|Location: Crystal River,
|Distance: 7.5 miles
round trip from Fort Island Trail Park to Kings Bay.
|Atlas: Page 77 A-1
|Last Update: July 2002
||Canoe OK: Yes
Crystal River is famous for two things; manatees and the people
who come to view them. And during the winter months of December
to March, you can expect to find plenty of both. The freshwater
spring fed river starts south of the City of Crystal River and flows
seven miles to the Gulf of Mexico. As it approaches the Gulf, the
river becomes tidal influenced and the scenery changes from highly
developed freshwater bays and canals to sawgrass marshes, mud flats
and open water.
Dive boat at headsprings.
| Manatees, snorkelers, scuba divers and boaters
all congregate in Crystal River's cool (72 degree F) clear waters.
Divers say the best way to attract a manatee is by humming "The
Star Spangled Banner" in your snorkel.
From Crystal River, go south on US 19 to W. Fort Island Trail.
Turn west (right) and go five miles to Fort Island Trail Park. Follow
signs to the boat ramp. A shorter paddle trip can be made by starting
at Pete's Pier Marina in Crystal River. From US 19, turn west on
S.E. Kings Bay Drive. Go to SW 1st Place. Turn right. The marina
is located in Kings Bay just to the east of Buzzard Island.
Boat, Paddle, PFD
Parking Fees (varies)
[Optional] Mask, Snorkel, Fins
Freshwater Spring-fed River
Popular Scuba Diving area
Manatee Sanctuary areas
Brackish and Salt Water (toward Gulf)
Coastal Salt Marsh
Clouds over Kings Bay.
Tour: Fort Island Trail Park to Kings Bay (7.5 miles)
This trip starts at Fort Island Trail Park located
southwest of the City of Crystal River. Upon entering the park,
follow signs to the boat ramp. You'll need to unload quickly as
the ramp is a popular put-in for those visiting Kings Bay or the
Gulf of Mexico. From the boat ramp, go down the short canal and
turn east (right) at the main river. A fishing pier immediately
to the west of the canal will help guide your return to the park.
At this point the river is several hundred yards
wide with a slow moving, tidal influenced current. As you make your
way upriver to Kings Bay, it's best to remain on the south side
of the river as housing developments and the boat channel tend to
be located on the north bank. If you have time, there are two short
but interesting diversions near the fishing pier. The first side
trip starts about 300 yards east of the fishing pier. Look for openings
leading into the sawgrass. Some of the longer passageways twist
and turn for several hundred yards through the sawgrass marsh before
terminating in channels too narrow to navigate.
The second side trip is located about 1/2 mile from the pier. A
channel marker and small sandy beach, exposed only at low tide,
mark the entrance to a canal leading south toward W. Fort Island
Trail. Here you can escape the much of the boat traffic encountered
on Crystal River and paddle swamp-like areas surrounded by palm
and pine trees and saw palmetto. If you look closely, you're sure
to spot an alligator or two. Across the river from this point is
the Crystal River State Archeological Site.
As you enter Kings Bay at three miles upriver, you'll see Buzzard
Island straight ahead, with Pete's Pier Marina on the northeast
side of the bay. On the north side of Buzzard Island is a small
ship partially submerged in the river. Continuing east to the headsprings
will reveal Parker Island to the northeast, Banana Island in the
center of the bay and Warden Key on the southeast. While it's tempting
to land on these islands, signs indicate they are off-limits to
human activity. A popular shallow water "beach" lies between
Banana and Parker Island. To find Kings Spring (the headsprings)
go to the backside of Banana Island. You'll quickly spot all of
the dive boats. A dive shop, marina and restaurant are conveniently
located within a few hundred yards of the headsprings. All are paddler
friendly so stop in and enjoy lunch while watching the divers perform
checkout dives or look for manatees in the headsprings.
To return to the put-in at Fort Island Trail Park, simply head
downriver for about 3.5 miles. You're close when you can see the
Crystal River State Archeological Site
For approximately 1,600 years (200 BC to 1400 AD), the Crystal
River State Archeological Site and surrounding areas were used by
early Native Americans for ceremonial activities, hunting, food
gathering and trading. At one point, it is estimated that 7,000
to 10,000 people lived in the vicinity. Today, the State-owned Park
covers 14 acres of land containing six shell "middens"
and a visitor center which houses a museum, gift shop and park office.
A one-half mile paved trail leads visitors past each of the middens,
which reach heights of 30 feet and over 50x100 feet in size. The
middens are constructed of oyster, mussel and other types of shells,
along with household materials and remnants of food stuffs. Stairs
going up Temple Mound "A" lead to an observation deck
offering a wonderful view of the Crystal River.
The archeological site is located 2.5 miles west of US 19 at 3400
N. Museum Point in Crystal River. A small admittance fee of $2 is
charged per vehicle.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
The Crystal River NWR is a 46 acre refuge consisting of several
small islands surrounded by Kings Bay. The refuge is dedicated to
preserving critical manatee wintering habitat. Primary human use
of the refuge is scuba diving, diver training, snorkeling, boating
and wildlife observation.
The refuge is home to one of the densest concentrations of manatees
in the State of Florida and the best time to see manatees is from
December to March. On weekends also expect to see numerous boats
and divers on the water with heavy crowds in the corridor between
Banana Island and Sunset Shores.
Remember, by law, you cannot approach a manatee, but if it comes
up to you, it's ok to touch it with one open hand. From November
15 to March 31 the refuge has designated manatee sanctuaries surrounding
Banana Island and to the north of Buzzard Island, Sunset Shores
and Warden Key. These areas are off limits which allow manatees
a place to feed and rest undisturbed.
Exploring salt marsh passageways.
Paddling near Banana Island.
| GPS Location Aid
|Fort Island Trail Park
|Canal Side Trip
|Pete's Pier Marina
No Access Allowed
No Access Allowed