With miles of shoreline Florida is home to some pretty unique ecosystems that are home to a rather large variety of wildlife. From the swampy and reptile-rich Everglades in the South, to the bird-friendly Maritime forests in the Northeast, Florida has something here for every type of nature lover. This variety is perhaps best displayed on the state’s Gulf Coast. Here you get a brilliant blend of incredible sea life, like the Florida Manatee, along with some beautiful birds and exotic mammals that call the coastal woodlands home. If you are looking for a place to explore the beauty and variety of Florida’s wildlife along with a bit of Old Florida charm, look no further than Citrus County.
Located about an hour and a half north of Tampa, FL on US-19, Citrus County is home to several small towns that are filled with “Old Florida” attractions. If you are looking for some fun in the sun while avoiding big cities, the west coast of Florida is a great choice. What makes Citrus County really stand out though is its network of rivers, springs, and its proximity to the Gulf Coast. Because of this, Citrus County is one of the premier spots for manatee viewing in the state. Heck, they even have an annual Manatee Festival. This level of eco diversity makes it an attractive destination for those seeking eco and adventure travel. We spent a couple days in the area, and wanted to share some of the highlights of our trip.
It’s no secret that Lauren and I are big fans of kayaking and being out on the open water. Well there are some great kayaking opportunities to take advantage of in the Citrus County area that allow you to take in some gorgeous scenery!
The best part though was getting to visit Three Sisters Springs. It’s one of the spots for prime manatee viewing in the winter months, but it is also a great spot to catch some shade and spot some slightly less exotic wildlife.
We enjoyed kayaking adventure courtesy of Aardvarks Kayak – you may also want to check them out.
By far the area’s biggest draw, there are year round manatee tours that take you out on the water and give you the opportunity to safely swim with the manatees. It’s important to remember that while typically quite docile, it can be dangerous to swim with a manatee, which is why it’s important to go out with a licensed tour company that will keep both the manatees and you safe. It is illegal to touch the manatees so tour guides are highly recommended. We went out with the Plantation Inn Dive Shop. Our tour began by getting outfitted in full wetsuits, which was nice since the water can be pretty cold, even in the summer months, and then went out on a tour of the river searching for manatees. In the off season the sightings can be a bit rare, so the tour makes sure to take you along the river where you can enjoy some scenic views and learn about other local flora and fauna.
After a long search, we finally found a manatee grouping and it was time to get in the water.
Getting to see a mom and baby manatee in the wild, totally BREATHTAKING!
We only spent a short time with the manatee pair, as we didn’t want to make them uncomfortable or nervous. Once we all got back into the boat, we still had time so we went to the Three Sisters Spring and had a chance to snorkel there.
If getting out on the open water isn’t your thing ( I forgive you :) ), there is one other way to check out a good amount of Florida’s indigenous wildlife. The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (say that 10 times fast) covers over 200 acres of land and is centered around a 45 foot deep natural spring that has an underwater observatory in it.
A trip to the park begins with a short boat ride along the river from the main entrance to the actual park (or you can take a boring tram).
Once in the park you can take a walking trail through the exhibits and take in all the different wildlife.
The coolest part though is the underwater observatory where you can see fish and manatees up close.
Without the underwater observatory all you’d be able to see is a whole lot of manatee snout. :-)
If you are planning an adventure to Crystal River, FL and the Citrus County area, you might want to look at staying at the Plantation on Crystal River. It’s a pet friendly property, has the manatee tour dive shop on site, and features some pretty comfortable rooms.
Overall we found our time in Citrus County to be a relatively unique Florida experience. Far from the wild beaches and theme parks it gave us an opportunity to unplug and unwind while also getting connected with the natural world around us. Have you had any great wildlife adventures? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.