If there's one thing Florida's known for other than Disney, it's the beaches. Those shimmering coastlines with waves lapping against crystal-like sand is a sight always worth seeing; however, some might not know about the beauty of our inland rivers & springs and how they're some of the best places to see wild manatees in Florida.
During the winter months, manatees migrate to Florida's warm in-land springs and waterways, blessing us with their adorable faces & gentle giant nature. On this list, you'll find some of the best spots to see these sweet babies & yes, even swim with them.
Before you jump into the water though, there are some guidelines & laws in place that protect manatees as a once endangered species (now on the threatened list). To mind your "manatee manners", always observe them at a distance unless they approach you first; never chase them, poke them, or prod them with hands or any item, & only touch them using 1 hand, but only if they touch you first.
A full overview of the viewing guidelines can be seen here. Without further ado, let's check out some of the best places to see manatees in the wild in Florida.
Address: Crystal River, FL
Hours: Tour hours will vary depending on who you book through. Springs are open 8 a.m. to sunset daily.
Why You Need To Go: Possibly the most simple way to see manatees in the wild is to book a swim tour with experts in Crystal River's springs through a tour agency. A couple of the most popular options in Crystal River are Bird's Underwater & Fun2Dive.
Three Sisters Springs
Address: Crystal River, FL — launch from any boat launch nearby, Kings Landing is a popular launch spot, and it feels like an amazon adventure.
The boardwalk can be found at 601 Three Sisters Springs Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429.
Hours: 8 a.m. to Sunset, daily to swim, snorkel, or kayak in the springs.
Why You Need To Go: If you don't want to book a tour service & want to go it on your own to see wild manatees, they're known to hang out in Three Sister's Springs. You can observe them from the boardwalk without getting wet at the visitor's center, or launch of a nearby boat launch and kayak or boat into the springs. Get Up & Go Kayaking offers clear kayak tours and rentals if you don't own your own.
Address: 2100 W French Avenue
Orange City FL 32763
Hours: 8 a.m. to Sundown, 365 days a year
Why You Need To Go: Another beautiful blue spring that is perfect for seeing manatees in the wild. They're known to swim up to you, as well as chill near your kayak or paddle boards when paddling downstream.
Address: 11650 NW 115 St.
Chiefland FL 32626
Hours: 8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year.
Why You Need To Go: The manatees that visit this spring tend to come in flocks. Stunning crystal clear waters that will take your breath away.
Fanning Springs State Park
Address: 18020 NW HWY 19 Fanning Springs FL 32693
Hours: 8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year
Why You Need To Go: Another spring that is a stunning natural oasis worth exploring even if there weren't manatees. Crystal clear turquoisey hues that will make your heart sing.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Address: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, FL 32782
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily.
Why You Need To Go: Natural nature sights here are to die for. Manatees are a bit more elusive here but are known to swim near the boardwalks and alongside kayakers going through the preserve in manatee areas — just look for their little noses popping up out of the water! You can even go on bioluminescent kayak tours here in clear kayaks, watching the water light up below you as you paddle away.
We strongly advise that before you go swimming or visit any location, you check the most recent updates on potential hazards, security, water quality, and closures. If you do plan to visit a location, respect the environment.