With its sparkling blue natural springs, manatee-filled bays, and endless opportunities for water activities, Crystal River is a Florida destination worth adding to your bucket list. 

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Located in Citrus County, Crystal River is situated along Kings Bay and is named for the Crystal River, which connects Kings Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. 

As sustainable travelers, we love visiting smaller destinations that offer unique experiences and lots of outdoor activities. And while the manatees of Crystal River have always been this area’s biggest and most famous attraction (after all, it’s the only place in the US where it is legally permitted to swim with manatees), for us visiting this region was all about discovering what else there is to do in this part of Florida. 

We combined our visit to Crystal River with a few days in Ocala County and made this week-long trip to Central Florida all about nature and adventure! 

Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River, Florida
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Best Time to Visit Crystal River

There is plenty to do in Crystal River any time of the year, so the best season really depends on what activities you’re most interested in. We visited Crystal River in the summer and were pleasantly surprised to discover the weather to be very manageable. Yes, it was hot and humid, but we found plenty of ways to cool down with activities during the day and were still able to see manatees despite visiting outside of the manatee season. 

If you want to plan your trip in a certain window, here is what to expect in terms of weather in Crystal River throughout the year. 


During the winter season, the daily temperature hovers around 20-22°C (70-78°F) during the day and about 6-8°C (43-48°F) in the evenings, making this the most pleasant time to visit Crystal River in terms of weather. Winter months also see the least amount of rain – another bonus that’s worth noting. 

Winter months are considered to be Manatee Season. The Florida Manatee Festival happens every January and features manatee tours, live music, local fine arts and crafts, and a beer and wine garden. As a result, visitors flock to Crystal River this time of the year which can lead to higher hotel prices and general business in the area.


In the Spring months, daytime temperatures warm up to 28-31°C (83-88°F) during the day and cool off to around 10°C (51°F) in the evenings. 

There is a lot going on in March and April, from festivals to fundraising events like the Clean Air Ride, a bike ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail that raises funds for charity organizations in the area. There’s also the annual Shrimp-a-Palooza, a Mardi Gras-style event with a parade, live music, and tons of fresh local seafood to try. And finally, there is Taste of Inverness, a food and beer festival that features a competition for area chefs, live music, art vendors, and more.

Spring sees great weather and lots of activities and is overall one of the all-around best times to visit Crystal River. 


During the summer, the temperatures can become a lot more extreme, with daytime highs often reaching to 32°C (91°F). Humidity also becomes a factor during this time of the year, as summer is known to be the rainiest season known for intermittent showers. 

Scalloping Season runs from July through the end of September. There’s the Homosassa River Fireworks Fest & Poker run in June, the 4th of July celebrations, and the Pine Street Jam & Parrothead Party for Jimmy Buffet fans.

Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River in the summer


The fall months are very mild, with daytime temperatures of around 28°C (83°F) and cool evenings. During both Spring and Fall months, it’s best to pack layers, as the temperatures can drop quite significantly in the evenings. 

There are plenty of festivals and cultural events happening in the Crystal River area during the fall. Around Halloween, you can check out the Heritage Village Scarecrow Festival, a family-friendly event that features hayrides, a pumpkin patch, and live performances. During the month of November, there’s the Inverness Festival of the Arts and the Ozello Arts, Crafts, & Blue Crab Festival.

How to Get to/around Crystal River

By Plane

Tampa International Airport (TPA) is the closest airport to Crystal River with incoming international flights. It is also a hub for Southwest Airlines.

Located about 120 km (74 miles) south of Citrus County, Tampa Airport is just 1.5 hour’s drive from Crystal River. 

Orlando International Airport is another getaway to Crystal River and a popular hub for both domestic and international airlines. Orlando is located 2-2.5 hours from Crystal River. 

By Car

If you’re driving into Crystal River rather than flying, US-19 and US-44 both lead directly into town and link to I-10 or I-75, respectively.

Those arriving in Florida by air will want to rent a car to get to and around Crystal River. Much like with the rest of Florida, public transport options are limited in this area, so renting a car remains the only viable option. 

The car rental center at Tampa International Airport has a lot of rental agencies, so you could rock up and rent a car on the spot. 

To get the best rates, we recommend booking your car rental ahead of time using a car rental aggregator like Discover Cars. It’s a great platform that searches all available rental companies for deals for car rental during your desired dates. 

To save on gas and reduce your CO2 impact, consider renting an electric car – you may be surprised how affordable an electric car rental can be. During our visit in July 2023, we rented a Tesla Model 3 for just $35/day and spent another $20-$30 on charging during our visit. That’s peanuts compared to what it would have cost us to fill up on gas. Plus, driving a Tesla is just so much fun and much better for the environment too. 

There are several Tesla Superchargers and other EV charging stations in Crystal River, Homosassa, and Inverness, so filling up is easy and convenient. 

Our Tesla Model 3 in Ocala
Our Tesla Model 3 on our road trip through Crystal River and Ocala

OK! Now that we’ve covered all the basics, we are ready to dive into the fun part of this post – the best things to do in Crystal River. We had heard of Crystal River as nothing more than a destination for manatee sightings and were pleasantly surprised to discover a bunch of other fun activities during our visit. 

Let’s jump in!

11 Best Things to Do in Crystal River

1. Spot or Swim with Manatees

Yes, you probably already know that Crystal River is THE spot to find manatees in Florida (they don’t call it the Manatee Capital of the World for nothing!) 

Since 1983, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge has been an area of preservation, restoration, and enhancement of the natural habitat that serves as a winter refuge for Florida manatees and hundreds of other wildlife species.

Every year Crystal River plays host to hundreds if not thousands of Florida manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, that migrate to the spring-fed waters around this area for the winter months. 

Why? Well, the reason is quite simple. The manatees live up and down the Florida coast throughout the year, but these gentle giants can not survive in waters less than 20°C (68°F). So when the Gulf starts to cool in the winter months, the manatees migrate to warmer waters and find reprieve in spring-fed canals, like King’s Bay in Crystal River, where temperatures stay consistent at 23°C (72°F) even in the winter. 

In the winter, manatees can be found around the canals of Crystal River in hundreds, but you’ll be pleased to know that there are a number of resident manatees in this area that can be seen year around! 

You can see the manatees from land while kayaking or SUP’ing in the springs or you can join a tour for a chance to swim with the manatees. 

Things to do in Crystal River: manatee spotting
Manatee in Crystal River

Responsible Manatee Interactions

Although the species are no longer endangered, West Indian manatees are still threatened by human activity and changes to their natural habitats. So there are lots of rules and regulations when it comes to interacting with the manatees in the water or observing them from the land.

Whether you choose to see the manatees from land or water, it’s to follow strict manatee interaction guidelines and choose a knowledgeable and responsible tour operator for your swimming with a manatee tour. 

Manatee viewing on kayaks
Manatee viewing on kayaks

We had a great experience with Explorida, a locally owned and operated company committed to manatee conservation and responsible interactions with the manatees. Explorida is one of the few manatee tour operators in Crystal River that offer year-round manatee tours, so they were the perfect choice for us when visiting in the summer. 

Our early morning manatee tour gave us the best chance to find the manatee and enjoy his graceful presence without the crowds. We snorkeled (well actually, more like floated) on the surface around the manatee, watching him feed on seagrass. The tour leaders helped us get really close to the manatee without disturbing his environment and following the strict regulations for swimming with manatees. An effort that was much appreciated! 

Manatee tours with Explorida start at just $65 per person and can be booked on their website HERE.

Swimming with Manatee, Crystal River
Swimming with Manatee on our tour with Explorida
Swimming with Manatee, Crystal River
Look at how close we got!
Swimming with Manatee in Crystal River
Swimming with Manatee, Crystal River

READ NEXT: Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River

2. Go Scalloping

Scalloping season in Crystal River runs from July to late September, and scalloping is another popular activity to add to your itinerary. If you happen to visit the region during that time, consider joining a scallop charter and try your hand at foraging for scallops along the coast of Crystal River. 

Scalloping tours, like this one by Explorida, take guests out about 4 km (2-3 miles) from shore to areas where eelgrass can be found. After equipping you with snorkeling gear, they get you in the water to scour the area for scallops. 

You keep what you can find! The limit per person is 2 gallons of scallops per day, but the average catch can vary. 

When you’re back on shore, you can bring your cleaned scallops to a local restaurant to have them cooked! Make sure to call ahead to make sure they can accommodate your fresh catch and see if they have any requirements. 

Note that scalloping in Crystal River is very popular, so scallop charters book up well in advance. We didn’t know this prior to our visit and didn’t get to join this fun tour during our visit. Unfortunately, all charters were already booked up for our dates. 

Scallops in Crystal River
We didn’t harvest these, but we did enjoy them!

3. Kayak in the Crystal Clear Waters of Three Sisters Springs

Part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs, is an important winter habitat for Florida manatees and a beautiful place to explore. Although it was closed for renovations during our visit, it was recommended to us by many locals. And we can definitely see why! It’s a stunning spot!

Kayaking is permitted in Three Sisters Springs and is a popular activity. Although keep in mind that the refuge does not have any paddle crafts available for rent. 

The nearby Crystal River Kayak Company rents SUPs, canoes, and as well as clear bottom kayaks (those are great if you are visiting in the manatee season and want to see manatees under your kayak)! Reservations are required, so make sure to plan ahead.

Admission to Three Sisters Springs is $12.50 per person during the summer season and $20 USD per person in the winter months. Check the website to confirm opening hours.  

 In addition to being a manatee habitat, Three Sisters Springs is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Over 100 bird species have been sighted, and birding tours are offered throughout the year. 

Crystal River, Florida
Three Sister Springs area in Crystal River
Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River
Three Sisters Springs from above

READ NEXT: 5 Best Springs in Ocala, Florida

4. Kayak at Hunter Springs Park

Hunter Springs Park is another great place for paddling, with the most accessible spring on Kings Bay. There are lots of amenities in the park and a boardwalk for manatee viewing. 

Hunter Springs Kayak is another operator in Crystal River offering kayaks and SUPs for rent. They also offer guided tours of the springs.

5. Cycle the Withlacoochee State Trail

It’s not all just about the manatees in Crystal River! If you are looking for a fun thing to do, head to the Withlacoochee State Trail. 

A 74 km (46 mile) conversion of an old rail line, the Withlacoochee State Trail is the longest paved trail in Florida. This trail winds through three counties, giving cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians views of lush forests, lakes, and small towns. There are bathrooms, rest areas, and water refill stations along the trail (every 12 km or so), so you can spend an entire day on the trail. 

The easiest and fastest way to experience the Withlacoochee Trail is by bike, and that’s exactly what we did during our time in the region. The trail can be accessed from a number of points, but we choose to start in the town of Inverness, just 30 mins from Crystal River. 

We rented e-bikes from the Select E-Bike shop in Inverness, a local provider of high-quality electric bikes in Citrus County, conveniently located right on the Withlacoochee Trail.  

In just a few hours on the bikes, we were able to check out Henderson Lake and Fort Cooper State Park and made our way all the way down to Floral City

If you take the same route, consider stopping by the historic Ferris Groves shop in Floral City, which is accessible from the trail. This old-fashioned Florida citrus shop has been around since the 1930s and offers lots of fresh, local produce and treats like milkshakes, homemade chocolates, Amish cheeses, and local honey.

On the Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness
On the Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness
Select E-bikes, Inverness
Select E-bikes, Inverness
Cooter Lake, Inverness
Cooter Lake, Inverness

6. Take an Aerial Glider Tour of Citrus County

One of the most unique things to do in Crystal River area is to go on an aerial glider tour of Citrus County! This exhilarating activity is available through Right Rudder Aviation, a local flight school based in Inverness Airport. 

The glider tour is basically a 1-hour long discovery flight aboard a Pipistrel Alpha Trainer. This 2-seater glider plane is lightweight and fuel-efficient, making it one of the most eco-friendly ways to take the skies. The planes use only 3 gallons of gas during the hour-long tour, which is about half of the fuel consumption on a comparable size plane. 

The flight was an unforgettable experience, allowing us to take in the amazing views of Citrus County. We flew all around Crystal River, admiring the springs, King’s Bay, and Crystal Bay, along with the beautiful landscapes all around the county.  

READ MORE: On an Aerial Glider Flight in Citrus County 

Starting at just $150 for a 1-hour flight, discover flights with Right Rudder Aviation are surprisingly affordable and make for a perfect gift for a birthday celebration or a special anniversary. They also serve as a great intro to flying (yes, you actually do get to fly the plane, if you want) and, for many, spark the desire to pursue flying as a career. 

Flights can be booked online and can usually be reserved just 1 day in advance (so if you are reading this article while already in Crystal River and are wondering if you’ve missed your chance – the answer is no! Go online or call them NOW!)  

On an aerial flight over Citrus County
On an aerial flight over Citrus County
Aerial flight discovery flight, Crystal River
A peek inside the cockpit on our Aerial Flight in Crystal River
Aerial flight discovery flight, Crystal River
The views on our aerial flight of Crystal River

7. Take an Airboat Ride on the Withlacoochee River

From airplane to airboat, another great way to observe native wildlife in this area is with an airboat ride along the Withlacoochee River. Stretching over 200 km through the lush cypress, gum, and maple trees of the Withlacoochee State Forest, the river acts as a habitat for alligators, turtles, and bird species like bald eagles and owls.

Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours was the first airboat tour operator that received approval from the United States Coast Guard to offer tours in this area. And they continue to be one of the top operators for airboat rides through Withlacoochee.  Reservations are required and can be made online. 


8. Take a Scenic Cruise on the Crystal River

For a more relaxing experience on the water, take a leisurely cruise to explore the Crystal River. These dry tours don’t involve any swimming, just picturesque views of the coastline and the opportunity to spot wildlife along the way. 

Crystal River Preserve Adventures offer Eco-heritage Boat Tours during the day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:30am to 1:30pm, and sunset cruises in the evening on Friday and Saturday nights from November through May. 

Reservations can be made through the company website.

Things to do in Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River, Florida

9. Visit Fort Island Beach

Fort Island Gulf Beach is the only beach in the area and is worth a visit is you are hoping to dip your toes into Crystal Bay waters. It’s a lovely sandy beach with shallow waters, making it perfect even for families with little kids. The Fort Island Gulf Beach Fishing Pier is also a great spot to catch the sunset in Crystal River.

Fort Island Beach is located about 20 minutes from downtown Crystal River. The drive follows the W Fort Island Trail and is actually quite picturesque. 

Fort Island Beach, Crystal River
Fort Island Beach, Crystal River

10. Visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is another spot in Crystal River where you can view manatees throughout the year. This park is dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife and is also home to alligators, lots of fish, and even the endangered Florida panther.

The park’s underwater observatory allows visitors to see under the spring’s surface and watch all of the marine life up close without getting in the water. 

Manatee programs are offered daily at 11am and 1pm along the main spring at the bleachers overlooking the Fish Bowl underwater observatory. These educational presentations are focused on the wildlife native to this area and the park’s conservation efforts.

While you’re in the area, consider also visiting the famous Monkey Island, a piece of land in the Homosassa River that is home to adorable spider monkeys. Kayak rentals are available at River Adventure Tours, an outfitter conveniently located on the Homosassa River. 2-hour rentals cost $25 USD, while 3-hour rentals are $34 USD.

USA Florida Crystal River Homosassa Spings 0493
Homosassa Springs, Crystal River
Homosassa Springs, Crystal River
Homosassa Springs, Crystal River

11. Spend a Day on the Chassahowitzka River

Recognized as an Outstanding Florida Waterway, the Chassahowitzka River is part of a large greenway of public lands designated to protect the Chassahowitzka Swamp ecosystem and wildlife resources. 

The river’s headwaters, tributaries, and springs offer unlimited opportunities for watersports, and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge features nature trails and vantage points for wildlife viewing.

Just a short walk from the river, The Chassahowitzka River Campground offers kayak rentals. From the campground, you can paddle to one of the many springs and creeks that feed the river. To spot some of the 300 wildlife species that are native to this area, walk the Salt Marsh Trails to the tower, where you get a spectacular view of the unique habitat. 

Chassahowitzka River
Chassahowitzka River

12. Base Yourself Downtown Crystal River

The compact downtown of Crystal River is a perfect place to base yourself during your time in the region. The area is where you’ll find Coastal Heritage Museum, a local history museum, and Franklin Anderson Gallery, a fine art gallery that works closely with artists of Florida’s Nature Coast, along with lots of tour operators, a few hotels, and some great restaurants.

We stayed at the Retreat in Crystal River, a lovely family-owned hotel steps away from Citrus Avenue, in the heart of town. The retreat offered comfortable rooms with continental breakfast and the most divine baked croissants that were delivered to our room every afternoon. 

The hotel was within walking distance to Explorida’s office, ideal for our early morning manatee tour and within walking distance to some great restaurants that we got to visit during our time in town.

Our room at the Retreat at Crystal River
Our room at the Retreat at Crystal River

Amy’s on the Avenue

Amy’s on the Avenue is a lovely shop and breakfast/lunch spot on Citrus Avenue. Pop in here for breakfast before your big day of activities (the freshly baked quiche was amazing!), grab some freshly baked goodies to go, or pick up a few trinkets and souvenirs.  

Amy's on the Avenue
Amy’s on the Avenue
Amy's on the Avenue
Amy’s on the Avenue

KC Wine & Koffee

For a great dinner spot in town, head to KC Wine and Koffee. The restaurant serves up the freshest seafood in Crystal River (the owner is really particular about where his fish comes from) and a great selection of wines. 

KC Wine Club and Koffee
KC Wine Club and Koffee

Cajun Jimmy’s Seafood

This spot is located a bit further away, but Cajun Jimmy’s Season is worth the drive out to try some cajun specialties and,  in season, to enjoy their freshly foraged scallops (for those that didn’t get a chance to go try scalloping first hand). 

Vintage on the 5th

Possibly the most upscale spot in town, Vintage on the 5th is a cozy eclectic restaurant that is a must-visit for dinner. Creative seafood dishes, great meats, fine wine – it’s everything you would want for a date night in Crystal River. 

Vintage on the 5th Restaurant, Crystal River
Vintage on the 5th Restaurant, Crystal River

We hope these ideas sparked your adventurous spirit and made you even more excited about visiting Crystal River. Whether you are coming here to swim with manatees or try your hand at scalloping, we hope that you will take the opportunity to stay for a little longer to experience some of the other activities Crystal River has to offer. 

We may have only spent a few days in the area, but it was enough to add it to our list of top destinations to visit in Florida! 


Disclaimer: Our visit to Crystal River was organized as a part of a partnership with Visit Florida, but as always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.   


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