This past weekend I got to go visit Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, FL. I had visited in the past as a swimmer from the river itself. Three Sisters is actually a newer park that was developed to preserve the spring itself while giving the public the chance to see an environmental wonder. I am so glad that they’ve closed the springs now to swimmers and only allow the wildlife to swim their way in. It preserves the natural beauty of the springs. For years, manatees have been piling into Three Sisters during the winter to socialize and keep warm in the spring heads, which maintain a consistent temperature in the 70’s despite cold snaps that occur from November through March. The park has a really fantastic boardwalk that winds around the springs, with multiple viewing platforms and informative signs. There are trams available for transport from the Three Sisters Springs Center which is located in the middle of Crystal River. The trams drop you at the head of the boardwalk and return every thirty minutes to pick up visitors who are ready to head back.
Manatees have long visited the springs and rivers in the heart of Florida, where they keep warm, raise their calves and can find freshwater foliage to feed on. They are quiet and relaxed normally, and can be observed peacefully gliding along just below the water’s surface. Three Springs has a small crystal clear creek that leads from the river canal into the spring itself and the manatees were steadily meandering their way into the spring while we visited. The springs could be housing anywhere from 20 to 200 manatees at any given time. When we arrived this weekend, there were 75 in the spring before our tram got there and another 150 in the canal outside. There were well over 100 manatee in the springs when we left. The manatees rest and munch on small vegetation in the spring, and there is a consistent spouting sound as they come up for air periodically. This is such a great way to show our children these beautiful and peaceful creatures.
There is also a nice nature trail along the canal that runs outside of the spring where viewers can see turtles, birds, insects, and a great variation of Florida native foliage. The property features a mixture of dense underbrush with pine, oak and cypress along the river itself and an open area of low scrub including palmettos, grasses and berry bushes where the birds can be seen flitting about eating. The day was rather cloudy, so it was hard to really capture the different colors in the scrub areas, but it was very beautiful.
Songbirds and woodpeckers are common here, as well as herons, but there are also raptors. Osprey can be observed over the rivers as they scout for fish. This beautiful red shouldered hawk landed in front of us on one of the many bird houses that are installed along the walking trail. We were also lucky enough to see a small garter snake, though he was too camouflaged for good pictures.
I absolutely recommend making a trip if you get to the Crystal River area of Florida around this time of year. Crystal River also has many different restaurants, which I plan to explore and share with you more. Charlie’s is an old favorite for fresh seafood. There are several BBQ restaurants as well which I’ve not visited yet. Or you can take a short drive north and visit Cedar Key when you are done at the springs. More on all of these later. I hope you get to visit Three Sisters Springs!