Crystal River in Citrus County is quite busy during winter time due to the huge number of manatees in King’s Bay. It’s the largest gathering of manatees in North America.
The West Indian Manatee migrates to Crystal River and the surrounding springs roughly mid-November and stays around the springs until mid-March. This is not guaranteed! In 2018 they already left the springs mid-February due to an unusual high day temperature. Guided tours are offered from November to end of March. You experience most activity during the early morning. If you like to get interactions with manatees book the early morning tour in advance.
The manatees come here during winter time because they get stressed by the cold gulf if the temp goes below 68°F / 20°C. Although they look like to be prepared for cold temperatures their body has not much fat for insulation. The springs have a constant temp of 74°F / 23°C. The reason that they gather around the springs.
During high tide, they move to the Three Sisters Springs, and at low tide, they gather outside in the channel at Idiot’s Delight I and II. Often 400 to 500 manatees can be seen at the springs.
Visiting Three Sisters Springs
If you like to see them in high numbers inside the spring, come during high tide. Tide times Crystal River
It is almost impossible to avoid crowds while swimming with the manatees. Even early morning expect 30 to 40 people in the water. The Three Sisters Springs, however, are tranquil when they open the gate at 8.30.
During the peak season of the manatees, it can be pretty chilly in the morning. On average it's roughly 50°F / 10°C cold in the early morning. We experienced 28°F / -2°C which happens rarely. It was pretty cold when we got out of the water. Day temps are usually between 58°F / 15°C and 70°F / 21°C. Precipitation occurs year-round with its peak in the summer months. It’s quite hot and muggy in the summer and temps are around 90°F / 32°C.
We highly recommend staying here for a couple of days. Visit the Three Sisters Spring, have a look to one of the many other springs like the Rainbow Springs for swimming, enjoy the manatee encounter. Actually, we planned camping in the Rainbow Springs State Park. Due to the cold night temps of 32°F, we’d booked a room at the Hampton Inn Crystal River last minute. It was just a 5 minutes drive to our manatee tour the next morning. We appreciated having a great breakfast each day.