Crystal River – Three Sisters Springs

(Review added 08/27/13, last update 11/15)

UPDATE 11/15:  The rules have been changed almost every year since the US Fish and Wildlife Service took over management of Three Sisters Springs and a new set of rules is expected to go into effect in 2016.  Between November and April the springs will be closed to all boats, no matter the size or type. The rest of the year the springs can be closed at any time if manatee are present.  During the open periods you may paddle or swim into the springs, but you may not tie up your boat anywhere.  A rope to tie up your boat has been added outside the entrance.  So you can tie up and enter the water there and swim into the springs.  Since the water can be deep at the tie up, you must be able to reenter your boat from waist-deep to chest-deep water. The new rules proposed for 2016 are expected to restrict the number of people in the springs to 13 at any given time and require people to go through a tour operator for access.

Crystal River, Three Sisters Springs

Three Sisters Springs entrance

Kings Bay in Crystal River is a huge area, almost all of which is fascinating for the kayaker.  One of our favorite areas to snorkel is just a short paddle to Three Sisters Spring.  Purchased in 2005 and slated for high-density housing, the developer Hal Flowers suffered a change of heart after helping rescue a wounded manatee calf in the area in 2008.  He offered the property for public purchase so it could be preserved as a manatee sanctuary.  With the support of the Save the Manatee Club, many other environmental groups, government agencies, local businesses, and private citizens, the property was purchased by the City of Crystal River and the South Florida Water Management District in 2010 and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

Crystal River, Three Sisters Spring

Three Sisters Springs pool

While the paddle to the Springs is along man-made canals lined with homes and peppered with power boats large and small, the entrance to the springs area is blocked by concrete posts so only swimmers and small paddle craft may enter.  At the top of the short spring run the pool that greets you is like something you imagine in your dreams.



Crystal River, Three Sisters Spring, underwater, fish

Underwater shot of the springs

Supporting 3 springs (the Three Sisters) the pool is crystal clear – a “blue oasis of clear and pristine water”.  The waters from the springs are a constant 72 degrees creating the ideal winter manatee habitat.   And in the summer it is the ideal place for humans to snorkel and cool off.  This is a very popular area not only for local swimmers but for tourist dive boats.  But if you can get out there during the week or before 10 am on weekends, you are likely to have the springs almost to yourself.

Paddling through the tunnel

Paddling through the tunnel

We usually put in at the A Crystal River Kayak Co./Kayak and Beyond dock (small fee) and it’s only half a mile of easy paddling to the springs.  Another public launch site is available on Kings Bay at Hunter Springs Park about 1.3 paddling miles from the springs.




0.0     A Crystal River Kayak Co. dock
0.2     Pass through tunnel under Cutler Spur Blvd
0.5     Entrance to spring run
0.6     Center of the Three Sisters Springs pool

Manatee in spring

Manatee in spring

Crystal River, Three Sisters Spring

Snorkeling in the spring

Floating above the springs

Floating above the springs

Crystal River, Three Sisters Spring

Birthday Party Florida style in the springs  – Sweet tea, BBQ chips, and key lime pie!

Click HERE to download Crystal River Fact Sheet with mileage chart and directions to launch sites.

Click HERE to download Crystal River – Three Sisters Springs gpx file for your GPS unit.

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