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Florida's Manatee Spot: Homosassa Springs Style

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

 If you want a place to visit to enjoy the native Floridian world of manatees, nature, Rivers, Springs and low-key beauty, this is it! I'm sharing the details so you can flow with the good times.


Homosassa is a small town on the west coast of Florida, in Citrus County. The word Homosassa is a Seminole Indian name meaning either "river of fishes" or "pepper ridge". Here a stunning collection of freshwater springs connect with a network of marshes and islands that lead to the Gulf of Mexico. Wildlife is attracted to these waters and low laying vegetation. There's not a whole lot of things to do, and yet it seems like that's exactly how to best enjoy this area. The Crystal River is considered the jewel of the Nature Coast. Crystal River is also a small town by the same name. These two places (Crystal River and Homosassa) create one area full of rivers, springs, estuaries and unique coastal marsh perfect for many species to thrive.


Where to find Homosassa
Map of Florida, showing Homosassa

Many of the Florida Springs I visit for walking trails, paddle boarding or wildlife watching result in someone telling me that “Crystal River is the only place you can swim with the manatees in the wild”. I know this to be true, and yet every time I am reminded by the people, I meet along the journey I feel like it’s an invitation to go and enjoy this unique experience for myself.

Girls Weekend!!!


lady with manatee underwater
Swimming with the manatees in Homosassa

Our girl's weekend 2023 was set in place to celebrate two girlfriends hitting their 50th Birthdays. But also, we had a spell of high work demands with little self-care time. As a group, even the planners of our posse agreed we just needed a good dose of nature for our quality time! This prompted a getaway where we rented an inexpensive Airbnb, and drove to the remote area with lots of nature. We have been to Homosassa camping before. This trip was the revisiting of a favorite place, where we have camped, pontooned, and jumped into the springs to swim alongside the manatees with families cheering. These weekends were for the whole family to come together - this was a girl's weekend! Click here for flashbacks and ideas for Girl's Weekend in Tampa Bay!


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But every time I visit a location, I learn new things. This blog is to encourage you to check out the Homosassa area which really is a Florida gem and a place like no other you’ll find and give you the scoop so you show up ready for the fun. Homosassa is just over an hour north of Tampa, and pairs really well with a West Coast of Florida adventure. If you spend a few days in the metro of Tampa and Saint Pete, this drive to the remote area can be even more satisfying! Below I have tips for this area as well as itinerary suggestions, if you are coming to this area, it is a gift to your soul!


Manatee in the Spring
Three Sister's Springs

Why Homosassa?

Unique features of this area feature "the Chaz", aka the Chassahowitzka River which is surrounded by a lush forest and is home to exciting wildlife. The Homosassa River creates a water way with lots of smaller canals and springs off shooting. Historic State Parks, air boating companies, snorkeling and kayaking tours and booze cruises offer a look at this area from the most beautiful side: the water. There is no shortage of amazing hikes and water tours to spend which could easily provide weeks of explore. I will focus on a few of the most frequented spots here:


Visit the Three Sister’s Springs – The insider’s scoop:


Entry here does not give you access to the water, but rather a viewing area of the Spring. This is especially impressive when it is filled with pods of manatee that are seeking the warmer water, which stays 72 degrees year-round. If you want access to the water, skip down to the next section 😊

The spring run is blocked off by concrete pillars so that no boats can enter the area. Only kayaks, paddle boards and swimmers are allowed into the spring during designated months (April-Nov) as long as there are no temporary closures. The spring run has rocky edging and is about 10 feet wide in the narrower areas. The main part of the spring averages about 14 feet deep. From the boardwalk in the cooler months manatees are seen chilling out in the spring, huddling together for warmth or even nursing their young.



Manatee Watching at Three Sister’s Springs

 Since we were already in Homosassa having an incredible Girl’s Weekend, with a few diehard manatee lovers in our party - this was an easy way to stay on land and view our favorite creatures. We'd originally planned to do a manatee experience...

Unfortunately, we dropped the ball in the plan ahead department and decided to stay on dry land for this trip. We will return for a glass bottom boat tour and swimming adventure.

 

We plugged Three Sisters Spring into the GPS and the first stop led us to the Police Department, which was a few blocks from where we wanted to be, and the officers outside in the parking lot were happy to point us in the right direction. The second GPS arrival was to the main entry gate. However, only handicapped cars are permitted to park inside the Spring property, and all others park across the road by the City Hall. Eventually we got parked, asked the shuttle driver where to buy tickets and figured it out one step at a time.


Florida is known for some pop-up showers, and we got caught in such weather during our December visit. We did not know that we were about to get soaked but the storm rolled in quickly and the sky shifted colors fast! We ran back up the boardwalk where we all crammed into the bathroom, then moved to the shelter to wait for the shuttle back. As we were leaving, guests were arriving in their ponchos fully prepared.


We went from dry and wandering at our leisure, to running for cover!



NEW LOCATION!!!Three Sisters Springs Center

917 Three Sisters Springs Trail Crystal River, FL 34429

Hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm daily. Last entry is at 3:30pm.

CLOSED CHRISTMAS DAY 12/25/2023

Go to the Center for:

Ticket sales, parking or annual pass sales. Trolley departs from here approximately every hour. We missed one trolley, and another pulled up shortly after to take us in.

 

Front Gate @ Three Sisters Springs

601 Three Sisters Springs Trail, Crystal River, Fl. (Credit/Debit Card Only)

Go straight to the gate for: Ticket Sales, Walk-in Access, Bicycle Access

Prices: Adult $12.50/ Summer and $20.00 / winter.

Reason for the price hike is the manatee refuge attracts visitors coming to see the hundreds of manatees that come here to stay warm for the winter!

 



The Shuttle is a win!

What is cool about the shuttle is this could make your day a little more interesting. While most people come here just to see the manatee, there is a historic little area surrounding the Spring and it’s a bit more worth the cost if you take full advantage of the shuttle. Shuttle service operates continuously from 8:30am-4:30pm to the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. Additional stops are made at USFWS Visitor Center & gift store, Hunter Springs Park, Town Square, and Heritage Village. Last admission ticket is sold at 3:30pm. This could be a full day if you really wanted to get your dollar’s worth with the admission cost.


Restoration:

The spring has been undergoing restoration and was actually closed for much of 2023 for the Canal Stabilization project. Manatee eat sea grass and need a lot of it to thrive! The sides of the springs were badly eroded leading to loss of habitat. The Crystal River/Kings Bay spring system focused on restoring this sacred habitat and increasing safety for visitors. Having the shoreline stabilized and reinforced allows the springs to remain a place visitors can come as well as the wildlife natives. While we were there, we saw the soil bags reinforcing the shoreline and limestone boulders recently added. They added plants along the canal sides to provide additional shoreline stabilization and help reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff.


There is no water access from the Spring. That’s right. You are paying to go inside, walk the boardwalk and trails and see the nature from the land. There are no steps or areas that you can dip your toes into the turquoise water. Looking only!



There are many ways to encounter manatees from swimming with manatees to kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding and boat tours, to visiting the incredible fully accessible boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs Refuge in Crystal River and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa.


Where the Bay and Spring meet
The King's Bay access point to the 3 Sister's Springs

Swimming with the Manatees

Many tour companies will take you to the manatee. They provide the vessel, wet suits, swim/ snorkel gear and some will even offer a photo package. The rules have changed and participants are no longer allowed to touch manatee as they have hair along their bodies which is protected.


Each winter between 500 and 1000 manatees are drawn here by three first magnitude spring systems, each with a constant temperature of 72° to 74° F (23° C).  It is the most important natural warm water refuge for manatees along the Gulf Coast of Florida.  Even in the warm summer months, up to 100 manatees remain here all year. 

 

The list found here will provide access to the options for companies, and pricing of each:

I do recommend getting a skipper and discovering the area with the expertise of a local!


**We met and talked to Skipper Jessica, who was a wealth of knowledge from Salty Siren's Tours Swim With The Manatee. Reasonable rates and passion for this work make the experience a memorable one!


If you’d like to enjoy to the Spring by getting IN the water there are options:

In-water recreation is accessible by launching your vessel (paddle board, kayak or canoe) from any of the public boat ramps or kayak launches on Kings Bay and navigating to the spring-run for Three Sisters. Public kayak launches can be found at:

  • Hunter Springs Park, 104 NE 1st Ave, Crystal River (30-minute paddle) Parking fee is $1 per hour or $5 for all day, must pay at parking kiosk.

  • King's Bay Park, 268 NW 3rd St, Crystal River 

 Kings Bay is a freshwater bay with over 70 springs that feed into it. The water stays a consistent 72º in the bay and surrounding springs which is why it’s a popular area for manatees to migrate to during the winter months. The most popular spring in the bay is Three Sisters Springs–for its startling blue water and manatee encounters.


Also, many people use water vessels to play in the Homosassa River. Many outfitters allow rentals to meet your needs in this quest. I will also share that if there is any propeller damage this can be a costly trip quickly. The river changes depth quickly and visitors new to the area should be very cautious. Renting a pontoon can be a great way to fit many people and venture into the Spring and jump into the water on your own without a guide.


Camping is popular here! Bring your tent or RV and head to Nature's Resort for a family experience. We like this location for its amenities, and we've made many good memories together as multiple families at adjoining sites with everything we needed readily available. Having a home base while in the area makes a few days here much easier!



 Admission:

  • $13 per person, ages 13 and older.

  • $5 per person, ages 6-12.

  • FREE, children 5 and under.

The park is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.

  • The ticket counters close at 4:45 p.m.

  • The Wildlife Walk closes at 5 p.m.

Restaurants:

The Wildside Café, located at the park's west entrance, offers indoor and outdoor dining areas.

  • Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Grill at Pepper Creek is open for breakfast and lunch.

  • Breakfast is served 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • Lunch is served 9 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Reservations can be made by calling 1-844-907-2772.

The Gator Bites restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visitor Center and Gift Shops-

  • The Visitor Center Gift Shop is open daily, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • The West End Gift Shop is open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 Boat Tours-

The boat tour transports visitors along Pepper Creek from the visitor center to the west entrance of the park.

  • $3 per person, plus tax, ages 13 and older.

  • $2 per person, plus tax, ages 6-12.

  • FREE, children 5 and under.

Hiking - A 1.10-mile trail with paved trails and elevated boardwalks winds throughout the wildlife park. Benches and rain shelters are conveniently located along the trail. 

Animals - See Manatee year-round. Many animals in their Rehability areas. Lots of informative "talks" by Park Rangers, got to love the State Park vibe! Talks occur throughout the day. All animals here are native to Florida....Except, Lou, a Former movie & TV Star...a Hippo. made an honorary Citizen of Florida by then Gov, Chiles.

While there is no swimming permitted here in this park, there is a tram and some really great features to make spending a morning or a few hours here interesting.


Don't miss Homosassa Springs
State Park Fun is always well spent time!

Other fun things in the area not to be missed:

Fun tiki bar sitting on the Homosassa River, is a big waterfront restaurant, lots of photo ops, gift shop, good food and live music. Great service and delicious food. Lots of seating along the water. You can see Monkey Island from here! Doesn’t that sound like fun? We stopped for lunch and left at 10:00 pm after eating lunch and dinner along with having several well-made drinks and receiving excellent service. Their live music drew quite the crowd! They have a customer loyalty program which is worth signing up for. Use your points in the gift shop!

Right across there (a 3-minute boat ride or 17-mile drive around the river) is the...

5297 S Cherokee Way, Homosassa, Florida 34448

Fun resort and tiki bar also known as the Monkey Bar, well known for amazing pizza, drinks, live music and similar to Crumps, a whole waterfront array of options. resort features lodging, pool, hospitality room, 85 boat slips, two boat ramps, boat and trailer parking, and a Florida Cracker Monkey Bar and Florida Cracker Kitchen. Full-service Marina includes boat rentals, kayak and paddleboards, golf carts, scalloping equipment, and manatee tours Both hot places have boat slips and can be pulled up to by those out in the water.

 

Monkey Island - cannot be entered by humans. This Island in the middle of the Homosassa River provides a habitat for the spider monkeys. Marked by their private decorative lighthouse, boats often circle the island completely enthralled by the inhabitants there. Closed right now while being repaired from storms which damaged their structures.


Girls with matching bags and shirts for 50th bday
Girls Weekend Crumps was GREAT times!

We had such a great time at Crumps on our Girl's Weekend! We stayed much longer than planned because the amazing scenery, good food and drinks, live entertainment and excellent service was so welcoming. Our 50 AF Squad gear was a hit. We met and spoke with the owner for hours. Highly recommend this location!


Fort Island Gulf Beach

The Citrus County Boat Ramp here is Free. This launch site provides the boater with access to Gulf of Mexico and Crystal River. bathrooms, outdoor showers, covered picnic tables and a grassy area on the south side of the beach. Fishing pier, local hang out and food trucks on the weekends. This beach has amazing sunset views.

**If you live near the beach, your time may be better spent on the Springs during this trip. However, it is the nearest Gulf Beach and the Pier is a great spot to watch the sunset.


These were taken in Crystal Spring, while everyone gets excited about the manatee, let's not forget dolphin are abundant here as well!


Itinerary Ideas:

Day 1:

Weeki Wachi Springs

Catch the mermaid show. Bring your own float! Float in the spring. Grab a Publix sub or some chicken and picnic in the park.


Day 2:

Rent a pontoon or Kayak into Homosassa River and Springs.

Lunch/ Dinner at Crumps Landing/ Florida Cracker Monkey Bar


Day 3:

Three Sisters Springs. Take the shuttle around to the different stops, enjoying historic Homosassa and the beauty of the nature trails. Awesome shops, boutique and antiques can me discovered here by local artisans and small businesses.


Day 4:

Breakfast at the Breakfast Station - Yuuuum!!

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park




Tips:

*There is no public parking at the Spring. Enter Three Sisters Springs Center in your GPS. This is where you will park, pay, and catch the shuttle service to the refuge GPS to here: 917 Three Sisters Springs Trail Crystal River, FL 34429 (parking is free)

*If you are driving and have your own water vessel, bring them! If not, rentals vary by price and time needed. The best way to see this area is by waterways.

*Cold water? Springs run 72 degrees year-round, consider a wet suit if this causes stress, no need to be colder than

*The cooler temp of the springs actually feels closer to air temp in winter months.

*The cooler temps of the springs feels refreshing in the summer, but the drastic difference from the air will be felt!

*Inflatable kayak and paddle boards are a great way to get around!

*Bring sneakers for hiking, flip flops give no protection for red ants

*Prepare for weather. This may mean extra hot sun, extra wet rain, or insane humidity. It may mean all three in the same day. Unless it is summer, dress in layers.

*I am a proud packer of a cooler! Save money by shopping at a local Walmart or Public and stocking up on your favorite snacks. Bottled water and drinks are an easy way to nickel and dime the wallet - save for the excursions and plan the easy stuff

*I see the benefits of camping and also getting a local room or Airbnb. The area has good options for any route you plan to take

*We didn't discuss gators - I know they are here ,I've just never actually seen one while visiting the area - typically gators prefer less populated areas and avoid the commotion of people. However, it's worth mentioning to be cautious, and if you do see a gator, leave it all the way alone.

*Bring your underwater camera! Amazing shots!

*Don't forget your waterproof shoes and or socks if you are getting into the water!


The beach area at Crumps
Crumps Landing waterfront dining

Affordability meter: 6/10

On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this trip?

With 1 being utterly unaffordable and 10 being basically free

This trip can vary greatly depending on your itinerary. The Springs/ Parks are pretty economical. You can pack light or bring it all with you, for the cost of admission, parking, and the time/ gas to get there let nature do the work for you. Go stand in the water. Float. Swim a little. Breathe deeply. Treasure hunt. Enjoy the clean-living water that is surrounding you fresh from the aquifer. When you pay entry per person, as a family trip this can quickly grow the expense to be there. We enjoy chipping in with multiple families to decrease our overhead costs. If you do rent a boat or pontoon, this can quickly add up - but again the price is worth it's expense. It's still less than a day at Disney if you know what I mean!


The cost of this trip comes from the remoteness of the springs and proximity of accommodations. There are a variety of hotels/ motels and Airbnb's for the taking, but your costs will be impacted based on your choice. I rate this a 6/10 because while the money was well spent, I still had to budget and plan for the expense of traveling, staying away from home, meal prepping and bringing all the things to make this experience what we wanted it to be. Although, I don't find the area to be highly costly - such as places like Orlando or Key West where visiting needs some real thought and budgeting.


Underwater view of Manatee
Amazing underwater photos

~Wherever your travels take you, be sure to keep your presence in the moment

~Nature is healing, grounding and living. Tune in

~Enjoy where you are at. Be a little flexible with people and their navigation of time

~Let go of things you can't control

~Remember to put your people above things, and cherish the memories

~Do things that will make you proud of yourself when you remember the scenario

~Live more, in abundance and walk in your own footsteps

~Breathe fresh air, feel the flow of water, and find your own level



Mz. Savvy


A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.

I appreciate you stopping by today, please subscribe and share so we can stay connected.

My goal is to make traveling easier for families and cut down on the planning process. 💜


If you are close to Gainsville, you may want to check out the Ichetucknee Springs, or even take advantage of a glamping adventure! while you are in proximity!! Florida has some AMAZING Springs!!


May all your travels return you safely, soundly, and more in love with your Creator.

I am especially grateful for my amazing friends, the lifelong friendships we share and all of the memories we make together. Sometimes are for our kids and families, other times are for us to reconnect with ourselves and each other.



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