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July 21, 2020
Enjoying traditional summer fun has been challenging this year, with limited access to our favorite activities. Luckily, the Tampa Bay area is home to natural springs where plenty of good, clean, outdoor fun awaits.
The biggest problem you may encounter when planning a day trip to the springs is deciding which one to visit. We chose Crystal River on Florida’s Nature Coast. Known for its sparkling blue, natural spring-fed rivers and chains of lakes, it’s just 90 minutes north of Tampa. Arriving at Crystal River Kayak Company, we encountered another family returning from their time out on the water. They wore face masks—a sign of the times—and gave us a thumbs-up when we asked about their experience. The staffers also wore masks and required that we do the same while we settled into our boats. We rented two tandem kayaks for the minimum two hours ($40 each).
After a quick rundown of the surroundings, we set out to explore King’s Bay. Now able to remove our masks and breathe in the fresh air, we relaxed and took in the scenery. Cruising down meandering canals flanked by lush trees, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our only other companions were turtles perched on logs and birds resting on branches. Less than 10 minutes later, we reached the narrow spring run that leads into Three Sisters Springs, an inlet naturally divided into three pools where fresh water flows up from sand boils and vents and feeds the surrounding waterways.
We’d heard about the famous, crystalline water, but were shocked to discover it’s even more clear than a swimming pool. Even at its deepest point— about 18 feet— we could still see straight through to the bottom. Maintaining a temperature of 72 degrees year-round, the spring water was a refreshing antidote to the summer heat. It’s no wonder visitors flock here on weekends. Fortunately, on this weekday afternoon, we were able to easily spread out among only a handful of fellow kayakers and swimmers. Surrounded by 57 acres of vegetation, the springs feel like a world away from urban life. And thanks to the rule prohibiting motorized boats, they are quiet and serene. It’s the sort of place where time flies and stress dissolves.
As our too-short visit wound down, we began planning the next one. Living in this special corner of the sunshine state means there are still more springs to explore and more memories to be made.
Three Sisters Springs is open year-round. Water craft are prohibited between November and March, but visitors can observe and even swim with the hundreds of manatees that flock to the natural refuge to escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park- 1 hour
Silver Springs State Park- 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rainbow Springs State Park- 1 hour, 40 minutes
Kelly Park/Rock Springs- 1 hour, 45 minutes
Devil’s Den Spring- 1 hour, 50 minutes
Ichetucknee Springs State Park- 2 hours, 30 minutes
Ginnie Springs- 2 hours, 30 minutes