs, the best way to access the spring in order to get up close with the manatee is by water. There are many touring companies in the area that offer guided tours. Florida Spring Passport partnered with Manatee Tour & Dive, so if you have a passport and book a tour with them, you are eligible for a discount. There is also a public launch area over at Hunter Springs Park.
Looking for more information on Swimming with the Manatees? Head over to our "Manatee Tour & Dive" article to get our take on this fun excursion! Click HERE
If you visit the spring from the park entrance, there is a boardwalk you can follow that will take you to the roped-off springhead, where the manatees love to hang out. There is no water access from the park side. The park’s boardwalk trail offers views of the wetlands. Guided tours are offered where you can learn more about the wildlife and the refuge’s efforts. There isn’t parking at the park entrance except for handicapped spaces. At the Three Sisters Spring Center, where there is free parking behind the city hall, a trolley will stop by every 30 minutes and is included in the daily admission ticket.
Manatees (of course!) | Fish | Blue crabs
Alligators | Snakes | Migratory Birds
Take the opportunity to meet one of Florida’s sweetest creatures. Let this up-close interaction fill you with joy and aspirations to see how you can give back the wildlife in your area!