There are a few different places to launch a kayak, canoe or paddleboard in crystal river. One of the most common spots, because of it's proximity to
three sisters springs and the manatee in the area, is Hunter Springs Park. Although it is a very popular park for launching kayaks & canoes, there is almost always a few parking spaces available. Parking is free here. There is a bathroom facility at the park that is kept very clean (all things considered). There are also a couple shower spots for rinsing off your kayak, canoe or other gear. You can also launch your paddleboard or kayak from Pete's Pier. You will need to pay to park here though. Pete's pier also has a boat launch and if you need gas, there is a Marina on Crystal River as well. There are also a lot of places to rent a kayak in crystal river.
Crystal River has at least 29 springs. Most of these are in the Kings Bay area. These springs are 72 degrees so the water is very tolerable, even on the coldest days of winter. Because of this warm water, the manatee gather in Crystal River in large numbers during the winter. The water is crystal clear in many of the canals around Kings Bay. There is a mix of fresh & saltwater fish in the canals such as mangrove snapper, redfish, snook, bass & bluegill. There are a few streams & creeks the lead into Crystal River also. Scalloping in Crystal River is also very popular. There are a few restaurants on Kings Bay that are within paddling distance of Hunter Springs Park. It's 1.3 miles to get to the restaurants. It's a 4 mile round trip if you paddle to Three Sisters Springs and then go to one of the restaurants and head back.
Three Sisters Springs & the Crystal River Manatee
Most of the people that visit Crystal River come to see the manatee. During cold weather in the winter, the Manatee gather up in the many springs around Kings Bay and so do the tourist, canoes, kayakers, paddleboarders, swimmers, divers, jet ski's & pontoon boaters. It's actually a bit of a spectacle, and I don't mean that in a good way. Even in the summer months, when the manatee numbers are much smaller, there are still a LOT of people on the river at any given time. Most of the people that come to Crystal River make there way to Three Sisters Springs because it is a popular manatee viewing spot. There is a roped off area near the mouth of the short canal leading into Three Sisters Springs that is meant to keep people out so the manatee have a "safe haven". Anywhere you see people gathered up in Crystal River, there must be manatee. If you're looking to have a serene, peacefull encounter with a manatee, you won't find it at Crystal River, but there are many other crystal clear springs and rivers in the area where you can find manatees without the hordes of people. But if you're looking to "swim with the manatee".
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they are canoeing or kayaking on Crystal River is that they go too fast. So many times I see people paddling to "somewhere" and they don't see a manatee swimming right below them. You'll see more manatee if you just go slow and keep looking in the water right around you. Also, keep an eye out for small (about 5-10 feet) calm "flat spots" in the water that often indicate a manatee is swimming just below the surface. When you see a manatee, you are better off letting it come to you than going to it. If you go to them, you may scare them off, if you sit still, they may decide to come over to you to check you out up close. They tend to be very curious and because of this, your best chance is to let them come to you. Don't paddle and make a bunch of noise banging around in your canoe or kayak either. I, along with many other people, have had manatee latch on to my canoe and hang out with me for 20 minutes and longer. Also, instead of paddling up into the canal leading to Three Sisters Springs, consider just dropping an anchor in the fairly shallow (4-7 feet) water and waiting for the manatee to pass by you on their way in or out of the springs. Another thing to be aware of, just because it's winter doesn't mean the manatee will be crowded up into certain areas. It needs to get cold for them to group up in big numbers in the various springs. If it's not cold, they are spread out all over the Crystal River and Kings Bays area.