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When the water temperature drops in the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of West-Indian manatees move to the warmer waters of Crystal River. Its naturally-occurring warm water springs offer a constant 72°F water temperature and a safe haven for these endangered animals. It is the only location in Florida where visitors can legally swim and snorkel with manatees.

A manatee breaths at the surface of Three Sisters Springs
Manatee breaths at the surface of Three Sisters Springs.

How to go snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River?

Crystal River is a small city located in an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, a 1.30-hour drive from Orlando and Tampa, and 4.30 hours from Miami. There are three main options for snorkeling with the manatees in Crystal River:

  1. Book a boat snorkeling tour in town, where a large choice of operators is found. Tours take visitors to three main locations: Three Sisters Springs, House Spring, and Jurassic Spring. Prices range from $50 to 80 per person for a 2 to 3 hours tour.
  2. Reach the springs by kayak. The public kayak launches are Hunter Springs Park (to get to House Spring and Jurassic Spring) and King’s Bay Park (to get to Three Sisters Springs). Kayaks cannot enter Three Sisters Springs in winter, and you’ll have to leave yours at the entrance of the spring run and swim to the spring (approx. 150m).
  3. Snorkel from the shore, entering the water at Hunter Springs Park, which offers good chances of encountering manatees in the shallow waters facing the beach. Confirmed snorkelers can consider swimming from Hunter Springs to House Spring and Jurassic Spring, located a bit further north (300m swim – use a dive flag).

Three Sisters Springs, House Spring and Jurassic Spring can be closed in winter to protect manatees from cold stress. Check if the springs are open on Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex Facebook page.

Crystal River snorkeling map, Florida

Water entrance for snorkeling Crystal River

If you are snorkeling from the shore, enter the water from Hunter Springs public beach. This is the only shore access snorkeling spot in Crystal River. If you are on a tour, you will enter the water from the boat.

The constant water temperature in the springs (around 72 to 74°F) allows practicing snorkeling all year round in good conditions. To get the best chances of sighting manatees, visit Crystal River in winter, from November to March.

Encounter with a manatee in Three Sisters Springs
Encounter with a manatee in Three Sisters Springs.

Crystal River snorkeling tips and recommendations

There are 4 main snorkeling areas in Crystal River:

1/ Three Sisters Springs (snorkeling area 1 on the map). Three Sisters Springs is the most popular location for snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River. 200 to 300 manatees can be present at the same time in the springs during the coldest days. In winter, only the central part of the spring can be snorkeled, and two sanctuaries are delimited on the western and eastern sides of the spring (see map). The depth varies between 5 and 12ft (1.5 to 4m).

The public swim area at Hunter Springs Park.
The public swim area at Hunter Springs Park.

2/ Hunter Spring (snorkeling area 2 on the map). Hunter Spring is the only shore access snorkeling location in Crystal River. It has a roped-off swim area that offers ideal snorkeling conditions. In the shallows, you may encounter manatees (come early in the morning, ideally at sunrise, when they are sometimes found very close to the beach), but also a diversity of aquatic life including schools of mullets and snappers, spotted bass, snooks, as well as blue crabs and freshwater turtles. Take a dive flag with you if you plan to snorkel further than the swimming area.

A school of grey snappers at Hunter Springs.
A school of grey snappers at Hunter Springs.

3/ House Spring and Jurassic Spring (snorkeling areas 3 and 4 on the map). These two springs are located just 300 meters east of Hunters Springs Park. Jurassic Spring is just 30 meters long and 15 meters large while House Spring is even smaller. When the springs are closed during the coldest days, you will still have good chances of spotting manatees in the areas around.

Encountering manatees underwater is an experience you will always remember, but keep in mind that these gentle and giant animals are in the warm springs for survival. In winter, outside the springs, manatees experience cold stress and hypothermia. To allow the manatees to enjoy a peaceful rest in the springs, do not harass or disturb them. It is prohibited to touch, chase, or try to feed them.

Large snooks are found in Crystal River waters. Here, at Hunter Springs.
Large snooks are found in Crystal River waters. Here, at Hunter Springs.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

You will find in Crystal River offers a wide range of accommodations and restaurants.


  • Level required Intermediate
  • Protected areaCrystal River National Wildlife Refuge
  • Maximum depth4m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a boat
  • Visitor numbersHigh
  • Access costsTour price ($50 to 80pp.)
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.