Three Sisters Springs kayak trip creates travel memories that will last a lifetime

Posted November 9, 2015


CRYSTAL RIVER , Fla. — My boyfriend Jake Mathwich and I decided to rent a two-person kayak and drift on a clear path to a special place that provided us with unforgettable memories.

Being thankful that we decided to make the hour-and-a-half drive from Tampa to Crystal River, we flowed with the current in our kayak, laid back and enjoyed the warmth of the sun as we drifted past people’s backyards. Then, at a certain point, we started to paddle through a small channel (that prevent boats from coming inside) and we were finally there— Three Sisters Springs.

Jake and I kayaking on Three Sisters Springs

Jake Mathwich and the author are kayaking on top of one of the springs located at Three Sisters Springs (Photo by Andrea Fernandez-Bravo).

People that are born and raised in Florida, like Jake and I, usually have heard of Three Sisters Springs.

But even for people like us, it is an entirely different and new experience.

We rented our kayak from River Ventures, a fair-priced and friendly tour company that provides visitors with rental paddleboards, snorkel gear and kayaks. River Ventures tour scheduler Amanda Tapia said that the company even provides guided tours that take visitors to different areas around Crystal River.

“A lot of people take the boat tours, but a lot of people that I speak to also enjoy renting out our equipment and getting a more personal experience,” Tapia said. “My personal favorite is when people take morning trips around our peak months of January and February because even though it is in the upper 50s / lower 60s, the water consistently stays at 72 degrees Fahrenheit year round; so people see the steam that just sits on top of the fresh water when it is cold outside.”

Crystal River locator map

Crystal River is located northwest of Tampa and Orlando.

Three Sisters Spring is located at Kings Bay at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is made of three springs (hence, the name) and, honestly, it is one of the most majestic and beautiful places you will ever experience and makes the trip to Crystal River City worthwhile.

The refuge is surrounded by privately owned property and the only people who have access to this area are swimmers, kayaks and canoes.

Boats do not fit through the small channel that is the only entrance into the refuge, ensuring a safe and preserved environment with breathtaking natural beauty.

Another aspect that makes Three Sisters Springs such a travel-worthy place is the fact that during its busy season of Nov. 15 through March 30, there is almost a guarantee that you will see hundreds of manatees in the refuge. This refuge provides endangered manatees with one of the most important natural warm-water refuges.

Even though Jake and I did not see any manatees, supposedly during the season, you cannot even swim inside the refuge because there are so many manatees in the water that are migrating from the Gulf of Mexico. If you see a manatee when you go, make sure you take the opportunity to legally pet one with one hand.

“It really is disappointing that we did not see any manatees today,” tourist Carl Pina said. “I am from Georgia so I do not really have the opportunity to see many of them, but I am still having a great time because the scenery is just one-of-a-kind.”

Jake and I have always used kayaks since we were little kids, but never on fresh spring water. In fact, I have never even seen a fresh spring in its natural form until I did this trip with Jake in the middle of October.

This water is so light and thin that when you put your paddle in the water, you are able to push yourself forward with such ease compared to when you are paddling in saltwater. Once we were finally inside the refuge and jumped into the cold water, we realized that this water that is easy to paddle through isn’t so easy to swim in.

“I currently own a kayak that I always use for fishing when I am in Tampa every single weekend,” Jake Mathwich said. “I never would have imagined that kayaking 1.3 miles could be so easy, especially with another person on board. Swimming, on the other hand, is so much harder in fresh water.”

Every spring is separated into three circular-areas and each area has sand boils and vents that allow fresh water to come through from the earth’s surface. Every boil and vent is mostly up to eight feet deep, so it is very easy to swim all the way down to the bottom. When Jake and I did this, we both felt the pressure from the water pushing us back up to the surface. It is an incredible sensation when you literally feel the fresh water gliding on your skin as you swim deeper and deeper.

Even though the springs are almost eight feet deep, you could technically walk from spring to spring because the areas around the springs that get you from one spring to the other are only one to two feet deep.

After we jumped off the kayak and swam/walked in the water throughout the area, we decided to remain inside the preserved refuge to relax in the water that is surrounded by the aesthetic scenery.

There were around 40 people within the refuge when we first got there, but then all of a sudden, it started to rain — hard. So many people decided to quickly grab their belongings and return back to land. Before we knew it, there were only about eight people including ourselves inside the refuge.

Instead of leaving, Jake and I decided to stay because, even though to some the rain would have spoiled their time at the spring, we decided to take in the beauty and adventure of being stuck in the pouring rain and play in it!

Even though it was raining hard and we felt as if we were going to catch hypothermia from how cold the rain felt, we had so much fun. It added to our experience because in a way, the rain added a certain beauty to Three Sisters Springs that not many people would have a chance of seeing.

Two hours after we first arrived inside the refuge, it was time to head back to River Ventures to return our paddles and kayak. By this time, the rain had stopped and the warm sun was coming out once again.

And just has we had entered, we laid back and drifted by people’s backyards, enjoying the last moments of our time in Crystal River. The memories I created here will last me a lifetime, but Three Sisters Springs also taught me to enjoy dancing in the rain when the opportunity comes.

I hope, after reading this, you will do the same.


If You Go

  • Address: (River Ventures) 498 SE Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River, Fla. 34429.
  • Get on I-95 North from South Miami Avenue then follow Florida route 91 to Florida route 44 West in Sumter County. Take exit 329 from I-75 North for 278 miles. Follow Florida route 44 West to Southeast Kings Bay Drive in Crystal River and continue on the road until you reach River Ventures.
  • Hours: River Ventures Earliest 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (times slightly vary depending on the place you take the tour).
  • $30-$60 for kayak/paddle board rentals.
  • Guided tours range from $54-$490 depending on activity.
  • Best to make a reservation by phone at 352-564-8687.
  • Free parking in lots.
  • All major credit cards and cash accepted.
  • Kings Bay Lodge 352-795-2850, The Port Hotel and Marina (352) 795-3111, Plantation on Crystal River 352-795-4211. Prices vary from $79-$103 per night.
  • Family friendly.
  • Have sunscreen, goggles, and water on you.
  • Other companies that provide tours and rentals: Sunshine River Tours, 352-777-1796, Crystal River Kayak Co., 352-795.2255.
  • For more information visit