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Florida is home to manatees all year long. During the summer, these gentle giants can be seen swimming off the coast. When the cool weather arrives in the winter months, the Florida manatees will travel to the warmer natural springs scattered throughout the state. From November to March, Florida’s springs will begin overflowing with manatees as they seek refuge from the colder waters of the ocean and gulf. The best places to see manatees in Florida this winter are at the many natural springs found throughout the state. Check out the 5 best places to see manatees in Florida this winter!
According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, it is illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal.
The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 also states that “It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
1. Three Sisters Springs
The small town of Crystal River is world-famous for its manatee viewing opportunities. Just under 2 hours from both Orlando and Tampa, Three Sisters Springs sits just off of King’s Bay. This crystal clear spring is the most popular spot for visitors to observe manatees during the winter months.
Use this address to navigate to Three Sisters Springs. Note: This is the address to the actual spring. If you intend to kayak or just walk the boardwalk, use the respective links below.
With a beautiful boardwalk carefully placed along the edge of the spring, visitors can see upwards of 200 manatees on the coldest days. The boardwalk can be accessed by visiting the Three Sisters Springs Center which is located
Crystal River is also one of the only places that it is legal to swim with manatees in Florida. If you are a little more adventurous, consider kayaking to Three Sisters Spring. At the mouth of the spring, hop out of your kayak to snorkel with these gentle giants. For more information on where to rent kayaks or launch your own personal vessel, visit this site.
It’s important to note that Three Sister’s Spring is technically closed to swimmers and kayakers in the winter months. The entrance to the spring is roped off, but you are still able to tie up a kayak just before the entrance and swim in that area. This is also a popular spot for tour companies to take their customers to snorkel
2. Hunter Springs
Hunter Springs is another great place to see manatees this winter in Florida. This spring is only a few miles from Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. Since it is just around the corner from the more popular Three Sisters Springs, Hunter Springs tends to be less crowded.
If you rent or launch your own kayak from Crystal River Kayak Company, it is only about a 20-minute paddle to Hunter Springs. At Hunter Springs you are able to dock your vessel on the beach and swim in the swimming area. The swimming area is OPEN all year long so it is possible to swim with manatees at Hunter Springs.
Hunter Springs also has its own parking lot with water access. Parking is only 5 dollars for the entire day. Launching your own kayak is possible here as well. However, if you are looking to rent from this location, check out Hunter Springs Kayaks.
Check back for an updated post on everything you need to know about paddling and swimming at Hunter Springs.
3. Blue Spring State Park
Blue Spring State Park is known for its natural lazy river in the summertime and the hundreds of manatees that retreat to its warmer waters in the winter months. Blue Springs is one of the most popular springs near Orlando due to its close proximity to the city as well as the theme parks and attractions.
Make sure to visit this popular location early in the morning. The manatees will head out into the St. Johns River to feed as the day warms up. There will also be less of a crowd the earlier you arrive.
Though Blue Spring is closed off to swimmers in the winter months, it is still one of the best places to see manatees in Florida this winter. The vantage point from the boardwalk gives you an amazing view of the hundreds of manatees seeking refuge from the cold waters of the ocean.
Kayaking is possible all year long. However, most of the spring is closed off to provide a safe spot for the manatees to rest. The park provides a launch area and also
4. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Weeki Wachee Springs is another great place to see manatees in Florida this winter. This spring has a waterpark located at the headspring which is closed during the winter months. The swimming and beach area, however, stays open throughout the winter.
Weeki Wachee is also known for its beautiful paddling route that takes you through a lush forest with plenty of wildlife. You will most likely run into some manatees as you float with the current through the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
Rent your kayak or schedule your launch from Weeki Fresh Water Adventures. It’s very important to book ahead. The state park limits the number of boats on the water so plan your adventure early.
It is very likely during the winter months that you’ll encounter manatees as you float
5. Tampa Electric Power Plant
Tampa Bay is known for manatee sightings throughout the year. When the winter months arrive and the cold weather sets in, the manatees make their way to the warmer waters of many of the natural springs in the area. There is one man-made source, however, that the manatees have learned to rely on. The Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach just outside of Tampa is one of the easiest ways to spot manatees in Florida this winter.
In the year 1986, the Big Bend Power Station began supplying electricity to parts of Tampa Bay. The water discharge used initially to cool the power plant began to flow into a nearby canal. This warm water attracted nearby manatees to seek refuge when the temperatures in bay dropped below 68 degrees.
Shortly after the manatees began to frequent these waters, the Manatee Viewing Center was established. Guests can visit the education center to learn everything there is to know about manatees and what is being done to protect them.
The area around the Manatee Viewing Center is designated as a manatee sanctuary. This option to see manatees this winter would be strictly from the boardwalk rather than kayaking alongside them. The Manatee Viewing Center is open November 1st-April 15th from 10 AM-5 PM.
Check back for a more detailed post in the future on visiting the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Power Station.
I want to remind everyone that plans to paddle any of the springs in Florida to remember to NEVER discard anything (trash, plastic bottles, etc.) while enjoying these natural places and NEVER harass the wildlife. Let’s keep Florida WILD!