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Meeting a manatee on a guided manatee swim tour in Crystal River, Florida
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  • States:
    Florida

Nestled along the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is Crystal River – recognized as the ‘Manatee Capital of the World’ and so much more.

Exploring the outdoors comes naturally in Crystal River, with its sparkling springs, palm- and oak tree-lined riverbanks, biking and hiking trails and plentiful fishing. The area’s spring-fed waterways make it an ideal home for the gentle marine mammals (relatives of elephants) called manatees. So, reserve a room at one of the area’s many hotels, inns or vacation rentals or go rustic with tent or recreational vehicle camping and get ready to explore the natural wonders of Crystal River.

Meet the Manatees

Crystal River and nearby Homosassa are the only places in the USA where you can legally swim with manatees. The area’s many guides are trained to make the experience fun and educational for visitors while treating this threatened species with care and respect. You’ll see the largest number of “sea cows” during manatee season in November through March. As the Gulf of Mexico cools, the creatures seek warmth in natural springs that maintain a constant temperature of 23 degrees Celsius. Manatees can still be spotted year-round in the waters of Kings Bay and at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

An aerial view of manatees congregating in Three Sisters Springs

An aerial view of manatees congregating in Three Sisters Springs
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Snorkel for Scallops

There might be just one thing better than enjoying a dinner of fresh-caught scallops: catching them yourself. From July through September, you can book charter boat tours to do just that. Charter operators will typically provide everything you need, including a license, dive flags and mesh bags to hold your catch as you snorkel. Keep an eye on the scenery during the boat ride out; you just might spot dolphins frolicking in the warm water. Once you’ve arrived at the scallop grounds, strap on your fins and snorkel mask and get ready to hunt for the glowing blue “eyes” along the rim of the scallops’ shells. Now that you’ve caught your limit, get your scallops shelled and cleaned right at the dock. Many local restaurants will cook your day’s catch for you too. Call ahead to be sure.

Showing off an impressive collection of scallops

Showing off an impressive collection of scallops
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Ride Bike Trails

The nearby cities of Inverness and Floral City were designed with cyclists in mind. Rent a bicycle from one of the area’s many outfitters to explore on two wheels. Pedal with ease along the paved, 74-kilometer Withlacoochee State Trail to see lush forests, sparkling lakes and charming small towns. Refuel with lunch at one of the many restaurants in quaint downtown Inverness. Mountain bikes are preferred in Crystal River on an 11-kilometer trail through pine flatwoods, marshes, swamps and the wet hardwood hammock of Crystal River Preserve State Park. Pristine and untouched, the park gives explorers a sense of what Florida looked like hundreds of years ago.

Pedaling along a canopied path on the Withlacoochee State Trail

Pedaling along a canopied path on the Withlacoochee State Trail
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Go Fishing

Whether you’re looking for saltwater fishing or fresh, deep sea or flats, you’ll find a place to cast in Crystal River. Engage one of the area’s experienced guides to get the best out of the world-class fishing here. For saltwater sport fishing, head to the flats of the Crystal or Homosassa rivers to catch redfish, tarpon, grouper and much more. Freshwater fan? Don’t miss the 48-kilometer Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes, dotted with vegetated marshes and open-water pools. The lakes are home to largemouth bass, black crappie and bluegill, among others.

Measuring the day’s fresh catch on a fishing charter

Measuring the day’s fresh catch on a fishing charter
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Getting There

Crystal River is located in Citrus County on Florida’s Gulf coast, about an hour and a half north of Tampa International Airport and just under two hours northwest of Orlando International Airport.

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