Florida: First Magnitude
Crystal River is a place defined by water. It starts with the river for which the city is named and the natural wonder on which the city sits: Kings Bay. Kings Bay is fed by over seventy springs and as many as forty more seeps that feed 600 million gallons of freshwater a day into this incredible body of freshwater sitting only six miles from the Gulf of Mexico. It is a first magnitude Florida springs system and a leading winter refuge for the Florida Manatee. In fact, it is so important to the survival of manatees that The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only Refuge in the United States dedicated to the preservation and protection of a single species.
The springs here are epic and provide an incredible experience for meeting a manatee. The biggest spring is King Spring on the southern tip of Banana Island. The most famous though, by far, is Three Sisters Springs, a place so remarkable it’s best described as a National Park in one acre. This amazing crystal-clear spring in a wooded grove defies imagination and has become known internationally for the incredible number of manatees that gather here in winter–over five hundred in one day alone in December 2015! A visit to the Three Sisters Springs Boardwalk, or swimming with manatees in the spring on a manatee tour, is a must.
The most accessible spring in Crystal River is at Hunter’s Springs Park on the shoreline near downtown. This newly restored City Park features a sandy beach for swimmers, a kayak launch and a boardwalk for viewing manatees. Nearby Kings Bay Park, also on the downtown waterfront, provides another public kayak launch, a pier for fishing and sweeping views of the Cedar Cove area of Kings Bay. This is seafood central in Crystal River with three waterfront restaurants serving seafood, often fresh off the boat from the two active commercial fishing operations on the waterfront.
All of this is just steps away from Crystal River’s historic Downtown on North Citrus Avenue. More incredible restaurants and cafes abound as well as shopping in the Heritage Village district on the north side of US Highway 19. From the Stone Crab Jam festival celebrating Stone Crab season in November to the Florida Manatee Festival in January and the Kings Bay Pirate Festival in May, Downtown Crystal River is alive with fun and adventure throughout the year.
Throughout town you’ll find hotels, motels even a bed & breakfast right on the waterfront, each with an amazing view.
The Crystal River Preserve State Park is located to the west of town and features many walking, birding, and biking trails. Inside the preserve the Crystal River Archeological State Park features an important Native American ceremonial site in use before the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere. The highest point in Crystal River happens to be the temple mound at this site which provides an excellent view of the Crystal River and its incredible sunsets.
Without a doubt, the best sunset views are to be had on the Gulf of Mexico itself. Sunsets are a ritual at Fort Island Gulf Beach, nine miles west of town on Fort Island Trail with a drum-circle adding rhythm and a beat on the second Sunday of each month. This 15 acre park features a beach, fishing pier, woodland boardwalk and a boat ramp right on the Gulf.
With so much to experience, it’s no wonder Crystal River is considered the “gem of the nature coast.” Waterfront restaurants, eclectic shops, and friendly smiles are abundant here in Crystal River. You’ll love it!