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Reported: Nov. 2012

Kings Bay... Paddling with Manatees on the Crystal River

The Crystal River is formed by series of springs and flows seven miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Totaling 30 springs, 28 are located in and around Kings Bay at the city of Crystal River, Florida. The area is known for manatees taking shelter in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge - about 40 reside year-round, and 400-500 in the winter. Protected areas are closed to all water traffic from November 15 to March 31. (Detailed map and photos below.)



View Larger Map
Distance: River is 7 miles, paddling around Kings Bay is various
Location: Citrus County at Crystal River (60 miles north of Tampa, 30 miles west of Ocala)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: City boat ramp (558 NW 3rd St,) Pete's Pier (1 SW 1st Pl.; fee to park), Hunter Spring Park, Fort Island Park boat ramp (See map, left )
Kayak/Canoe Rentals: Crystal River (links, above right)
Nearby points of interest: Crystal River Preserve State Park, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Homosassa Springs

Paddling is possible all around Kings Bay, to the springs, and along the river to the Gulf. Paddling on the open water when windy can be a workout. This is a busy area with homes and businesses around the Bay. Motorboats, pontoon boats, and tour boats are common for fishing, diving, snorkeling and viewing manatees. Several businesses offer dive-with-manatee tours. When interacting with manatees, look but don't touch! Note that it is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee (see Manatee Viewing Guidelines). (Updated: Nov. 2016)

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, was established in 1983 specifically for the protection of the endangered West Indian Manatee. This unique refuge preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, which forms the headwaters of the Crystal River. The refuge preserves the warm water spring havens, which provide critical habitat for the manatee populations that migrate here each winter.

Paddling at Kings Bay and Crystal River
(tap or hover over photo for larger view)
We launched from Pete's Pier, paddled up to Hunter Spring, to the city boat ramp and US 19, to Seven Sisters Spring, to Buzzard Island, around Banana Island, and return. Click on the map above to see our route.
Manatee
This was before the winter season when the manatee population grows, but we saw some manatee near Three Sisters Springs and Banana Island
Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakCrystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakCrystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakCrystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak
Wildlife
In addition to manatees, there is much wildlife everywhere around Kings Bay
both above and below the water.
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Launch to Hunter Spring
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Launch at Pete's Pier Canal to Hunter Spring
Hunter Spring
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Entering Hunter Spring Run Beach at Hunter Spring Park On Hunter Spring Run At the spring Homes around Hunter Spring
Hunter Spring to US 19
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On the canal, leaving Hunter Spring Kayaks and paddleboards On the Bay City launch
(NW 3rd St.)
Fishing boats
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To launch and restaurants Launch at Bird's
(NW 3rd Ave.)
Canal goes under US 19 - blocked to boat traffic Birds flock by the restaurant deck
for food
US 19 to Three Sisters Springs
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Back onto the Bay Paddling past
Pete's Pier
Approaching bridge over the canal leading to Three Sisters Springs
Three Sisters Springs
Perhaps the most popular springs, the Three Sisters are beautiful - clean and clear. At the mouth of the springs are several pilings that keep motorboats out. Kayaks can go through the pilings and up a narrow channel to the springs.  This area is popular with snorkelers, be careful. In the winter, manatee can be seen here (we did not see any in the springs this trip, but did see them out on the canals and in Kings Bay). Paddle Crystal River - Three Sisters Spring - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak
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Bridge at Kings Bay Road over the canal to Three Sisters These mark off the restricted areas,
Nov. 15-March 31
Mouth of the channel to the springs Snorkelers sharing the channel to the springs
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Snorkelers and kayakers at the springs A quiet spot to rest - landing is not allowed Three Sisters
Springs, the snorkelers left and it was much more tranquil
Exiting the
springs area
Back on the canal
Three Sisters to Buzzard Island
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On the canal Back under the bridge Exiting onto the Bay On the Bay We stopped here to stretch and snack; when we paddled by again later the tide had come up and the beach was gone
Buzzard Island
Part of the Wildlife Refuge, the island is not inhabited
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Paddling across to Buzzard Island
Banana Island
Tarpon Spring, one of the major springs at Kings Bay, is located at the south end of the island
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Crossing from Buzzard Island to Banana Island Area restricted to swimming and snorkeling only
Banana Island and Return to Launch
One of the major springs is located at the south end of the island
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Across from Banana Island toward Port Hotel Manatee zone Launch at Port Hotel Research area Back to the Bay
Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak Paddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, KayakPaddle Crystal River - Kings Bay - Canoe, Kayak
Houses on the Bay On the Bay Approaching
Pete's Pier
Back at the launch

More information on Kings Bay and Crystal River (opens in a new window):

- US Fish and Wildlife Service - Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
- Florida State Parks - Crystal River Preserve State Park
- Florida State Parks - Crystal River Archaeological State Park

See also: Paddling on the Nature Coast at Homosassa River, Chassahowitzka River, and Weeki Wachee River

Top of Page

Paddling in Florida - Kayak, Canoe
Kings Bay and Crystal River

Outfitters/Rentals

Bird's Underwater

Crystal River Kayak Company

Hunter Springs Kayaks

Manatee Tour and Dive


Support and Advocacy

Friends of Crystal River State Parks

Friends of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Save the Manatee Club

Crystal River, Florida, weather forecast