Want to see or kayak with Manatees in Florida? From the famous Crystal River to the secluded Ichetucknee Springs, this article will show you the best places!
Also affectionately known as sea cows, Florida manatees are friendly, intelligent, and curious aquatic mammals that are native to the region.
These gentle creatures are known to migrate to warm water habitats in Florida for survival during the winter months and often find temporary homes in the warmth of state parks, coastal waters, rivers, and springs when it’s cold in the other parts of the country.
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While you can see these Manatees from afar, seeing them on a kayak makes the experience even more exciting. No wonder many people have kayaking with manatees in Florida on their once-in-a-lifetime bucket list activities.
So, whether you’re a native Floridian looking for new places to see Manatees in Florida or a tourist who wants to finally tick it off your Florida bucket list, this article will give you a list of the best places to kayak with manatees in Florida.
But before we look at the places, here are a few things to keep in mind while kayaking with manatees in Florida.
Things to Know Before kayaking With Manatees in Florida
Don’t disturb the manatees: If a manatee comes close to you while kayaking, don’t be tempted to touch it. Just watch. In the same way, don’t try to outrun them or chase them down. In brief, always keep your distance.
Don’t let your vessel touch the Manatees: It might sound fun to have a Manatee right close to your kayak but it can also be dangerous.
If for whatever reason the Manatees feel threatened, chances are high that they may want to leave that spot as soon as possible, and due to their huge body, they can easily tip off your kayak.
In fact, before going out to kayak with manatees in Florida, make sure that you learn how to turn back your kayak if this happens.
Don’t feed the manatees: Feeding them is not a gesture of your kindness. Instead, you’re just endangering them by giving them what they shouldn’t eat.
Yes, it’s safe to kayak with manatees in Florida: As long as you don’t bother them, it’s pretty safe to kayak with manatees.
The kayaks are quite safe, so they’ll not injure the creatures and since paddling doesn’t cause major disruptions to the water, the manatees will not feel threatened as they swim in their natural habitats. However, you should note that not every spot allows swimming with manatees.
But don’t attempt to swim with Manatees in places that don’t allow it: As you will see later in this article, the only place that allows ethical swimming with Manatees is Crystal River.
If you go to other places, don’t attempt to swim with them. If you want to interact with these creatures, you can check out our article on how to swim with manatees in Florida.
Be aware of the Manatees’ behaviors while kayaking: Manatees are quite chill and curious creatures but they can sometimes feel threatened, especially if you’re too close to them.
If they react to your presence, chances are high that you’re too close and you’re making them uncomfortable. So just paddle away slowly.
When is the Best Time to See Manatees in Florida?
As we’ve mentioned above, a huge number of Manatees make their way to Florida during the colder months in search of warmth as they can’t survive in cold waters below 68 degrees.
This means that the best time to see Manatees in Florida is between November through March (if you’re lucky you can find a few in April) but visiting between December to February almost guarantees you to see them as this is their peak season.
So if you’ve been asking yourself questions like “when is manatee season in Florida“, we hope we’ve answered you.
Best Places to Kayak with Manatees in Florida
From various springs to Sanctuary Parks, here is a list of where to kayak with manatees in Florida.
1. Manatee Springs State Park, Chiefland
First on our list of where to kayak with manatees in Florida is the beautiful Manatee Springs State Park located in Chiefland.
With over 80 well-equipped campsites, picnic tables, 8.5 miles worth of hiking and bicycling trails, an 800-foot boardwalk for wildlife viewing, picturesque blue waters perfect for fishing, diving, snorkeling, and plenty of nature fun in store, this state park is one of Florida’s largest, first-magnitude springs that’s popular amongst locals and tourists alike.
But beyond all this action, Manatee springs state park is also famous for hosting Manatees that make their way to its waters during the colder months with the best time to visit being January or February.
And while you can see them on the park’s popular Suwannee River Boardwalk, the best and more adventurous way is by venturing out on a kayak or canoe!
Bringing your own kayak is ok but you can also rent one at the state park’s concession.
Location: 11650 NW 115th St, Chiefland, FL 32626.
Crystal River has frequently been rated the best place to kayak with manatees in Florida and it’s easy to see why.
Also known as the manatee capital of the world receiving over 800 manatees during the cold months, it doesn’t just boast a large manatee population but it also has an admirable wildlife refuge (Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge) established in 1983 to protect threatened Florida manatees.
Thanks to carefully implemented policies, visitors can kayak in a tranquil environment that’s safe and calming for the gentle creatures, and you can even interact and swim with them, as opposed to other places that don’t allow interactions! In fact, Crystal River is the only place in the USA that allows swimming with manatees.
There is also a boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs where you can observe manatees and zones where you can even hop into the crystal clear waters to swim with them if you’d like. It truly doesn’t get better than this!
For the best chance to see Manatees at Crystal river, be sure to visit between mid-November and late March.
You can venture out on your own but for an extraordinary experience, we recommend joining a guided tour.
Depending on what you’re interested in, there are various tours around crystal river from this guided tour to swim with manatees in Kings Bay National Wildlife Refuge, this small-group kayaking tour of Crystal River in clear kayaks to easily see the manatees or this small-group snorkeling tour.
The best part about taking any of the above tours is that all necessary equipment will be provided, they come with a professional photographer who will take all photos including underwater photos that you can purchase later, and a dedicated guide to lead the way while also giving you all the information you need to know about manatees in Florida.
Location: 1502 SE Kings Bay Dr, Crystal River, FL 34429.
3. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Spring Hill
Located in Spring Hill, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is one of the best places to go kayaking in Florida with manatees.
With the known deepest freshwater cave system in the United States and a high concentration of Manatees, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has become a no-brainer attraction for everyone traveling to Florida.
Besides being popular for its live mermaid shows which are held in a 400-seat submerged theater and spring-fed waterpark complete with waterslides and a sandy white beach at Buccaneer Bay, visitors can canoe, kayak, or cruise down the Weeki Wachee River on a boat to encounter wildlife including manatees, turtles, alligators, and more.
A hot spot to see manatees at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park not to miss is Hospital Hole — a deep, extinct diving spot located at the end of the park’s kayak route. It’s easier to get here from Rogers Park.
Unlike most places to kayak with manatees in Florida which only receive manatees in the colder months, at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, you can see them all year round though their concentration increases during the colder months.
You can kayak on your own but for those not comfortable going solo or who want to learn more about the sea cows, this Clear Kayak Tour in Weeki Wachee will not disappoint.
Besides seeing manatees on this tour, there is also a chance of seeing dolphins, turtles, otters, and other wildlife while also learning more about the Florida ecosystem from a friendly and knowledgeable tour guide.
If you’re visiting Florida with kids, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is the best place to see Manatees thanks to its various family-friendly activities.
Location: 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606.
4. Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
Located only a 30-minute drive from Orlando along St James river, Blue Spring State Park is not only one of the best natural hot springs near the city but also one of the best places to kayak with manatees in Florida.
While it’s hugely popular in the summer months, Blue Spring State Park is also lovely in the winter (mid-November to mid-March) when hundreds of manatees come to seek shelter from the winter cold in the park’s constant warm spring water.
Plenty of activities are available here such as boat rides, kayaking, tubing, swimming, camping, scuba diving, and more although some water activities like swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling are suspended in the winter months for the safety of the manatees.
On top of manatees, the park is also abundant with other wildlife including alligators, eagles, ospreys, and all sorts of fish.
If you don’t feel like venturing onto the water but still want to see the manatees, there is a boardwalk where you can see them or get an up-close look at them from the onsite webcam.
Alternatively, you can admire the beauty of wildlife at Blue spring by joining this kayaking tour.
Location: 2100 W French Ave, Orange City, FL 32763.
5. Silver Springs State Park, Silver Springs
Also a haven for gentle manatees in the winter months, the Silver Springs State Park is another peaceful spot to go kayaking with manatees in Florida.
While there aren’t as many manatees here as in other places, you can still spot some if you visit at the right time (between November to February) and keep a close eye out for them as you cruise through the river.
Besides kayaking, the state park is well-known for its glass-bottom boat tours! These boats are perfect for observing the crystal clear springs and the mesmerizing underwater world beneath the surface. We highly recommend experiencing it while you’re here.
You can also join this clear kayak adventure through Silver Springs to get up close and personal with the wildlife in the state park.
The state park also has several well-marked pathways and trails to connect with nature and see some wildlife like white-tailed deer, Sherman’s fox squirrel, wild Turkey, and more along the way.
Location: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488.
6. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Homosassa
Located near Homosassa Springs in Florida, the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a natural wonderland full of dazzling wildlife.
The park serves as a peaceful home for a wide variety of flora and fauna including endangered species such as the Florida panther, red wolf, whooping cranes, black bear, bobcats, and of course, manatees.
Besides keeping an eye out for wild manatees that migrate here during the colder months, there’s also an Underwater Observatory with allows visitors to “walk underwater” to see underwater species including some injured or isolated manatees in treatment or rehab.
You can say hi to these lovely creatures all year round and learn about them from the many informative exhibits in the park.
So, if you’re looking for where to see manatees in Florida all year round, this is one of the places not to miss.
Location: 4150 S Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa, FL 34446.
Manatee Park in Fort Myers is one of the best places to see manatees in Florida up close.
This 17-acre county park provides a non-captive warm water refuge for friendly sea cows in the cold months, and you can see lots of them if you visit in winter.
Unlike other places to kayak with manatees in Florida whose springs are naturally warm, the waters of Manatee Park are warmed by a power plant.
General admission to the park is free and there are many observation decks around the park, plus kayak rentals are available on-site for both single and double riders.
If you’re hesitant about exploring the waters on your own, you can opt for an Orange River Guided Manatee Kayak Tour for an up-close and personal encounter.
What we like about Manatee Park is that they share tips about manatee sightings at specific times of the year on their official website! You can also ask for a map and tips on exactly where to find them when you visit.
Besides being a popular place to see Manatees in Florida, the park also has various paved trails, a butterfly garden, and various manatee viewing platforms.
The only downside is that the water is not crystal clear to have a clear visual of the sea creatures but you’ll still have a glance at them.
Location: 10901 Palm Beach Blvd, Fort Myers, FL 33905.
Disclaimer: Lovers Key State Park was directly affected by the recent Hurricane Ian and remains temporarily closed until further notice. (This disclaimer was last updated on December 2022)
Also located in Fort Myers, Lovers Key State Park is just as romantic as it sounds.
The park is popular amongst couples and provides a good chance of sighting manatees when you take on the waters on kayaks, canoes, or stand-up paddleboards.
Lovers Key offers over 2 miles worth of waterway trails, making it a great kayaking spot for people of all skill levels. There are also park rangers that lead daily tours, and you can ask them to point you toward the best manatee sighting spots!
For a better chance at sighting some manatees (and dolphins), kayak towards Mound Key, an island located along the park’s kayak trail.
Do note though that it can get a bit windy and choppy depending on the weather, so be sure to check the weather forecast beforehand.
If you prefer not to go alone, you may want to join this Lovers Key state park guided kayak or canoeing tour to admire the wildlife this park offers from manatees to dolphins.
In case you’re not into kayaking, don’t put Lovers Key State Park off yet! You can spend time relaxing on its powder-like white sand beach that stretches for over 2 miles while also collecting shells or embarking on the various nature trails!
You might even spot some people exchanging their vows as many destination weddings take place here. There is never a dull moment at Lovers Key State Park.
Location: 8700 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931.
9. Ichetucknee Springs, Fort White
The clear waters gathered from the surrounding springs and pristine forest of Ichetucknee Springs makes for a refreshing cool escape all year round.
Families and groups of friends flock over to swim, snorkel, and explore the spring-fed river on kayaks, rafts, tubes, and canoes.
The springs are much less crowded in the off-season winter months, and approximately 10 to 15 manatees make Ichetucknee Springs their temporary home in the colder months every year.
While you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled to spot some, other wildlife such as large turtles, schools of fish, ducks, white-tailed deer, alligators, and more are plentiful here!
Location: 12087 S.W. U.S. Highway 27 Fort White FL 32038.
Next up on our list of best places to kayak with manatees in Florida is the Manatee Sanctuary Park.
Bordering a section of the Banana River that serves as a protected habitat for manatees, the Manatee Sanctuary Park in Cape Canaveral is another popular manatee sighting spot in Florida.
Keep an eye out for them while you walk along the riverside boardwalk as they’re known to feast on seagrass in the area.
Despite its name, manatee sightings are not guaranteed here, but it’s still worth taking a chance!
In any case, you’ll most likely encounter many other interesting creatures such as dolphins, osprey, birds, and fish.
Location: 701 Thurm Blvd, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920.
11. Manatee Cove Park, Merritt Island
If luck wasn’t on your side at the Manatee Sanctuary Park, you can make your way to the Manatee Cove Park, located a short 15-minute drive away!
Manatees hang out here too, in fact, you’ll have a bigger chance of encountering them here.
While not as huge as other locations on this list, Manatee Cove Park is relaxing and shady. Perhaps the manatees like this too spot since it’s a lot quieter than the rest in the vicinity.
This gem is also well-loved by both tourists and locals for its unique nighttime bioluminescent kayaking experience!
Try looking out for manatees during the day, and stay till nightfall to watch the waters glow blue with plankton.
Location: 4905 N Tropical Trail, Merritt Island, FL 32953.
12. Chassahowitzka River Campground, Homosassa
Camp near and kayak with manatees at the tranquil Chassahowitzka River Campground!
Located 15 miles south of the popular Crystal River, the Chassahowitzka River is a popular gateway for manatee sightings.
If you’re looking to plan a nature escape, camping at the Chassahowitzka River Campground is a great launchpad for doing so.
This family-friendly campground is well-equipped with amenities including an RV camping area, wifi, rental stores, clean toilets, a playground, and more.
Activities such as fishing, kayaking, and hiking are popular here, and you have a big chance of encountering some manatees as you kayak through the creeks and springs nearby!
Location: 8600 W Miss Maggie Dr, Homosassa, FL 34448.
13. Seven Sisters Spring, Homosassa
Located at the very beginning of the Chassahowitzka River, the Seven Sisters Spring is one of the prettiest locations to see and kayak with manatees in Florida.
Blessed with brilliant blue and exceptionally clear water, the spring is a popular destination for recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, cave diving, and kayaking.
Do note though that the Seven Sisters Spring is a relatively remote area with some rocky and slippery spots so be cautious when swimming here, especially if you’re traveling with children!
To protect the gentle creatures, some areas in the spring are designated as manatee sanctuaries during the colder months, so you may not be able to kayak through during this period of the year.
You’ll, however, still be able to view the manatees via observation boardwalks or participate in manatee sighting tours. If the latter is what you prefer, this is the Manatee kayaking tour at seven sisters springs we recommend.
Location: 2 chassahowitzka river, Homosassa, FL 34448.
14. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville
Established in 1963 as an overlay of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful sanctuary dedicated to nature.
The refuge is currently home to over 500 species of wildlife, including 21 that are currently listed as federally threatened or endangered, and several manatees.
In fact, the refuge is one of the very few places in Florida where you can pretty much see manatees all year round, not just in the winter months.
There’s also an observation deck where you can look out for them or venture out on a kayak tour.
For an even more magical experience, join this Bioluminescence Night Kayaking Tour of Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge to see the mesmerizing plankton glow on the water.
If you’re looking for the best place to see manatees in Florida all year round, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go.
Location: 1987 Scrub Jay Way #32782, Titusville, FL.
15. Craig Park and Tarpon Springs Bayou, Tarpon Springs
For those planning a trip to Tampa, Tarpon Springs is one of the best places to see manatees in Florida!
Located just a 40-minute drive from Tampa and an hour north of St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs is a lovely historic Greek district with lots to see from art galleries to specialty shops, a waterfront allure, and leisure parks.
The best places to spot manatees in Tarpon Springs are Tarpon Springs Bayou and Craig Park.
Both parks are well-maintained, are great for picnics, have walkways for stunning views, and are perfect for families.
Above all, you can spot manatees in the water bodies of both places. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see some dolphins too!
Location of Craig Park: 100 Library Ln, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689.
Location of Tarpon Springs Bayou: Lake Tarpon Ave, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689.
16. Ginnie Springs, High Springs
Many people have coined Ginnie Springs as one of the most beautiful springs in Florida.
Located north of central Florida, Ginnie Springs is a privately owned nature park covering an area of over 200 acres.
The year-round nature park is especially popular as a scuba diving site, but kayaking, canoeing, and tubing are also popular activities for those in search of manatees.
You’ll need some luck to catch sight of them though, as the manatee population here isn’t huge, and they’re a shy bunch.
Do note that Ginnie Springs can get rather crowded on the weekends and holiday season.
It’s also very popular amongst college kids and younger travelers, so if you’re looking for a vacation spot with family, we suggest heading elsewhere instead!
Location: 7300 Ginnie Springs Road, High Springs, FL 32643.
We hope you liked our guide on the best places to kayak with manatees in Florida!
With their friendly, intelligent, and adorable nature, a trip to Florida, especially in winter is not complete without seeing them.
However, remember to adhere to the guidelines for encountering the manatees, and restrain from touching, feeding, or interacting with them if you’re not allowed to.
Ready to see and kayak with Manatees in Florida?
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