florida coast

Florida Coast Featured Destination:

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Crystal River, Florida

You may not have swimming with the largest population of manatees in the U.S. on your bucket list, but you may want to consider it. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only place in the world where you can snorkel with the doughy, docile creatures as they winter in Florida's warm waters.

Pull on your own pair of flippers and slip into King's Bay at the headwaters of the Crystal River for a close up with endangered Florida manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. The 177-acre coastal paradise of 70 natural springs, warmed to 72 degrees, with several islands was set aside just for the manatees. With these conditions, you may want to winter here, too.

And, flippers aren't always necessary. The manatees may look more like the mythical mermaid beauties that they inspired when standing atop a 28-foot mound overlooking the river at nearby Crystal River State Archaeological Site.

Best Time to Visit:

The manatees take their Gulf Coast vacation each year October through March, so you may want to schedule your vacation at the same time. Be aware that the refuge contains some restricted sanctuaries closed to the public November 15 through March 31.

What to Do:

The Crystal River National Wild Refuge is only accessible by boat, so start at the marina near park headquarters where you can take manatee-watching tours by canoe or kayak. If snorkeling doesn't get you close enough to the manatees, diving will. King's Springs offers 60-foot depths and a cool underwater cavern. Get Directions

Other Florida Coast Destinations:

  • Dry Tortugas National Park. One of the most remote parks in the United States, Dry Tortugas is only accessible by boat, ferry or seaplane, but is well-worth the journey. Bird watching and snorkeling opportunities abound, and for the history buff, Fort Jefferson offers a glimpse of the area's human past. Get Directions
  • Canaveral National Seashore. Serving as a refuge for many animals, including sea turtles nesting on its shores, this barrier island is a great place to swim, fish, hike, and camp. Get Directions
  • Biscayne National Park. Explore the waters of Biscayne National Park to see coral reefs and shipwrecks of yesteryear. The best way to experience the islands and reefs is by boat, though visitors can head to Convoy Point for land-based activities. Get Directions
  • Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. The "Amazon of North America," this swamp with bald cypress forests and various waterways carving the landscape has over 44 native orchids growing throughout, as well as wildlife ranging from Florida black bears to diamondback terrapins to Everglades minks. Get Directions
  • Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. Get a glimpse of "Old Florida" while exploring the preserve's salt marshes, wildlife, trails and historic sites, all conveniently located within Jacksonville's city limits.Get Directions

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