5 Awesome Things to do in Crystal River, Florida

Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida
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I've got a thing about kitschy, Old Florida towns. I love the history and the quirky character of them. In the past, Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast used to be my favorite.

But I think I have a new favorite now after visiting the coastal town of Crystal River.

Kayaking the Chazz

Located about an hour and a half north of Tampa, Crystal River is exactly the sort of funky, slightly touristy, laid-back Florida town that I love. There's great seafood, nearby beaches, and more than enough to do to keep you busy for a short visit.

Many people skip this part of Florida, but here are five reasons why you shouldn't skip Crystal River:

Swimming with manatees

Crystal River is known for being one of just a few places in Florida that native manatees flock to each year during the cold months. The town and its surrounding waters are dotted with natural springs that remain a balmy 72 degrees year-round, drawing in the manatees that can't survive in colder water (because yes, it DOES get chilly in Florida in the winter).

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Hundreds of these gentle giants stuff themselves into springs and rivers around Crystal River each winter (and a handful are “residents,” who live in the area year-round), making manatee sightseeing tours really popular. I went swimming with manatees on my visit to Crystal River, and it was nothing short of incredible!

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Book your own manatee-swimming tour here.

Visiting the Three Sisters Springs Boardwalk

One of the most famous places that the manatees gather is at Three Sisters Springs, a collection of (you guessed it) three natural springs that feed the Crystal River. Swimming in the springs (like you do on a manatee tour) is amazing because the water is so clear. But if swimming isn't your thing, don't worry — you can walk the boardwalk above the springs, too, which is nearly just as awesome.

Three Sisters Springs

You can book this visit through River Ventures in Crystal River. They'll bus you out to the boardwalk, and then you'll have an hour to wander around and talk to the volunteers who watch over the springs. It's a beautiful location well worth visiting.

Three Sisters Springs

Kayaking “The Chazz”

One of my favorite non-manatee things I did in Crystal River was kayaking on the beautiful Chassahowitzka River. Like many rivers in this part of Florida, “The Chazz” is spring-fed. Along with Tara from Citrus County tourism and Dennis who runs the campground where you can rent boats and kayaks, I paddled leisurely along the Chazz to its source — a spring everyone just calls “The Crack.”

While there were no manatees around, we did see plenty of mullet (fish that like to leap out of the water and scare you) and lots and lots of birds. The Chazz is part of the larger Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and should be on your list if you're looking for a chilled-out morning or afternoon.

Kayaking the Chazz

Kayaking the Chazz

Catching a beach sunset

Crystal River isn't directly on the coast, but Fort Island Gulf Beach is a short 15-minute drive away. This beach on the Gulf of Mexico is perfect for an afternoon picnic or beachy sunset.

Sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach

Sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach in Florida

I got lucky with a brilliant pink sunset when I visited.

Sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach in Florida

Meeting Lu at Homosassa Springs

Lastly, you should make a stop at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Originally opened as a kind of zoo in the early 1900s, today the park is run by the state of Florida.

When the state took over the park a few decades ago, it slowly started whittling down the animals living there to ones that you'll find in Florida, keeping humane captivity in mind. Today, there are resident manatees, alligators, bald eagles, and even an orphaned Florida panther.

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Florida

One odd animal you'll still find here is Lu the hippo. Hippos are certainly not indigenous to Florida, but when the state took over the park the locals petitioned for Lu the hippo to be able to stay since he'd been a staple at the park for so long. The state ended up granting Lu honorary Florida citizenship so he could continue living at Homosassa Springs.

Lu the Hippo at Homosassa Springs

Where to stay

I stayed at The Plantation on Crystal River, a lovely historic hotel that resembles (you guessed it) an old antebellum plantation. The rooms are large and comfortable, and the pool is the perfect spot to relax after a day of sightseeing. The Plantation also has an on-site restaurant and offers its own dive shop and manatee tours, meaning you don't have to go far at all if you want to book a tour or rent a boat for the day.

Check out TripAdvisor reviews here | Book your own room at The Plantation here!

Or, compare prices at other Crystal River hotels here.

Who's ready to book a trip to Crystal River?

 

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Great things to do in Crystal River, Florida
Great things to do in Crystal River, Florida



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Many thanks to Visit Citrus County and Visit Florida for helping with my trip! As always, all opinions are my own.

 

68 Comments

  • Great post! I’ve wanted to visit Crystal River for a while now to swim with the manatees, but I was wondering if there is anything else to do there! Thanks for the suggestions! πŸ™‚
    Karisa @ Flirting with the Globe recently posted..The Best Restaurants in Milwaukee

    • Amanda says:

      You can easily spend two or three days there and not get bored! The little “downtown” area is really cute, too, with some nice shops and a couple of restaurants.

  • I don’t know much about Florida other than the Everglades, Miami and the Keys but I would LOVE to swim with manatees! I saw my first one in the wild when I was swimming at a South Australia recently and it was amazing to see one close up (they are called dugongs here)
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Why I am travelling without my fiancΓ© for a year

    • Amanda says:

      Swimming with them was SO cool. They’re rather curious and friendly (especially the younger ones), and it was amazing to see an animal not at all afraid of humans!

  • Melissa says:

    Wow. I have always wanted to go to FL for the beaches, maybe Key West or the night life and Disney World. I see now that there is much more that FL has to offer. I did not think there would be kayaking in crystal clear water, and alligators. I think that’s a whole different view of the state than what I pictured. Now I want to go.
    http://askmelissaanything.blogspot.com/
    Melissa recently posted..Quick and Easy Strawberry Shortcake

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, Florida is MUCH more than just Disney and Miami! The area up north (in what’s called the Panhandle) on the Gulf Coast is full of neat little fishing towns and great beaches!

  • Looks beautiful! I need to go through there on my way to TBEX in the fall.
    Caroline Eubanks recently posted..Photo Friday: Memphis, Tennessee

  • Kelly says:

    Okay, this is super embarrassing but I remember my dad taking me and my sister here when I was little and my family was living in Florida, and *screaming* because I was so terrified of touching a manatee. My dad was like “Kelly, they’re literally the most gentle animals you’ll ever see in the water” but I was SO terrified I wouldn’t even stay in the water hahaha. Maybe now’s the time to go back and redeem myself!
    Kelly recently posted..8 Amazing Things to Do in Rome–for Free!

    • Amanda says:

      Awwww! There were two little girls on our tour, too. Only one got in the water, but she freaked out when she saw them, too. I think it’s because they’re so big! But yes… gentle giants. You should definitely give it another go!

  • Arti says:

    The town looks beautiful – Springs Boardwalk is just my kind of activity!
    Arti recently posted..A Song of Love: Hyderabad and The ISKCON Temple.

    • Amanda says:

      I wasn’t really all that bothered about going to the Boardwalk at first, but I was really glad I went – it was SO pretty!

      • Genna says:

        Amanda- did you get a chance to meet the people and tour the local bars, stores, or parks? I am wanting to move my small family to FL and am thinking Crystal River!

        • Amanda says:

          I spent a lot of time with a local woman from the tourism board, which is how I got to see so much (other than just the manatees). It’s a really cool little town – I’m already planning to go back next year!

  • Oh wow… this place wasn’t even on my radar until just now. Amazing photos!!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..Hakone: A Day Trip to Remember

  • Olivia Fay says:

    Hi everyone, my names olivia and ive lived in crystal River my entire 16 years and i would just like to say its an amazing town and i would suggest checking out Old Homosassa -a sister town to crystal river. its really historic and pretty. Also I go to a Charter High School called the Academy Of Environmental Science thats right on the Salt River. If you’ve ever been to Fort Island Beach, its the funky looking buildings on your way down Fort Island Trail. So i also recommend the salt river, there is alot of wildlife including- Dolphins, Stingrays, and lots and lots of birds and fish that are native to Florida.

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for the suggestions, Olivia! I think it’s awesome that you’re so proud of where you live and that you’re encouraging others to visit!

    • Deborah MacDonald says:

      I have lived in Beverly Hills, FL for the past 12 years (a transplanted New Englander) I love Fort Island beach, Homosassa Springs State Park, and Crystal River in general. I like to go with Captain Mike’s River Cruises on the Withlacoochie River.

  • I miss being able to drive over to Crystal River and go snorkeling or diving for the weekend. I have been several times and somehow missed there is a hippo in one of the springs.
    Jennifer @ Made all the Difference Travel Blog recently posted..Without a Plan ~ Winter Road Trip in Iceland

  • Imagebloke says:

    Great post. Lovely pictures and rich information. I loved it.

  • KathieB says:

    We lived in Crystal River from 1987 until 2003. We loved living there, except for the Florida heat! Thanks for sharing about your time there πŸ™‚ BTW, “Lu” was originally named Lucifer. I think the townsfolk didn’t care for the connotation his name had, so they shortened it. LOL He’s been there since our kids were little. They’re now 30 and 26!

    • Amanda says:

      Haha, yup, they told me his name was really Lucifer – I definitely like Lu better! πŸ˜‰

      I don’t think I could ever live anywhere in Florida because of the summer heat, but Crystal River is definitely somewhere I’ll go back to!

  • Audra says:

    I’ve lived in crystal river for 30 years. It’s funny to see so many people loving our lil town. It amazes me that there are people who have never swam with manatees. I guess I am spoiled growing up here. There is definitely enough to keep you busy for a few days, but only a few days. We like that people don’t stay longer than that. Just joking. Kind of πŸ™‚

  • Lindsay says:

    I lived on Crystal River over twenty years and just wanted to and in another great attraction. Scallop season! Its June 27th thru September. Snorkel in the gulf gathering up these yummy little creatures to take home and eat!

  • Matt says:

    I feel lucky to live in this town. My 60 year old home is in the “historic” part of the city. There is so much to do and see here. There is also sport fishing and golfing. Only a couple hours from the theme parks in Orlando and Tampa this is a great place to stay while in this part of the state.

  • kristina says:

    Its weird seeing the town that ive been in my whole lie a tourist destination. Its a great place and i live on the chazz river, but sometimes i wish it wasnt as popular for the more people that come, it loses its peacefulness. I never plan on leaving my small town

  • Debbie says:

    Monkey Island on the Homosassa River is always amusing. The ride down Ozello Trail is beautiful, too.

  • john says:

    Good post, I live in Crystal River area, did you mention there are 7 rivers that flow thru county plenty of good fishing/boaring. You’re part on the Chaz was good, but it’s 25-30 min drive south of crystal river. The crystal clear water makes it worth the drive.

  • Sabrina says:

    I just wanted to add that a sister town to Crystal River is Dunnellon, not much to do there but it’s worth the short drive if anyone wants to spend a day tubing, rafting, kayaking, canoeing etc in crystal clear water. Rainbow Springs is beautiful and peaceful and won’t disappoint! (:

  • Kelly says:

    Loved your blog post, I even shared it on Facebook! We live about 5 minutes from CR and my kids go to school there. I thought your description was spot on and awesome pics as well. I’m a Florida native but lived in Connecticut for 24 years. We are so glad to be back in Florida!

  • Mary Lou Hart says:

    I loved going to Crystal River. Wished I had known about all the neat things to do. Some we did do but my best was camping at Rock Crusher Canyon. Was the greatest campground my husband and I had been to. Just thought I would leave this if other campers read your article.

  • Susan says:

    I am a decedent of one of the original Citrus County families (The county in which Crystal River is located). It is so nice to see so many people enjoying Crystal River. Crystal River has also just joined the Main Street program to even further restore and beautify the downtown area and perhaps it will be different when you return. However, I also want to add that Floral City and Inverness are great towns to visit while here as well. Both cities have great historic charm. Floral City has a beautiful Avenue of Oaks that is a must see and was the original county seat…it was also a more popular destination at one time than Miami because of their rich phosphate mines and steamboat landing. In fact, the very 1st telegraph in the state was installed in Floral City and the 2nd oldest standing home in the state is located there beside the heritage museum and is open for tours. Inverness is the county seat and has a beautiful, lakeside downtown square which has a fully restored 1800s courthouse that has been converted to a museum right in the middle as well as the Valerie Theatre which is an old theatre that was recently restored. The old courthouse can be seen in Elvis Presley ‘ s movie, Follow that Dream …as this is where he filmed the movie. We are an area of rich heritage and beautiful waterways and I’m so lucky to call it home.

  • Erik says:

    Crystal River is undergoing somewhat of a Renaissance. The city commision is spending a great deal of money to bring in tourists. The staple of the small city’s economy used to be the Florida Power (now Duke Energy) Nuclear Plant (which can be seen from Fort Island Beach). But since the reactor sustained damage from a refit, it has been shut down, and Duke moved all of our Nuke workers elsewhere. The city is smartly renovating the area to be much more tourist friendly. Other VERY eco friendly attractions in our area is the Rainbow River just a few minutes away in Dunnellon and Historic Inverness (30 minutes down Highway 44). I am very glad you enjoyed your stay!

    • Amanda says:

      Very smart of them to shift over to tourism – you have so many unique natural attractions in Crystal River that it makes sense to start promoting them more to visitors!

  • Chuck Wade says:

    Amanda, what a lovely blog post about Crystal River! My wife and I own two vacation rental homes there and I am going to send a link to your post to everyone who books our homes in the future. If you would like to stay in one of our homes on your next trip to Crystal River, let me know and we will give you a substantial discount on the rental rate.

  • Laura Bruckner says:

    I am a 7th generation Floridian, my descendants came to Key West via the Bahamas. I have visited and loved many parts of many states in the beautiful U.S. and have also traveled extensively in Florida. I am still shocked after 56 years that I find so many totally cool new places to go. I did my certification dive in Crystal River 35 years ago and have been dying to go back since. So many places to see in Florida, so little time. I so love it here, couldn’t live anywhere else. I was born in Panama City, and really need to get back to the Panhandle, but also love Brevard County, where I’ve spent the last 55 years. We have recently gotten into bicycling and kayaking and are discovering an entirely new world, and millions of new places to go. Yes, it’s hot in the summer; we are acclimated but still have to go inside sometimes. But it’s 2 days before Thanksgiving; we just got our first “cold snap” – it was 49 degrees Monday morning, but we will hit 80 degrees on Turkey Day; 60s at night. Wow, am I the most blessed person on Earth or what? Love my state and can’t wait to explore the rest that I haven’t seen yet.

  • Laura Bruckner says:

    And LOL, forgot to say, we will be visiting Crystal River the week after Christmas. Thank you so much for your post!

  • David Snow says:

    I work at the Winn-Dixie across the street from The Plantation..Lots of Europeans visit here..Really nice people!..☺

  • Um, YES PLEASE. I’ve always wanted to do this, and despite going to Florida 1-4 times a year my entire life, I still have yet to do it!
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..On Life, Love + Turning Another Year Old

  • Kathie says:

    My husband and I are going to the plantation at crystal river for our anniversary in April. We wanted to go someplace different and your information gave us lots of great ideas. I think it’s going to be a great vacation. Thank you!

  • Grant Woodhouse says:

    My extended family are visiting Sugarmill Woods from the UK in late July for, a fortnight (staying at a friends villa), so not quite Crystal River but close enough. Having been to Orlando for the last two years running we’re looking to see a bit more of the ‘real’ Florida and have much more of a relaxing time. I’ve been trawling the internet for articles on things to do other than the well advertised swimming with manatees. etc. My familly are my wife and I, our two boys, 8 &13 and my daughter 16, plus my in-laws.
    I wanted to think you for your articles which have openeed up a whole new realm to look at, I especially like the sound of the Ozello trail. Any other idea’s as to what’s worth doing & seeing would be appreciated from the Tampa Aquarium to the shopping malls, to best beaches. Also recommended places to eat ! Thanks in advance.

    • Amanda says:

      In this part of Florida, you’ll definitely experience the “real” Florida beyond Disney! These are all of my best tips for this regions, I’m afraid, but I’m glad the post at least gave you some ideas.

  • Dennis says:

    I’m trying to convince my wife to go kayaking with me at Crystal River but she is afraid of alligators. I know gators are in Florida but do they have many in the rivers at Crystal River?

    • Amanda says:

      I won’t lie: there are sometimes gators! I didn’t personally see any (even though my kayaking guide tried to find one), but they can definitely be around. But there were also people jumping into the river and stuff, so they must not be too big of an issue. As long as you stay in your kayak, you should be fine!

  • Peggy Woods says:

    I have been fortunate to have visited Crystal River and that entire area of Florida several times in my life. You certainly had some fun while spending time there. It was interesting to learn how Homosassa Springs has changed since my last visit. Those waters certainly are crystal clear! It can be quite chilly when swimming over one of those fresh water springs. Enjoyed your blog! Nice job!
    Peggy Woods recently posted..Wonderful Goforth Park on Horsepen Creek in Cypress, TX

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