I’m about an hour from Crystal River, but I’ve only been there once. I took my mom to swim with the manatees, and that was beyond awesome. There weren’t a lot of manatees but one baby kept coming up to everyone to check us out. His (her?) mom hung out a bit away from us, I guess just indulging his curiosity without actually wanting to be around us herself.
I’ve also been to Rainbow River (same area) twice tubing and that was a lot of fun too. Lots of fish and great scenery. I thought at the time it would be a great place to paddleboard; the water is smooth and clear.
Then as part of the Tampa Bay Blogger group I was invited to paddleboard with Manatee Paddle, a company that will be officially opening their doors June 1st in exchange for writing a review about the experience. Who’s going to say no to that? We toured 3 Sister Springs on Crystal River. They also have a tour on Rainbow River which I think would be pretty nice too, offer lessons and a even sell boards and accessories.
Manatee Paddle offers two boards for the tour/rentals. The first one I tried was the Surf Imaging board, which is aimed towards the beginner paddler. It’s nice and wide. Lots of us had a child that would be sitting in front, and that’s the board they suggested. It was great, very stable even with my daughter sitting on the front.
After paddling around near where we put the boards in for about 15 minutes my daughter decided she could handle her own board, so I gave her that one and tried their SUPLove boards. Loved it! It’s narrower than the beginner board I bought so it is SO easy to steer and paddle! When I have the money put away for a second board this is definitely one I’ll look at.
Anyways, back to the tour. The gentleman who owns the business has his sons guide the tours. They started out with a quick lesson – how to hold the paddle, how to get on the board, just the very basics. After paddling around the immediate area long enough for everyone to get comfortable we headed to Three Sister Springs in hope of seeing some manatees. We toured 2 of the three springs, but no luck with manatees. The springs themselves were well worth the trip though. Absolutely beautiful! People were swimming in the springs, but I am way too much of a cold wimp so I just chilled on the board and enjoyed the scenery.
We headed back after checking out 2 of the 3 springs. The group spread out pretty far as we paddled back. My daughter and I were lucky enough to see a group of manatees on our way back. There were at least 5 of them, since it was in the bay instead of the springs it was hard to tell how many. Unfortunately we were pretty close to the end of the group and the wind had picked up enough to make staying in one spot a challenge so we didn’t get any pictures or stay to watch them too long. It was a little frustrating finally seeing them and being too far from the group to let anyone else know!
I would definitely go back and do this again. Some friends and I am planning a camping trip in the area, if it’s after Manatee Paddle opens in June we will most likely head over to rent some boards from them! We were told that the best time to see manatees in the area is in the winter months when they like to go to the springs because they are warmer than the bay. Seeing the manatees is obviously a plus, but Manatee Paddle is worth the trip even when they are not there, just for the fun and the incredible scenery.