The most surprising thing about this kayak tour is how thin a veil separates the wilds of the highway from the wilds of nature.
Because of its convenience to Gainesville, we go kayaking in Crystal River several times a year. We begin our trips at Crystal River Kayak Company, located at 1422 SE US Hwy 19 in Crystal River which is located in a small building behind a Quonset hut about a mile or so past the intersection with Hwy 44.
The best way to ensure you will have a kayak is to call ahead. Before you can rent a kayak, you need to watch a short video about manatee safety and also sign a waiver agreeing to, among other things, not stand on manatees (standing on manatees? Really? Is that a thing?)
The kayak put-in is located on-site, eliminating the need for shuttles. Shortly after renting a kayak you are in the water and on your way.
A mere ten-minute paddle from put-in is Three Sisters Springs, a critical habitat for manatees. From April 1 to November 14, you can paddle into Three Sisters Springs. During manatee season the springs is roped off from kayakers and swimmers to protect the moms and their babies during calving season.
The best time to see manatees is November through March. Other wildlife common to the area include dolphins, turtles, fish, alligators, and more species of birds than you can shake a stick at.
If you want to see the manatees but kayaking is not your thing, you can take a trolley from the Three Sisters Springs Center. These trolleys run every 30 minutes to the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. This is a great way to enjoy the beauty of Three Sisters Springs, and perhaps see some manatees, without getting wet.
Crystal River makes a wonderful day trip from Gainesville. If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend it!