Free shore access
This spot have a free shore access: you can go snorkeling there freely and without having to book a tour or pay an entrance fee.
This spot has been added by
Last updated on January 14, 2024
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.
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:
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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.
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.
There are 4 main snorkeling areas in Crystal River:
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).
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.
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.
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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.
You will find in Crystal River offers a wide range of accommodations and restaurants.
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.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.
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