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Latest update: June 2021

Crystal River at Kings Bay...

Kayaking with Manatees

The Crystal River is formed by a series of springs and flows about 7 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Of the 30 springs along the river, 28 are located in and around Kings Bay in the City of Crystal River, Florida. The area is known for manatees taking shelter in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge - about 40 reside year-round, and 400-500 in the winter. Protected areas are closed to all water traffic from November 15 to March 31. (Map and photos)

paddle Crystal River, Kings Bay, kayak, canoe

Kings Bay, Crystal River
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Location: Citrus County at Crystal River (60 miles north of Tampa, 30 miles west of Ocala)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: Kings Bay Park (558 NW 3rd St,, parking fee) Pete's Pier (1 SW 1st Pl.; parking fee), Hunter Springs Park, Crystal River Preserve State Park, Fort Island Park and Boat Ramp (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Crystal River Preserve State Park, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal River Archaeological State Park, Homosassa Springs

 

 

Crystal River at Kings Bay... Comments and Photos

Kayaking is enjoyable around and near the shoreline of Kings Bay, to the springs, and along the river towards the Gulf. When windy, kayaking on the open water can be a workout. This is a busy area with homes and businesses around the Bay. Motorboats, pontoon boats, and tour boats are common for fishing, diving, snorkeling and viewing manatees. Several businesses offer dive-with-manatee tours. When interacting with manatees, look but don't touch! Note that it is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee (see Florida's Manatee Viewing Guidelines ).

 Page Summary:

  1. Paddling at Kings Bay
    - North section/Kings Bay Park
    - South section/Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
  2. The Springs
    - Hunter Springs
    - Three Sisters Springs
  3. Manatee and Wildlife
  4. More Crystal River Paddling
    - Crystal River Preserve State Park (Visitor Center, Mullet Hole)
    - Fort Island Beach and Fishing Pier/Boat Ramp
  5. More Information and Resources

Paddling at Kings Bay

Kings Bay, North

We launched from Pete's Pier and Marina. The Bay in this area and north is circled by homes, parks, restaurants, and commercial establishments. Access to the Hunter Springs run is here (more below). The paddling trip shown here was several years ago, Pete's is more geared to motorboats and fishing, so in the future we'd probably launch from Kings Bay Park which has been upgraded since then.

On our more recent trip, we stopped at Kings Bay Park (NW 3rd St.) from landside and were impressed by the updates and improvements. There's a free public launch (separate parking fee applies) along with picnicking, restrooms, playground, and fishing dock. Many commercial outfitter operations are now based here. The Kings Bay Riverwalk, a multi-use trail (biking, walking, jogging) being developed in the downtown area, loops through the park.

Around the Bay (north)

Kings Bay Park


Kings Bay, South

Heading south from launch, the Bay becomes less developed and includes sections within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Access to Three Sisters Springs is in this area (more below). Further south within the Refuge are a couple of islands with major springs: Tarpon Spring at Buzzard Island, and King Spring at Banana Island.

Around the Bay (south)

Islands in the Refuge

The Springs

Hunter Springs, Hunters Cove

Hunter Springs consists of a series of spring vents about 100 feet offshore from Hunter Springs Park. Continuing past the park to Hunters Cove are House Spring and Jurassic Spring. Many homes are located along the run. Hunter Springs Park is a local favorite, recently upgraded with kayak/paddleboard launch and beach plus parking (fee), restrooms, picnic/grills, playground, and boardwalk.

Hunter Springs Run

Hunter Springs Park


Three Sisters Springs

Perhaps the most popular springs, the Three Sisters are beautiful - clean and clear. After passing under the Kings Bay Drive bridge, a house-lined canal leads to the spring run (about a half mile). Part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, access to the springs is limited to water and closed during manatee season (Nov. 15-March 31). At the mouth of the run are several pilings that keep motorboats out, kayaks and paddleboards can continue up the run to the springs. This area is popular with snorkelers, but be careful. In the winter, manatee can be seen here - our trip was not in season, so we didn't see any in the springs but did see some out on the canal and in Kings Bay. Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge on land, managed as part of the larger Refuge, offers wildlife and manatee viewing, snorkeling, swimming, hiking, bicycling, and a boardwalk. There's no parking on-site, access is by trolley shuttle, on foot or bicycle.

Canal to Three Sisters Springs

Three Sisters Springs


Manatee and Wildlife

Manatee

This is what you come to see...we visited before the winter season when the manatee population grows, but we saw some near Three Sisters Springs and Banana Island.

Wildlife

In addition to manatees, there is much wildlife everywhere around Kings Bay both above and below the water.

More Crystal River Paddling

Crystal River Preserve State Park

Launches to the river at Crystal River Preserve State Park are located at the Visitor Center and at the Mullet Hole Fishing Area. Both are located off N. Sailboat Ave. in the Preserve.

At the Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is at the end of N. Sailboat Ave. The kayak/canoe launch is across the lagoon from the Visitor Center, then it's a short 300 foot paddle to the river. Parking, restrooms, picnicking, and dock for power boats. The small museum includes wildlife exhibits and aquarium, a native species garden is outside.

Mullet Hole Fishing Area

Off N. Sailboat Ave., Mullet Drive (watch for the sign) leads to the Mullet Hole Fishing Area (AKA Crystal Cove Trailhead). From the kayak/canoe launch at Mullet Pond (bring wheels!), continue on the canal to the Crystal River (a bit under a mile). Parking and restroom at the trailhead, access to Crystal Cove Trail (hiking).


Fort Island Gulf Beach and Fishing Pier

More for fishing than recreational paddling, launch onto the Gulf of Mexico and then it's about a mile to the mouth of the river. There are many motorboats in this area. This Citrus County park is located at the western end of W. Fort Island Trail (SR 44) - about 14 miles off US 19/98. Launch from the beach (bring wheels and be prepared to pull your vessel through the sand) or from the boat ramp (free until Jan. 1, 2022 when a ramp fee will kick in). In addition to beach, boat ramp and fishing pier, the park has parking, restrooms, picnicking, shower and a boardwalk between the pier and beach.

More Information and Resources

About Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge:

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, was established in 1983 specifically for the protection of the endangered West Indian Manatee. This unique refuge preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, which forms the headwaters of the Crystal River. The refuge preserves the warm water spring havens, which provide critical habitat for the manatee populations that migrate here each winter.

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