Last March I had the most amazing experience snorkeling with wild manatees in Crystal River, Florida. It was such a fun experience and it really opened my eyes to not only manatee awareness, but how many awesome parts of Florida I had yet to discover.
I had heard about the famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids, and I had seen pictures of the beautiful Weeki Wachee River. I knew this place was somewhere I had to visit.
The Weeki Wachee River flows just under 7.5 miles westwards from Weeki Wachee (the city) to the Gulf of Mexico at the Weeki Wachee estuary. The river is best known for its spring, which is a state park complete with water slides, animal shows, picnic and pavilion areas and a white sandy beach.
The spring is the surfacing point of an underground river, which is the deepest naturally occurring spring in the United States. It measures about 150 feet wide and 250 feet long. It is a natural hot spring, meaning the water is always a nice warm 72 degrees year-round.
One of the advantages of kayaking in the cooler months is that you have a better chance of seeing wild manatees. Manatees are warm blooded mammals and will freeze to death in water that dips below 60 degrees. For this reason, during the winter they swim inland from the ocean to the natural hot springs of Florida to stay warm. The water temperature of the hot springs never gets below 72 degrees, making it the perfect winter spot for the manatees.
Manatees are gentle giants. They don’t make a lot of noise and they tend to move pretty slow (unless their extremely motivated by something in particular). If you’re hoping to spot one while out kayaking the best thing to do is to just hold still and look for them. There was one spot in particular we were told manatees can usually be spotted. It didn’t take us long to get there on our kayaks and when we did we started spotting them right away. A few of them were extra friendly. The big guy in the picture below came right up to me and even started licking the side of my kayak!
Most of the water in the Weeki Wechee River is very shallow and clear, but this spot where the manatees hang out is very deep (around 150 feet deep) so you’ll notice the water here is much darker.
After spotting some manatees, we continued with our kayaking up river. Soon we noticed a mother and a baby manatee that were following behind us. They seemed to be swimming with a purpose so we pulled our kayaks aside and let them pass by us.
We continued up river more, but soon we caught up to the mother and baby manatee and noticed they had picked up another friend. The trio was busy searching the river bottom for food (manatees are herbivores) so we just floated along side them for a little while and watched them. I managed to get a few awesome shots of them in action with my GoPro Hero4.
If you go
- We rented kayaks for $35 a piece. This cost gave us the kayaks for the entire day, no 2 or 3 hour limit which was awesome.
- We parked at the kayak place and then our kayaks were packed up and we were driven to the launch site by the kayak company.
- If you do kayak the entire river it is about 7.5 miles long.
- The river does have a current, but it is by no means strong, or include any rapids of any sort so this is the perfect place for young kids and elderly who want to get out there and give kayaking a try.
- When we were done kayaking we simply called the kayak company and they made the 2 minute drive to come pick us up. Easy peasy.
- As I mentioned if you’re visiting in the colder weather months you’ll likely encounter some wild manatees (yay! super cool!) Manatees are huge but gentle and harmless creatures. Remember: YOU are a GUEST in their habitat. If you do spot them simply stop and observe. Manatees are extremely protected animals here in Florida. Mistreating, poking, or abusing them in any way is punishable by law. And I will personally drive to wherever you are and punch you in the face. Manatees are the sweetest most innocent animals and you suck (and are the scum of the earth) if you find pleasure in abusing them. *crazy animal lover lady rant over*
What to bring
- Sunscreen — even on a cloudy day: wear sunscreen!
- Snacks — if you plan on kayaking the entire river you’re going to need to refuel
- Water bottle — always pack water!
- GoPro — essential if you want to snag some awesome pics of manatees
- Water proof phone case — tipping your kayak is rare, but if you do you’re going to be glad you had this to protect your phone!