10 Best Places for Kayaking with Manatees in Florida

Florida is known for its abundant wildlife, but perhaps is most famous for its sea potato-y resident—the West Indian manatee. One of the best ways to observe manatees is by kayaking and observing these massive creatures glide under your boat, all while taking in Florida’s lush subtropical greenery surrounding you. Luckily, there’s tons of awesome spots in the state to see these gentle giants in their natural habitat, so here’s 10 of the best places for kayaking with manatees in Florida—and exactly how you can paddle with them.

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Couple kayaking with manatees at Hospital Hole in Weeki Wachee River in Florida
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My husband, Justin, and I live in Florida and have made it our mission to go kayaking with manatees in as many places as we can. We’ve been lucky enough to see these magical creatures all over the state—and are spilling the beans on where you can encounter these goofy cuties too. 

But first, let’s back up a second before we dive in (manatee pun!). 

What is a manatee?

Florida is home to about 6,000 West Indian manatees, a large marine mammal that can be found along the eastern coastline of North and South America, usually from Florida all the way down to Brazil. 

Manatee swimming through Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida

Manatees are massive creatures, weighing, on average, about 1,200 pounds, but can actually get up to 3,500 pounds! And fun fact—manatees’ closest living relative is actually the elephant, the planet’s largest land animal! 

But despite their enormous size, manatees truly are gentle giants—there’s no need to be scared of them!

Why can you see so many manatees in Florida?

Manatees typically hang out in shallow water off the Atlantic coastline where they can munch on their favorite food, seagrass—in fact, they eat up to 200 pounds per day! 

But when cold weather comes, manatees are forced to escape the chilly ocean water. While they may look rather fluffy, manatees are actually quite lean, with as little as 3% body fat—most of their body is actually composed of their digestive tract to work on all that seagrass! Accordingly, without much blubber to keep them warm, they’re very sensitive to cold water and can actually die if they’re exposed to water under 68 degrees. 

Aerial shot of dozens of manatees in Crystal River, Florida

So, when the weather turns chilly, the manatees head inland to some of the 1,000+ natural springs in Florida, which generally stay a consistent 72 degrees year round, regardless of the air temperature. Accordingly, almost all of the places on this list will be Florida’s springs, where manatees like to stay, come winter, in the nice and toasty warm water. 

Best Places for Kayaking With Manatees in Florida

1. King’s Bay

Unlike most of the places on this list, King’s Bay is a wide area, made up of not just one spring, but, actually, over 70! This makes it the largest natural refuge for manatees in the entire state, with up to one thousand manatees making their way here on particularly chilly days. In fact, thanks to its enormous population of these creatures, this town has become known as the Manatee Capital of Florida!

It’s also unique in that you can actually legally swim with manatees in Crystal River. We did this here and it was ABSOLUTELY incredible—it’s definitely one of the best places to snorkel in Florida and hands-down one of our favorite experiences in the entire state. We love it so much, we made a whole video about it!

One of the reasons that King’s Bay is my favorite place to go kayaking with manatees in Florida is that you likely won’t just see these gentle giants here—you can also see dolphins, bald eagles, sea turtles, and all kinds of other wildlife. When Justin and I were in King’s Bay, we saw HUNDREDS of manatees, two pods of dolphins, and countless birds. It’s definitely the only place in Florida we’ve been that we saw both dolphins and manatees, which definitely earns this the top spot in my book. 

The only downside that’s worth mentioning is that King’s Bay is rather shallow and it’s not unusual for the water to get a bit murky, especially when there’s tons of manatees that stir up the muddy floor or after a storm. Still, given the insane number of manatees (and other wildlife!) you can see here, this should absolutely be at the top of your bucket list. 

Aerial shot of people swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Location

King’s Bay is located here in Crystal River (about an hour and 15 minutes north of Tampa or an hour and 40 minutes northwest of Orlando).

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in Kings Bay

One of the best things about this town is that there’s tons of Crystal River manatee tours to choose from that will get you up close and personal with manatees. Check out: 

  • Clear Kayak Tour of Crystal River: You’ll go out in a small group, of no more than 10 travelers, in clear kayaks to give you the best view of wildlife, including manatees, that swim through the water around you. You’ll start in King’s Bay but may also make your way to other springs in the area, like Hunter Springs or Jurassic Springs, which typically have much clearer water than King’s Bay. 
  • Clear Kayak Manatee Ecotour of Crystal River: Yet another small group option of no more than 10 travelers in clear kayaks, this operator’s guides are friendly and incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife in the area. You’ll start the tour in King’s Bay, but it’s not unusual for your guides to take you to other springs in the area—they want to maximize your chances of spotting as many manatees as possible!
Woman paddling on a standup paddleboard in Crystal River, Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Kings Bay? 

Yes, there are several outfitters around Kings Bay where you can rent kayaks, like Kacey’s Custom Adventures or Paddles Outdoor Adventures.

2. Chassahowitzka River

I’ll let you in on a secret—Homosassa, located just south of Crystal River, also purports to be the manatee capital of Florida. While Homosassa typically sees slightly lower numbers of manatees than Crystal River, it’s still definitely a hot spot, oftentimes seeing more than seven hundred manatees on a given day. 

Homosassa is home to the Chassahowitzka River—commonly called “The Chaz”—a river with crystal clear blue water that’s fed by several springs, including The Crack and Seven Sisters Springs. Manatees are frequently spotted in the river, making their way to the warm waters of the various springs that feed into the river. 

Underwter photo of a manatee's face in Crystal River, Florida

The river is actually part of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge, so in addition to manatees, you can spot alligators, dolphins, otters, and dozens of species of birds and fish here. Plus, as compared to King’s Bay, where you’ll usually be kayaking amongst houses and other suburban developments, the Chaz provides a beautiful, completely natural environment to paddle through. Plus, it’s definitely WAY less crowded than King’s Bay, allowing you to enjoy kayaking with manatees in relative peace and quiet.

Location

The Chassahowitzka River is located here in Homosassa (about an hour and 15 minutes north of Tampa or an hour and 45 minutes northwest of Orlando). 

Woman kayaking and looking at a manatee in Weeki Wachee, Florida

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in the Chassahowitzka River

  • Clear Kayak Tours on on Chassahowitzka River: On this small group trip with no more than 10 travelers, you’ll paddle in a clear kayak to give you the best view of the manatees that swim through the river’s clear waters just beneath you. Here, you’ll paddle down the Chassahowitzka River to Seven Sisters Springs, which has cool underwater limestone caves, and to Baird Creek, with lush greenery that looks straight out of Jurassic Park. This kayaking tour tends to be a little more fast-paced than other tours and would probably not be the best choice if this is your very first time kayaking. 
  • Manatee Kayak Encounter: Want something a bit more intimate? On this tour, just your own private group will be taken out with a knowledgeable and funny guide. I love how transparent the guides are with this company—they’ll be totally honest with you if you’re kayaking during a time that isn’t great for spotting manatees, but they’ll work their absolute hardest to make sure you can see them! 
Woman kayaking on the Chassahowitzka River in Florida
Photo by edb3_16 of Deposit Photos

Can you rent kayaks at Chassahowitzka River?

Yes, you can rent kayaks at the Chassahowitzka River Campground near the boat launch.

3. Weeki Wachee Springs

Weeki Wachee Springs is spectacularly beautiful, with a narrow stream of crystal clear, turquoise water that snakes through lush cypress trees. 

Weeki Wachee holds a special place in my heart as it’s the first place that Justin and I went kayaking in Florida and were, somewhat unexpectedly, surrounded by about a dozen manatees at one time (it was seriously PURE magic). 

Aerial shot of couple kayaking with a manatee in Weeki Wachee, Florida

However, kayaking here is a little bit more complicated if you don’t go on a tour. Unlike most of the other spots on the list, Weeki Wachee actually limits the amount of kayakers on the water at any given time—70 boat launches in any one hour—to protect this waterway from getting loved to death. So even if you bring your own kayak, your best bet would be to make a reservation online with the state park ahead of time. Additionally, given the current of the water, they recommend that you just paddle 2.8 miles one-way down the stream and then get shuttled back to the headspring, instead of making a roundtrip journey. 

While you’re likely to spot manatees here in the wintertime, Weeki Wachee offers a lot more than just manatees—in fact, it’s home to the “World-Famous Mermaids of Weeki Wachee”, a troupe of underwater dancers (who, yes, dress like mermaids) that dance 16 feet underwater for half an hour as you watch from a glass auditorium that’s carved into the side of the spring (so ridiculously kitschy that it’s good!). We even saw a manatee swim right past the auditorium after the show!

Mermaid dancing underwater in the auditorium of Weeki Wachee, Florida

Location 

The state park is located here in Weeki Wachee (one hour north of Tampa or one hour and 45 minutes west of Orlando).

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in the Weeki Wachee Springs

  • Weeki Wachee Clear Kayak Ecotours Manatee Season: If I had to pick one kayaking tour in Weeki Wachee, it would be this one, which is the only company that offers tours on the Weeki Wachee River that’s certified by the Save the Manatees Club! You’ll take clear kayaks out on the river and be led around by guides, who focus on educating guests about the conservation of these incredible creatures (all while observing them and having fun, of course!). 
  • Clear Kayak Tour of Weeki Wachee:  Yet another option for a tour of Weeki Wachee in a clear kayak, this company has absolutely excellent guides, who are knowledgeable about the environment and are CLEARLY passionate about manatees and other wildlife in the area. Honestly, they seem really attuned to where manatees are within Weeki Wachee, even outside of the winter season—they are DETERMINED that you have an awesome time on your tour! 
Woman kayaking with two manatees in Weeki Wachee, Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Weeki Wachee? 

Yes, you can rent kayaks from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. As mentioned above, reservations are recommended in advance!

4. Silver Springs State Park

If I were going to pick the most lush jungle-esque springs we’ve been to in Florida, it would definitely be Silver Springs. It’s so jungle-y, in fact, that you can actually find over 300 Rhesus monkeys in the park. Local legend holds that the monkeys were accidentally released during the filming of the 1939 movie “Tarzan.”

Woman kayaking in Silver Springs State Park, Florida with lush greenery in the background

Monkeys notwithstanding, Silver Springs is an epic place to spot manatees, with crystal clear turquoise waters that’s a manatee hotspot, come wintertime. In fact, Justin and I put in our kayak here and saw a manatee within probably 30 seconds of being in the water—and probably saw about seven more during our time in the park. 

Silver Springs has a nice loop to kayak through its springs and the nearby river with a gentle current, an absolutely BEAUTIFUL landscape, and so much wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and all kinds of birds—it’s definitely one of the best places to go kayaking with manatees in Florida, in my opinion! 

Couple smiling and kayaking in Silver Springs State Park in Florida

Location 

Silver Springs State Park is located here in Ocala (one hour and 50 minutes north of Tampa or one hour and 30 minutes northwest of Orlando).

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in Silver Springs

  • Glass Bottom Kayak Tours of Silver Springs: Along this small group tour, with a maximum of 10 travelers, you’ll head out in a totally clear kayak to spot the park’s abundant wildlife. The guides are awesome at spotting animals—from manatees to monkeys—and are patient with even the most beginner kayakers. 
  • Silver Springs Glass Bottom Kayak Tour: This tour company uses a different type of kayak, that’s a bit more stable than typical clear kayaks but still has a glass bottom to enjoy views of Silver Springs wildlife, shipwrecks, and even underwater statues directly below you. The guides on this tour are knowledgeable both about the area and Silver Spring’s wildlife and make sure that both experienced and novice kayakers have an awesome time. 
Underwater shot of manatee in Crystal River, Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Silver Springs State Park?

Yes, you can rent kayaks from the state park

5. Blue Spring State Park

This is the first Florida spring that I ever visited as an adult and I remember almost not believing my eyes—the intense clarity of the water, its shocking bright blue hue, and the HUNDREDS of manatees that were in the spring! 

Two manatees swimming underwater at Blue Spring State Park in Florida

Like a few other of these springs, Blue Spring prohibits kayaking or swimming in the park itself, usually from November 15 through March 30, so that the park may serve as a manatee refuge. However, it’s very popular to kayak from upstream in the St. Johns River and park your kayak directly outside of the park (the boundary is clearly roped off), so that you can sit and watch as manatees swim in and out of the springs. Just a fair warning—the river water is more of a brown-ish color, and not the shocking blue spring water, but it still has perfectly good visibility to see our massive friends underwater. 

Even if you’re not kayaking, Blue Spring State Park is worth a visit. During manatee season, there’s always a sign by the front gate to show how many manatees there are in the spring that day (during our visit, there were over 500!) and a wooden boardwalk that runs alongside the spring, with several viewpoints that jut out over the water for a better vantage point of the manatees. There’s usually daily ranger talks, where you can learn all kinds of fun facts about these gentle giants including about their biology, current conservation efforts, and recent scientific discoveries. Justin and I found this presentation exceptionally informative and it was a highlight of our visit to Blue Spring.

Two manatees swimming underwater at Blue Spring State Park in Florida

Location

Blue Spring is located here in Orange City (40 minutes north of Orlando or two hours northeast of Tampa).

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in Blue Spring State Park:

  • Blue Spring Manatee Encounters: You’ll kayak along the St. Johns River with your knowledgeable and friendly guide and usually see manatees, alligators, and tons of different kinds of birds amidst the lush green surroundings. The guides are also awesome at taking photos during the tour and sharing with your group, so you’ll be able to remember the tour (and all the wildlife you saw!) for years to come!
  • Manatee Discovery Tour: The guides on this tour make sure you have a great mix of hanging out right by the boundary of the park, for maximum manatee sightings, with plenty of other paddling around to spot other kinds of wildlife, like gators, turtles, and fish. The guides’ enthusiasm for their jobs—and the wildlife that they’ll help you spot—is absolutely infectious.
Multiple manatees swimming underwater at Blue Spring State Park in Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Blue Spring State Park?

Because kayaking isn’t technically allowed in Blue Spring State Park, there aren’t kayak rentals here during manatee season. However, there are several outfitters outside of Blue Spring, like Blue Spring Adventures.

6. Manatee Spring State Park 

You know that Manatee Spring has got to be a manatee hotspot—it was literally named after these gentle giants! 

Given that Manatee Springs is located a bit further away from Orlando and Tampa, it tends to be a lot quieter than some of the other springs on this list. This definitely doesn’t mean you should overlook this park—on the contrary, the park has a nice, 800-foot wooden boardwalk that runs along the spring to give a better vantage point into the turquoise water (perfect for spotting manatees) and plenty of lush cypress trees lining the water. Plus, it’s the largest single spring flowing into the Suwannee River, pumping out an average of 50 to 150 million gallons of water per day! 

Manatee breathing at the top of the water in Crystal River, Florida

Plus, on cold winter days, the park can see over 50 manatees in its spring.

Location

As noted above, Manatee Springs is located here in northern Florida (about an hour west of Gainesville or two hours and 15 minutes northwest of Orlando)

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in Manatee Springs State Park

Sadly, there aren’t any tour operators around Manatee Springs, but the park does have its own boat launch for you to take out your own vessel! 

Manatee underwater in Crystal River, Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Manatee Springs State Park?

Yes, there’s kayak rentals at Manatee Springs State Park, as well as a few other outfitters in the area, like Suwanee Guide Outfitters or Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures.

7. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

For a totally different vibe from Florida’s springs, head to Merritt Island along the Space Coast. This area, along the eastern coastline of the state, is so named because of its proximity to Kennedy Space Center. In fact, this tract of land was originally purchased by NASA to be part of the Space Center, but eventually was donated to become the National Wildlife Refuge you see today. Now, it’s a safe haven for wildlife, including manatees, alligators, dolphins, and even bobcats. 

Alligator in swampy land in the Everglades National Park in Florida

This spot is awesome because it’s one of the limited places that you’re actually more likely to spot manatees in the summertime (from April through August), given that this is coastal water. Other than just kayaking, there’s actually a manatee viewing deck on Haulover Canal to provide a good vantage point into the water where they like to hang out. 

One other cool thing about Merritt Island? You can actually see bioluminescence here, which is light produced by water-dwelling microorganisms when they’re agitated that’s visible to the naked eye at night. There’s tons of tour operators that will take you out on nighttime kayaking tours to see this incredible natural phenomenon, like this option or this option

Location

Merritt Island is located here, directly north of Cocoa Beach and directly south of Kennedy Space Center. Honestly, it’s SO close to Kennedy Space Center that you’re basically contractually obligated to make a stop there if you decide to kayak with manatees in the area! 

View over the water at sunset at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida
Photo by gonepaddling of Deposit Photos

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

  • Manatee and Dolphin Kayak Encounter: On this tour, you’ll kayak right from the Haulover Canal through mangroves, while scanning the waters for manatees and dolphins. You’ll likely see other wildlife, like birds or even gators, while you’re out on the water. The guides on this tour group are incredibly knowledgeable and always keep their chill—even when they happen to spot a gator or two in the water! 
  • Wildlife Refuge Kayaking Tour: Again, on this tour, you’ll launch from the Haulover Canal and paddle through the mangrove canals, where you’ll likely see manatees, dolphins, and gators. The guides do a great job of striking a balance between providing you with tons of interesting information and offering quiet time to just enjoy your beautiful natural surroundings—plus, they’re super patient with beginners! 
Row of kayaks in Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge? 

Yes, there are several outfitters to rent kayaks near Merritt Island, like Calypso Kayaking and Cocoa Kayaking

8. The Everglades

Outside of Florida’s springs, the highest concentration of manatees we’ve EVER seen is definitely along the southwest coastline of the Everglades—we saw about a dozen of them, rooting around for seagrass and getting lots of mud on their little snouts, near the Flamingo Marina in Everglades National Park (it was seriously adorable to watch). 

Manatees sticking their snouts out of the water at Flamingo Marina in the Everglades National Park in Florida
Little muddy manatee snouts at the Flamingo Marina in Everglades National Park

But you can find them all along the coastline, both in the cooler and warmer months (albeit less frequently!). For example, Chokoloskee Island is a manatee hotspot, thanks to the proliferation of seagrass around the island due to its calm currents. To the west of the park, the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to mangroves, tropical hardwoods, and lots of wildlife, including manatees, alligators, dolphins, and marshland birds. 

Alligator partially submerged in water at Everglades National Park in Florida

After you spend a few hours here, you’ll know exactly why the Everglades are commonly called one of the most biodiverse places on the planet! 

Location

Everglades National Park is ENORMOUS, covering over 2,300 square miles. In fact, it’s actually the third largest national park in the contiguous United States, after Death Valley and Yellowstone.

Additionally, the actual Everglades ecosystem is much larger than just the national park, including other protected areas like the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Reserve, and Picayune Strand State Forest. So basically, pretty much all of Florida’s southwest coastline is the Everglades. 

White bird eating a lizard at Everglades National Park in Florida

The closest cities are Miami, which is about two hours away from both Flamingo Marina and Chokoloskee Island, and Naples, which is three hours away from Flamingo Marina or one hour away from Chokoloskee Island.  

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in the Everglades

  • Small Group Everglades Kayaking and Walking Ecotour: This tour, from Chokoloskee Island, offers a little bit of everything—a boat ride to give you a better vantage point for spotting manatees, then plenty of time kayaking so that you can explore secluded channels and coves where motorboats aren’t allowed, and finally, a walking tour around a barrier island. You typically see SO much wildlife on this tour, from manatees to dolphins and dozens of species of birds. 
  • Full-day Kayak Adventure in the Everglades: This immersive tour, which leaves from the Robert is Here fruit stand in Homestead (unrelated, but GET A SMOOTHIE HERE!), will lead you through a variety of different types of water systems, including through mangrove forests, saltwater, and freshwater. Even though this tour is all-day, the water you’ll kayak through is calm and the instructors are so kind and patient—so it’s still perfectly suitable for beginners and more advanced kayakers alike!
People kayaking in the Florida Bay at Everglades National Park in Florida

Can you rent kayaks in the Everglades?

As mentioned above, the Everglades are enormous, with lots of outfitters to choose from in dozens of locations. If you’re already going to be visiting the national park, I’d suggest heading to the Flamingo Marina and renting from an outfitter there, like Flamingo Adventures.

9. Ichetucknee Springs State Park

This place is a bit under-the-radar but SO incredibly beautiful. Ichetucknee Springs has electric blue, crystal clear water, thanks to the eight springs found in the park, and is surrounded by impossibly lush cypress and pine trees. Plus it’s a bit off-the-beaten path, given its location in northern Florida, so you’ll get to enjoy this spring largely to yourself in the wintertime. 

Blue water at Ichetucknee Springs in Florida

There’s a 3.5 mile run that’s perfect for kayaking or canoeing, where you can spot manatees, otters, turtles, birds, and lots of other animals in the cooler months. Ichetucknee is pretty far inland, so it’s not as popular with manatees as some of the springs that are closer to the coastline, like Three Sisters Springs, but it’s not unusual to see dozens of them here in the wintertime. 

During the summertime, this spot becomes popular with lively tubers, which can scare most of the wildlife away. While manatees typically clear out of the springs by late March, I’ve read a handful of reports of manatee sightings well into the summer—so if you happen to be visiting during the warmer months, keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed to spot these gentle giants.

Turtles sitting on a log at Ichetucknee Springs in Florida

Location

Ichetucknee Springs is located here, about an hour northwest of Gainesville or two hours east of Tallahassee.

Best tours for kayaking with manatees at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

There aren’t any organized tours that go to Ichetucknee, but there is an outfitter in the park that you can rent kayaks from and get shuttles back upstream after your paddle (but more on the below!). 

Blue spring at Ichetucknee Springs in Florida

Can you rent kayaks here?

Paddling Adventures is the only concessionaire in the state park that rents out kayaks and stand-up paddleboards and offers three different paddling trips—ranging from three and a half miles to nine miles—both of which include transportation back to your starting point. The most popular trip that they offer, the three and half mile float down Ichetucknee, is limited to 100 boats per day, so if you’re visiting during a popular time (like a weekend), it’s probably a good idea to book ahead of time. 

10. Three Sisters Springs

Three Sisters Springs is the most famous manatee hotspot in Crystal River—the self-proclaimed Manatee Capital of Florida—with crystal clear, turquoise water that’s surrounded by impossibly lush greenery. 

So why isn’t this spot higher on the list? 

Well, there’s one significant downside to this spring for paddlers—it’s closed to boats, including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, from November 15 through March 31 (i.e., the best time of the year to see manatees) to protect these gentle creatures during the wintertime. 

View of a manatee swimming past a woman kayaking in Weeki Wachee in Florida

However, if you’re keen to actually get into the water with manatees, there’s several places that you can tie up your kayak outside of the springs and swim your way into the park to see manatees here. And bonus—given that boats aren’t allowed in the park, there’s typically hardly anyone in the water here, so you’ll likely get plenty of manatees to yourself! 

If you’re not up for swimming in 72 degree water for long periods of time (which definitely requires a wetsuit, by the way!), you can alternatively see the manatees while walking along a 0.3 mile wooden boardwalk that runs alongside the spring.

Mother and baby manatee swimming in blue spring water

If you happen to visit outside of the winter months, you’ll need patience and some luck to spot these gentle giants here!

Location

Three Sisters Springs is located here in Crystal River (about an hour and 15 minutes north of Tampa or an hour and 40 minutes northwest of Orlando).

Best tours for kayaking with manatees in Three Sisters Springs:

Given that kayaks aren’t allowed in Three Sisters Springs during manatee season, there obviously aren’t any kayaking tours that head here during this timeframe either. There are, however, several kayaking tours that head to Three Sisters Springs from April through mid-November, where it’s still definitely possible to see these gentle giants with some luck.

  • Three Sisters Springs Kayak and Swim Ecotour: If you want the best of both worlds, head out on this locally-owned and operated company’s tour, where you’ll kayak to Three Sisters Springs and swim through its stunningly clear waters. The guides with this company are incredibly knowledgeable, not only about manatees, but the other wildlife you can see along the way, including dolphins, turtles, and dozens of species of birds. 
  • Clear Kayak Tour Of Crystal River And Three Sisters Springs: If you’re not interested in getting into the water, this option leads you on a tour with a clear kayak through Three Sister Springs. Even if you’re not lucky enough to spot a manatee, you’ll likely see dozens of different kinds of birds, fish, and other wildlife. The guides are great at providing tons of interesting information about the animals you see along the way and are patient with beginner kayakers.
Man looking at a manatee underwater while snorkeling at Crystal River in Florida

Can you rent kayaks at Three Sisters Springs? 

You cannot rent kayaks at Three Sisters Springs, but there are several outfitters nearby that you can rent from and paddle to—or outside (depending on the season, but more on that below!)–like Paddles Outdoor Adventure or Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy.

Things You Should  Know Before Kayaking with Manatees in Florida

Manatees are cute and incredibly goofy-looking—and unfortunately, an extremely threatened species. In fact, in the 1970s, their population dwindled to just a few hundred left in all of Florida’s waters, mostly due to manatee fatalities from boat propeller strikes. 

Manatee underwater in Crystal River, Florida

Thanks to conservation efforts, their population has partially rebounded to an estimated 6,000 creatures today, but, in recent years, they’re unfortunately dying off at an alarming rate—again. This is due to human-related causes, including fertilizer runoff in the water that’s killing seagrass and overuse of Florida’s aquifers, which make it challenging for manatees to find warm waters in the wintertime. 

I’m not saying this to be a bummer, but to give context behind how INCREDIBLY important it is to treat these rare animals with respect when you see them in the wild. So please abide by the following when you’re kayaking with them:

  • Don’t feed them or give them water—this can make manatees associate human beings—and their boats—with sustenance and increases the likelihood that they may be harmed or killed by propeller strikes in the future. 
  • Don’t touch them in any way—this includes riding them and accidentally kicking them if you’re in a location that allows snorkeling with manatees. If a manatee approaches or touches you, don’t panic as they are incredibly docile and curious. Simply remain still and wait for them to swim away.
  • Don’t kayak too close to or over them—manatees subconsciously float to the surface of the water to breathe while sleeping, and bumping into kayaks can waken them and result in sleep deprivation. 
  • Don’t chase or follow a manatee that’s swimming away from you—this kind of behavior can disturb their sleep, eating, or mating patterns.
  • Don’t make loud noises—try not to make any noise if possible to avoid waking sleeping manatees. 
Couple kayaking with manatees underwater in Weeki Wachee, Florida

Basically, just passively observe these creatures from your kayak, like you’re one of those cool narrators on National Geographic, and don’t be a jerk. Not only are you helping protect the manatees by doing so, but it’s actually the law. That’s right—under both federal and state law, harassing a manatee in any way is punishable with fines up to $50,000 and even jail time! 

When to Go Kayaking with Manatees in Florida

The best time to go kayaking with manatees in Florida, for the most part, is in the wintertime (November through March), when they head inland to enjoy the springs’ warm waters, with the very best months being January and February. 

Manatee swimming underwater

Outside of this window, it’s certainly still possible to see manatees, both in the springs and along the coastline, but they tend to be a lot more spread out and, thus, harder to find. 


Phew—hopefully, you have a much better idea where to go kayaking with manatees in Florida. Do you have any questions about paddling with these doofy and sweet sea potatoes? Let us know in the comments below!

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