Why Florida's Crystal River is the destination for outdoor adventures

From natural wonders to wild swimming! Why Florida’s Crystal River is the ultimate destination for outdoor adventures (plus where to make friends with manatees in their natural habitat!)

Ad Feature by British Airways and Crystal River

For an incredible outdoor adventure quite unlike any other, Florida’s Crystal River promises an unforgettable holiday.

Go hiking through unspoiled forests, swim with gentle manatees in their natural habitat, explore stunning lakes by kayak, canoe or paddle-board, and hike breathtaking state parks – and that’s just for starters.

Just a 90-minute drive from Tampa or Orlando, where you can fly to in confidence with British Airways, this beautiful Gulf Coast destination is one of the premiere ecotourism destinations in Florida.

Here, MailOnline Travel reveals why Crystal River – known as the gem of the Nature Coast – and the surrounding cities of Old Homosassa, Inverness and Floral City, really should top your Florida holiday wish list.

Swim with manatees!

Get up close to these beautiful creatures as they swim in their natural habitat for a day you’ll remember forever.

Known and loved as the Manatee Capital of the World, Crystal River is the only place in the US where you can legally swim with these gentle giants in their natural habitat.

Manatees are a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, but as part of this responsible tourism programme, you can paddleboard, kayak, snorkel or dive alongside these amazing creatures.

Dive alongside majestic manatees in Crystal River

The ecologically important Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only National Refuge created to protect the habitat of one single species—the manatee – and it is home to hundreds of manatees in the winter months, but you can see them all year round. 

They head to the warm 23C waters of the remarkable Three Sisters Springs and beautiful Kings Bay, which is fed by more than 70 springs, to escape the colder Gulf.

Get up close to these beautiful creatures for a day you’ll remember forever.

The great outdoors

The magical Three Sisters Springs should be your first stop.

With thousands of acres of protected state parks and wildlife refuges, Crystal River is ideal for those who want to enjoy endless activities like cycling, walking and birding.

Its pristine swimmable springs, palm- and oak tree-lined riverbanks, and shimmering network of rivers, lakes, marshlands and mangroves make it perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, boating, fishing and floating.

The difficult decision is choosing which to do first!

The magical Three Sisters Springs should be your first stop.

Kayak through the crystal clear waters of the Three Sisters Springs State Park

Stroll the boardwalk, check out the wonderful wildlife, and hike or bike the spectacular trails, offering views of the sensational Magnolia Springs, Lake Crystal and the wetlands.

Award-winning Hunter Springs Park has a pristine freshwater beach, and breathtaking views and the warm waters are open for swimming year-round. There are also vast green picnic areas, a kayak launch and a boardwalk for sighting manatees.

At Kings Bay Park you can try out your kayaking skills, fish and then barbecue your catch, surrounded by the park’s natural beauty. Heaven!

Biking and hiking trails are plentiful in the region of Crystal River

On land, head to the wonderful Crystal River Preserve State Park for incredible walking, birding, and biking trails.

Wander the Archeological State Park, featuring an important Native American ceremonial site in use before the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere.

The temple mound here is the highest point in Crystal River – stroll up just before sunset to be afforded breathtaking views.

Snorkel for scallops!

Hunt for scallops, put them into your mesh bag, and journey back to dry land to shell and clean them at the dock.

If you love scallops then head to Crystal River during scallop season, which is between July and September.

You can book a tour to take you on a snorkelling or diving adventure and not only will you be able to pick up fresh scallops, you’ll then cook them too.

Head out to the shimmering Gulf of Mexico, to the Big Bend and Saint Martins Marsh Seagrass Preserve, one of the largest seagrass beds in North America. This underwater ‘rainforest’ is a staple of a manatee’s diet. 

Once there, get ready to hunt for the glowing blue ‘eyes’ along the rim of the scallop shells, put them into your mesh bag, and journey back to dry land to shell and clean them at the dock.

Many of the local restaurants are also happy to cook your catch for you too – delicious!

Homely Homosassa

See if you can spot black bears, foxes, river otters, bobcats, key deer and hundreds of birds on a trip around Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Homosassa, a 10-minute drive from Crystal River is known as the original Florida fishing village, where fishing, scalloping, boating and paddling are a way of life.

As well as being one of Florida’s top sport fishing destinations, it’s also home to one of the state’s best fisheries so grab delicious just-off-the-boat seafood at one of the chilled, ocean-front restaurants. 

Incredible Inverness

The historic Valerie Theatre in Inverness

Just 25 minutes from Crystal River, this ‘small town done right’, which is bordered by forests and lakes, is loved for its lively downtown and historic Courthouse Square.

The 710 acres of pretty Fort Cooper State Park are ideal for fishing, swimming, sunbathing, canoeing, hiking, and boat tours, while the 46-mile long Withlacoochee State Trail is ideal for cycling, running, walking and skating. 

This paved, flat trail runs through small towns and ranches, offering a chance to see beautiful plant and wildlife along the way. No wonder Invernness is such a bicycle-friendly community. In fact, there are plenty of cycling itineraries based around the town, as well as cycling groups and events to get involved with. So why not hire a bike and join the locals?

And check out the Citrus County Courthouse, built in 1912; the Citrus County Speedway, with its figure-eight course; and the historic Valerie Theatre to learn more about the city’s fascinating history.

Fabulous Floral City

The majestic moss-draped tree canopy, Avenue of the Oaks at Floral City

You’ll know when you’ve arrived in the ‘Old Florida’ Floral City, just a 35-minute drive from Crystal River, thanks to its majestic moss-draped tree canopy, called The Avenue of the Oaks.

This quaint town also boasts a selection of boutiques, galleries, gift shops, museums and restaurants, ideal for browsing on a lazy morning.

Or go hiking and biking along the 46-mile former railbed Withlacoochee State Trail, that takes in Floral City.

Try Navel and Valencia oranges, Ruby Red grapefruit and Fall Glow tangerines at the Ferris Groves, which first opened back in 1931.

Fun festivals!

Downtown Crystal River is alive with fun and adventure – and plenty of festivals.

Enjoy dancing in the street to live music at the Stone Crab Jam, which celebrates Stone Crab season in November on North Citrus Avenue.

Take a boat tour or a guided kayak trip at the Florida Manatee Festival, while celebrating the city’s most celebrated mammal. 

You really won’t want to go home! 

You can travel in confidence with British Airways

Book your Crystal River holiday now with British Airways and experience everything from natural wonders to wild swimming.

And thanks to British Airways ‘book with confidence’ policy, you can book your flights with peace of mind, knowing you can change your date or destination if you need to.

All British Airways Holidays are ATOL protected and you’ll have access to a 24-hour holiday helpline too.

What’s more, you’ll only need to pay a low deposit and you’ll have a 23kg baggage allowance per person too!

So what are you waiting for?

Click HERE to discover your dream holiday to Florida with British Airways.

T&Cs apply*. See ba.com/florida for details     

*Subject to availability. Price stated is per person based on 2 adults sharing, inclusive of all airport taxes, fees and charges, and includes return economy (World Traveller) flights from London Gatwick to Tampa Airport and a minimum of seven nights 3* accommodation in Crystal River for travel on selected dates between 01 January 2022 – 31 January 2022 inclusive only. Book by 5 December 2021. Amendment and cancellation fees are set-out at the time of booking. Full terms and conditions at ba.com/florida. British Airways Holidays reserve the right to amend or withdraw this offer at any time. Package Holidays from British Airways Holidays Ltd are ATOL protected (No. 5985). British Airways Holidays standard terms and conditions and conditions of carriage apply. All information is correct at time of publishing, errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).  

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