The Three Sisters natural inlet of Florida’s Crystal River offers 57 acres of wetland, packed full of vegetation, springs, birds, reptiles, and, if it’s the right time of year, nature’s gentle “sea cows” – the manatees!
It is a gorgeous and peaceful place, and one of Florida’s few remaining urban springs. There, you’ll find stunning views and an abundance of wildlife that can be enjoyed year-round. And thanks to you paying your entrance fee, you’ll be supporting wildlife protection while you explore!
What to Expect
While the wetlands themselves are breathtakingly beautiful, what people heading to this part of Florida really want to see is the sea life, as Three Sisters Springs is a world-renowned winter refuge for the West Indian Manatee.
|Address||123 NW HWY 10, Crystal River, FL, 34428|
|Location||Off NE US Hwy 19 in Crystal River|
|Open||8.30 am – 4.30 pm. Ticket sales end at 3.30 pm|
|Road Access||Easy. All vehicles. Near parking for Handicapped only. Shuttle bus from Visitor Center to Boardwalk|
|Admission||Child (5 & Under) – |
Adult – $12.5 – $20
(Check details below)
|IMPORTANT!||Land access and water access will be CLOSED from April 1, 2023-November 2023. The Three Sisters Springs Canal Stabilization Project will be restoring habitat, including critical manatee habitat, and preventing erosion of sediment into the spring.|
Home to the Three Sisters Springs is Kings Bay, one of Florida’s most popular venues for swimming, boating, fishing, scuba diving, camping, and other outdoor activities and water sports. The name of the springs refers to the three united pools, named Pretty Sister, Deep Sister, and Little Sister that contain 19 freshwater springs which are the source of the warm water that fills the area and then flows out through the Spring Run into the nearby canals and then Kings Bay.
Most people head to Florida for its sun, but if you’re there in the cooler season, you’ll want to visit the beautiful Three Sisters Springs refuge, as cold winter days bring hundreds of manatees to the springs’ warm water. Your best bet is when the water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico fall below 68°F. You’ll often see families of them huddled together in the coves, and you can get up close and personal by swimming with them or by taking a guided walking tour with one of the many enthusiastic and very knowledgeable US Fish & Wildlife Service volunteers – they’ll be able to tell you anything you want to know about the manatee refuge, local wildlife, and Florida springs.
You can choose to see Three Sisters Springs ON the water or IN the water or do both. If it’s manatee season, definitely choose the latter!
NOTE: The in-water experience and Boardwalk experience differ and are not mutually accessible. Read on to find out more!
The Boardwalk and trails (paid admission).
The Boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs
The beautiful, peaceful wooden Boardwalk leads you out into the woodland over the turquoise clear-water springs, and gives you plenty of opportunity to soak up the atmosphere as you try to spot some native wildlife. Some visitors are disappointed at how short the Boardwalk is – but how much time you want to spend there during open hours is entirely up to you, as its main purpose is to show off the manatees when they come in to warm up (NOTE: The manatees are there from around November 14th-March 31st, but out and about at other times of the year. You’ll be informed before buying a ticket whether they are visiting or not). There are also nature trails for walking and cycling heading to Magnolia Springs, Lake Crystal, and the wetlands. We’ve heard that more than 100 native and migratory bird species use the refuge year-round – see how many you can see!
Good things to know at this point:
- Restroom facilities are available on the refuge and at the Three Sisters Springs Center.
- Pets are not permitted on the refuge, but registered service animals are.
- In-water access DOES NOT include access to the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk and property around the springs can ONLY be accessed via the Three Sisters Springs Center from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm and you need to buy a ticket first.
The first thing to clarify is that the only ways you can access Three Sisters Springs in the water are by kayak, paddleboard, boat, or by taking a tour. You are not allowed to enter the water from just anywhere, least of all the Boardwalk or refuge land. This is to protect the area from erosion and other damage.
Instead, you must launch your paddle craft from a public ramp in Kings Bay – there are two options at Hunter Springs Park, 104 NE 1st Ave, Crystal River or King’s Bay Park, 268 NW 3rd St, Crystal River. Check out this site for kayak tours and tours to swim with the manatees, though this is only one such company – tours and rental places are located throughout Kings Bay (see a fuller list here).
Motorized vessels are not allowed inside the Springs. Paddle-craft are permitted inside from April 1st to November 14th.
During the manatee season, if the Springs are open to swimmers, you can drop anchor on whichever craft you’ve paddled in on and get into the water with them. Do this slowly, though, so no manatees get hurt- hurting a manatee is illegal and could land you with fines or jail time.
Swimming with manatees is an indescribably awesome experience and one to be treasured and respected – these are living creatures and can become stressed when surrounded by large crowds, so please be kind! Moving with them in the water, you really get to appreciate their gentle nature.
Check out this video from “thatadventurelife” for more on the manatee experience.
Important Guide to Manatee Manners
Whether kayaking near or swimming with manatees, it’s well worth learning how to Keep Your Manatee Manners, check out this important video.
NOTE: For the safety and protection of the manatees, in-water access to Three Sisters Springs can be closed by US Fish & Wildlife Services when water temperatures in the Gulf Of Mexico drop below 62.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
One of Florida’s few remaining urban springs, Three Sisters Springs was made a wildlife refuge in 2010. Everything you need to know about manatees (“sea cows”) can be found here. Read up before you go, as it is sure to make your experience with them all the more memorable.
How to Get There
To get to the Three Sisters Springs (visitor) Center (which is behind the Crystal River City Hall) from Gainesville, it takes around 1 hour 20 minutes to travel the 65 miles via the FL 121 S and US 19 and US 98 S (NE US Hwy 19) to Crystal River.
To get to the Three Sisters Springs (visitor) Center (which is behind the Crystal River City Hall) from Tampa, you can choose the faster toll road FL-589 N (80 miles), or take the 1.5-hour US 98 N (NE US Hwy 19) to Crystal River.
Don’t head straight to the Three Sisters Springs themselves as there is no public parking, only a limited number of handicapped parking spaces near the Boardwalk for those with a valid handicap parking permit. Visitors should instead go to the Three Sisters Springs Center (behind City Hall) for free parking, tickets, and a shuttle service to the refuge (included in the admission fee). There are also plenty of other parking lots around the town, all within a 13 to 20-minute walk of the Three Sisters Springs front gate. Note: Last admissions are sold at 3:30pm.
Shuttles leave the Three Sisters Springs Center every 30 minutes from 8.30 am, and take visitors to the Boardwalk and the start of the cycling and walking trails at Three Sisters Springs. When you’re done exploring, the shuttle bus can take you back to the Three Sisters Springs Center. It also stops at the USFWS Visitor Center and Gift Store, Hunter Springs Park, South Citrus Avenue, and Heritage Village. The last bus leaves at 4.30 pm.
Three Sisters Springs Admission fees
|Child (6 – 15)||$7.50||$7.50|
|Child (5 & Under)||Free||Free|
Can I Stay Here?
No. This is a wildlife refuge. But the town of Crystal River and certain points around Kings Bay offer hotels and campsites.
For top comfort, head for Best Western Crystal River Resort, which boasts its own pools, kayak and boat rentals, a private launch boat ramp, and access to a variety of marine life activities such as fishing, scalloping, and manatee tours.
Looking for waterfront luxury alongside some personal space? Why not rent a “Charming Riverfront Home with Hot Tub and Kayaks!” – The name says it all!
What Else Can I See in the Area?
The Crystal River area is all about the water, but we have dug up (you’ll get the pun in a moment) a few other non-watery things that you can enjoy while there.
Check out (and here’s the pun) the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, a centuries-old ceremonial and burial site that offers burial mounds to climb and a small, interesting museum with artifacts and a good explanatory video. Open 8 am to sunset. Admission: $3 per vehicle.
For art lovers, check out the Franklin Anderson Gallery, open 10 am – 5 pm, packed to the rafters with quality local artwork. Have a chat with owner Karen Anderson if you want to know more about any of the artists.
Going back to that water, though, we can highly recommend a visit to the Ginnie Springs Outdoor complex, where you can take a leisurely tube trip down Santa Fe!
The Three Sisters Springs refuge is well worth a visit during manatee season, both via the Boardwalk and trails and via paddle craft to swim with the gentle giants themselves. Other times of year it is a fun and refreshing gem of nature.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can expect to see different animals in and out of the springs, such as manatees, alligators, different types of turtles, tortoises, snakes, birds, and more. Don’t disturb them and they shouldn’t disturb you! In Florida, any body of freshwater, be it river, lake, or spring, has the possibility of having an alligator. But as alligators tend to avoid noise and splashing, you shouldn’t let this worry you!
Yes, via the Boardwalk and trails. Pay an admission fee at the Three Sisters Springs Center in town and take a shuttle bus to the Boardwalk and trailhead.
It is around 2 miles from the launch at Hunter Springs Park to the Three Sisters Springs basin. Expect it to take around 30-40 minutes.
Yes, but you can only get to the Springs area by water. You cannot get into the water from the Boardwalk or trails, only off a paddle vessel that entered from a Kings Bay public ramp.
You can only get into the Springs by water. You cannot get into the water from the Boardwalk or trails, only by paddle vessel which entered from a Kings Bay public ramp. The Boardwalk and trails let you enjoy the Springs without getting wet. You’ll need to buy a ticket at the Three Sisters Springs Center behind Crystal River City Hall.
Access to the Boardwalk and trails costs from $12 – 20. Price varies by season. This admission price does not give you access to the water. For that, you’ll need to hire a kayak or paddleboard and paddle into the Springs some 2 miles from Kings Bay (season dependent).
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the latest information about these hot springs sites, life happens, weather happens, and property owners happen. We always recommend you go to the official hot springs’ web page and/or the relevant state authority page to check conditions, times, and prices (where relevant) before you head out. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your soak!