The warm springs and grassy shallows make
Citrus County a favorite wintering spot for manatees.
The author, Beverly Smirnis, snorkeling in Three Sisters springs.

November to April is manatee season in Citrus County, Florida. On a cold day as many as 500 manatees huddle in the crystal-clear springs there to keep warm and graze on the plant matter in the shallow waters. We visited in summer, travelling by boat and then swimming through a narrow passage from Crystal River into Three Sisters Spring. Even in the off season for manatees, there were many to be found.

The Plantation is a hidden gem on Nature’s Coast of Florida.

Manatees, sometimes called “sea cows,” are aquatic mostly herbivorous marine mammals weighing typically somewhere between 800 to 1,200 pounds and spanning up to 12 feet long. Citrus County is the only place in North America where people can swim with manatees.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has grown concerned about the unprecedented traffic of kayaks, paddle boarders and swimmers sharing the space at Three Sisters Springs at the same time more manatees seek to use the spring for warmth. Proposed new rules will likely disallow watercraft into Three Sisters Springs during manatee season, and require swimmers to enter the spring from the boardwalk with a USFWS trained guide. The boardwalk also provides viewing of Three Sisters Springs from the shore. While Three Sisters gets the highest concentration of manatees during the season, there are many more springs in Kings Bay where manatees also gather. If you go in manatee season, you may be able to swim with manatees in these areas more freely.

Manatees are only one of the reasons to visit Citrus County. Water lovers enjoy 365 days a year of swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling in the springs, lakes and rivers of Citrus County. If you go between the end of June through September, diving for scallops is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. The county is also a supreme location for dolphin- and bird-watching. Golfers will also be content with the options in Citrus County. Withlacoochee State Forest Trail offers horseback riding trails, hiking trails and a 46 mile bicycle trail. Interesting stops along the way, including parks, restaurants and lodging options, make it possible to plan a multi-day ride. The trail runs through Inverness with a walkable downtown featuring off-the- beaten-track restaurants, sidewalk cafes, pubs and shops. Some 25 annual events keep Inverness teaming with activity year round. The less outdoorsy ones in your travel party can stay happy, too, exploring quaint little towns such as Inverness, just a quick ride from the Plantation—a 50-year-old luxury resort located right in the middle of all that King’s Bay has to offer.

Some may be content never leaving the Plantation’s 232 acres

of lush preserve land at all. With its

Scallops we collected by hand while
snorkling in the bay were artfully
prepared by the outstanding
chefs at the Plantation.

own marina, emerald greens, grand oaks, palms and pines, and home to hundreds of birds and wildlife, it is a hidden gem on the Nature’s Coast of Florida and Gulf of Mexico. First-class hotel accommodations include a huge swimming pool overlooking Crystal River, expansive lawns for games such as outdoor chess, volleyball or croquet, a state-of-the-art spa and four restaurants. Embodying true “Southern Hospitality,” Plantation on Crystal River has had a consistent presence on Lodging Hospitality’s “Top 100 Performing Hotels.”

See this article as it appeared in Dallas area’s
Focus Daily News