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Things to do in Crystal River, Florida With Kids

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Things to do in Crystal River with Kids. Visiting Crystal River is the perfect outdoor vacation spot. Crystal River is considered the “gem of the nature coast” and for good reason. Everywhere you look you will see beautiful sites and wildlife. When you are planning your trip to Crystal River, this list of things to do in Crystal River with kids will help you with your planning. This destination is a year-round spot to visit that the whole family will remember visiting. 

things to do in Crystal River Florida with kids

Things to do in Crystal River With Kids

Growing up my grandparents lived in Hommassa Florida and one of my favorite things to do was take day trips to Crystal River when we were visiting them. I put visiting Crystal River on our family bucket list to take the kids and I am so glad I did. There are so many things to do with kids in Crystal River Florida that it makes the perfect vacation spot for the whole family. 

When we went on the trip my kids were 11 months old, 7 years old, 10 years old, and 12 years old. We spent 3 days exploring Crystal River and had a ton of fun and made lots of awesome memories. On this trip, we had me, my husband, our 4 kids, and my parents. 

While there are other things you can do when you are visiting, we wanted this trip to be an outdoor adventure so in this list of things to do with kids in Crystal River we are including all the fun things that we did. 

I hope this list of things to do in Crystal River with Kids helps you plan the best trip where you and your family can make amazing memories as mine did.

Is Crystal River Florida Worth Visiting?

Yes! Crystal River, Florida is known as the “Manatee Capital of the World” and stands out as a favored tourist destination. It boasts the distinction of being the sole location in the United States with a National Wildlife Refuge. This captivating city offers an array of exciting activities for visitors to indulge in. From the remarkable experience of swimming with manatees to engaging in kayaking, hiking, and fishing adventures, there is no shortage of outdoor activities that the whole family will enjoy.

What is Crystal River Famous For?

Crystal River is widely recognized as the “Manatee Capital of the World.” It is renowned for its population of West Indian manatees that seek refuge in the warm waters of the Crystal River during the winter months. The area is celebrated for its scenic beauty and abundant natural resources. Visitors can engage in activities such as kayaking, boating, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming in the region’s beautiful waterways. With access to the Gulf of Mexico, there are also opportunities for deep-sea fishing and boating adventures.

swimming with manatees in crystal river florida

Plantation Adventure Center Swim With Manatees Tour

Crystal River is famous for its resident manatee population. Take your kids on an unforgettable adventure by going on a guided tour to swim with these gentle giants. We went on our swim with manatees tour with Plantation Hotel Adventure Center. My husband and dad stayed behind with my youngest who was 11 months old at the time of this trip. 

Before going on the manatee tour you are given a detailed pre-tour education and instruction so that you can swim safely with the manatees. They also provide you with the snorkels and wetsuits you will need. The wetsuits are buoyant and they provide water floaties to help the younger children float while swimming with the manatees. 

You are taken by boat to Kings Bay to a known manatee gathering spot. Depending on the time of year you can see a handful of manatees or hundreds of manatees while you are floating in the water. 

This adventure is one that my kids still talk about. They loved it so much and the staff was amazing. They were so helpful with making sure all of the kids felt comfortable in the water and were able to enjoy the amazing experience.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

Homosassa Springs Wild Life Park

The full name for this location is Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. It is just a short drive from Crystal River, Homosassa Springs which makes it a great addition to your trip. Homosassa Wildlife State Park is a fantastic place to visit with kids. 

The park features native Florida wildlife, including manatees, alligators, black bears, river otters, and various bird species. Kids will enjoy the wildlife encounters, educational programs, and the opportunity to see these animals up close.

You will want to walk the mile-ish trail that has paved walkways and elevated boardwalk trail so you can see all of the beautiful nature and amazing wildlife. 

The headspring of the Homosassa River is located in the Homosassa wildlife state park which makes it a great place for manatees to come to during the colder months. When you are visiting during the colder months you will see tons of manatees in the water.

The Park offers an extraordinary experience within its premises, highlighted by the presence of an underwater observatory known as “The Fish Bowl” in Homosassa Springs. This remarkable feature presents an awe-inspiring spectacle of manatees gracefully swimming alongside swirling schools of fish, creating a captivating underwater display.

I was excited to see that Lu the hippo who was there when my grandparents took me was still there now. 

Location: 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. Homosassa, Fl 34446

Get admission information here.

Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge

Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge

Three Sisters Springs is a popular natural attraction located in Crystal River, Florida. It is known for its crystal-clear waters, abundant wildlife, and picturesque beauty. 

Three Sisters Springs is part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, which is dedicated to the protection of the endangered West Indian manatee. The springs provide a critical warm-water refuge for manatees during the winter months when the Gulf of Mexico cools down. Visitors can witness these gentle creatures up close, swimming and resting in the warm waters. The area is also home to various bird species, fish, turtles, and other wildlife.

Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge

You will want to walk the little over a mile trail loop to see the beautiful areas and the wildlife. The best place to watch the manatees in the water is from the Three Sisters Springs Boardwalk.

The boardwalk at the park provides convenient viewing platforms for visitors to observe the enchanting springs and native wildlife. Additionally, nature trails traverse the area, offering scenic vistas of Magnolia Springs, Lake Crystal, and the surrounding wetlands. 

Three Sisters Springs, internationally acclaimed as a winter sanctuary for the West Indian Manatee, is a prominent feature of the park. Moreover, the refuge attracts over 100 diverse native and migratory bird species, which can be spotted throughout the year.

Location: Three Sisters Springs Center, 123 NW HWY 19 Crystal River, FL 34428

Get admission information here.

Kayaking at Hunter Springs Park and Kings Bay

I had never taken the kids kayaking before so this was an experience for sure. We rented Kayaks from Hunter Spring Kayaks. You can rent canoes, paddle boards, or kayaks for your adventures. We choose kayaks so that we could have my mom in one with McKenzie and me in another with Logan and Alyssa. They helped us get into the water at the kayak launch at Kings Bay Park to get our fun started. 

Before heading out the staff will provide you with a map and answer any questions you may have about your route. 

Kayaking at Hunter Springs Park and Kings Bay

You have the option to explore on your own or go on a guided tour. Since we had previously done the swim with manatees tour and seen the areas by boat we wanted to let the kids explore and learn to kayak at their own pace. 

While you can venture into the Three Sisters Springs waterways we opted to stay in the Kings Bay for our Kayaking. 

Scalloping in crystal river

Scalloping with River Adventure Tours

We love fishing so when I told the kids we were going to go scalloping they were excited. River Adventure Tours made the experience unforgettable. They provided us with all the necessary equipment, including masks, snorkels, fins, and mesh bags for collecting the scallops.

We started with the boat ride to the location for scalloping. We then jumped in the water and attempted to get scallops. It is much harder than it looks. You have to dive down into the water and look for the seagrass to find them. Then grab them and put them into your mesh bag. While we were not at the height of scallop season, there was plenty for us to catch.

We were not able to collect that many ourselves, but thankfully they are awesome and your captain who is a pro will be collecting them with you as well. 

After collecting our scallops we headed back to the boat dock. At the dock, the captain taught us how to shuck a scallop.

Go Swimming 

Swimming is always a must for us when we are in Florida or any beach location, to be honest. There are many places where you can go swimming or enjoy a sandy beach to relax in Crystal River. 

There are quite a few areas that are great for swimming in the Crystal River area. 

  • Hunter Springs Park. Hunter Springs Park is a local favorite for swimming. It features a sandy beach area, a roped-off swimming area, and crystal-clear spring water perfect for swimming and cooling off. (Location: 104 NE 1st AVECrystal River, FL 34429)
  • Fort Island Gulf Beach. Located just a short drive from Crystal River, Fort Island Gulf Beach is a public beach area along the Gulf of Mexico. (Location: 16000 W. Fort Island Trail Crystal River, Fl. 34429)
  • Kings Bay Park. Kings Bay Park is situated on the shores of Kings Bay and offers a small sandy beach area for swimming. (Location: 268 NW 3rd StCrystal River, FL 34429)

Beach Time at Fort Island Gulf Beach

When it’s time to relax and have some fun in the sun, head to Fort Island Gulf Beach. This family-friendly beach features soft sand, calm waters, and picnic areas. Kids can build sandcastles, swim in the Gulf of Mexico, search for seashells, or enjoy a beachside picnic with the family.

Cook Your Catch Dinner

When you are in Florida near the water eating fresh seafood is a must. One of the best ways to enjoy fresh seafood is by having the fish and scallops you catch cooked for you. 

There are many different restaurants in the local Crystal River area you can bring your cleaned scallops or fish to and they will cook it for you. Many of these restaurants are located in downtown Crystal River making it really easy to bring your catches with you. Be sure to call the restaurants in advance to let them know you are bringing a “cook your catch” item. 

We took the scallops that we caught and brought them to the Greenhouse Bistro and they cooked them up for us. You can check out the full list of restaurants that offer cook-your-catch dinners in Crystal River here

Where is Crystal River Florida Located?

Crystal River is located in Citrus County, on the west coast of Florida, United States. It is situated approximately 70 miles north of Tampa and 85 miles west of Orlando. The city is named after the Crystal River, which flows through the area and is known for its crystal-clear waters. Crystal River is a popular destination for outdoor activities, particularly for its opportunities to observe manatees in their natural habitat.

What is the best time to visit Crystal River Florida?

The best time to visit Crystal River, Florida depends on your specific interests and preferences. Here are some factors to consider when planning your visit:

Manatee Season. If your main goal is to swim with manatees, the best time to visit is during the winter months, typically from November to early March. During this period, manatees migrate to the warm waters of Crystal River, and the chances of encountering them are higher.

Scalloping Season. Scalloping season in Crystal River typically runs from July to September. If you’re interested in scalloping, this is the ideal time to visit and enjoy this popular activity.

Weather. Crystal River experiences a subtropical climate, with hot and humid summers and mild winters. The shoulder seasons of spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) generally offer pleasant temperatures and lower humidity, making them comfortable for outdoor activities.

Crowds and Prices. Consider the level of tourism and crowds during your desired travel dates. Peak tourist season in Crystal River is typically during the winter months when manatees are present and during the summer scalloping season. If you prefer fewer crowds and potentially lower prices, you may consider visiting during the shoulder seasons or the offseason.

Wildlife and Nature. Crystal River’s natural beauty and wildlife are present year-round. Spring and fall can be great times to visit if you want to enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking, birdwatching, or hiking, as the weather is generally pleasant and the wildlife is active.

What is the best month to see manatees in Crystal River?

The best time to see manatees in Crystal River is during the winter months, typically from November to early March. This period coincides with the colder weather in Florida when manatees seek out warmer waters for survival. The constant temperature of the Crystal River springs, which remains around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius), makes it an ideal sanctuary for manatees during this time.

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