When people think of Florida, they typically think of beaches and amusement parks. And while Florida has many of each, the sunshine state offers so much more to see and do. The northern Gulf coast is often referred to as Florida’s Nature Coast and is home to a lot of natural springs, and rivers as well as hiking and biking trails.
If you’re looking for unique, outdoorsy type adventures, look no further than the town of Crystal River, Florida. Located only about an hour north of Tampa, you’ll feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city in this natural playground. Here’s what to enjoy in Crystal River.
The Seven Best Things To Do In Crystal River, FL
Crystal River is famous for its wealth of natural springs. Three Sisters Springs Refuge is located in the center of town and is home to the crown jewel of natural springs, Kings Bay.
All are part of the 50+ acres of the Three Sisters Springs: Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge that was saved from imminent development back in 2010. Manatees come here, to the warm springs, every year to survive the winter months.
The springs’ water is the perfect 73 degrees temperature for these magnificent creatures to thrive. And for eco-tourists like me, the magnificent springs offer unbelievable clear water for viewing not only the manatees but all the native fish in the area.
You can even swim with the manatees here – one of the very few places in North America where it’s legal to do so. There are a number of companies in Crystal River whose business is to inform people how to carefully view and interact with these wondrous creatures so as to disturb them as little as possible.
Nearby Inverness is a small town of about 7,000 that’s known to be a prime area for outdoor pursuits. With the 46-mile Withlacoochee Trail running through town, Inverness is super bike friendly. Our adventures continued with Select ebike to rent or purchase super fun ebikes right near the trail.
Grab your ebike and pedal or not, as you follow the winding trail through the wilderness, yet close enough to restaurants so you can stop for a snack or a drink. Ebiking is something we’ve never tried before and I loved it!
If I ever purchase a new bike, it will definitely be an ebike. In chatting with the owner of Select ebikes, he told me that his ebikes are a super popular ways to travel, especially for the 45+ age group who want to be active but whose bodies may not be up for all the pedaling anymore.
Ebikes to the rescue. They’re perfect because you can pedal as much or as little as you like.
Those hills are no problem, just put her in full e mode, and no pedaling is required; It’s magic! We met a few other couples out on the trail that day, all loving their ebikes. I’m convinced they’re the way to go, and definitely one of many fun things to do in Crystal River. Batteries held a charge for the entire time we were out – almost three hours.
Homosassa State Park
In nearby Homosassa, visit one of Florida’s most popular state parks, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The park is devoted to Florida’s native wildlife. Most of the animals in the park were rescued somewhere in Florida after being injured or orphaned.
Since they would not be able to live in the wild, they live out their days here in the park. You’ll see animals native to Florida in a natural setting.
These include Lu the Hippo, the oldest living hippopotamus in North America as well as native panthers, red wolves, key deer, and more.
You’re also pretty much guaranteed to see a manatee here as you can take a look from the Fishbowl Observatory, which sits within the Homosassa Springs waters.
Take your time strolling through the park, enjoying the animals, and taking in the spectacularly landscaped grounds with native plants. It’s one of the must-try things to do in Crystal River FL.
Fishing and Scalloping
How would you like to catch your dinner in a unique way – no real fishing involved? You may be interested to try the sport of scalloping. You’ll take a boat ride out from shore, put on your snorkel gear, and search for clusters of scallops on the shallow sea floor.
Once you find the scallops, you’ll dive and grab them, and then place them into your mesh bag for safekeeping. Scalloping is a super fun and very popular activity in Crystal River. The scalloping season runs in the summertime, usually from around early July to September in Crystal River. This fun water experience is part snorkeling and part fishing, and a great way to spend a day on the water with your friends and family.
Make sure you book your reservations in advance because scalloping is super popular and many tours sell out weeks in advance. You will need a saltwater fishing license, which is usually included in your charter price. If you’d rather try fishing with a pole, Crystal River offers many fishing charters as well.
The popular inshore fishing charters offer you the chance to experience close-to-shore fishing in the shallows where you can find a multitude of different fish including the beloved snook, as well as trout, redfish, flounder, and more. It’s a super relaxing way to spend a day here. This wouldn’t be for me, but If you want a real adrenaline rush, you can even try night shark fishing! It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Crystal River FL.
When you’re this close to the water, there are so many ways to have fun. From airboating to scuba diving, you can do it all in Crystal River. Some of the fun things to do in Crystal River, FL will leave you wanting for more.
I highly recommend taking an airboat tour, even if you’ve done one before down in the Everglades. The experience will be completely different. Here in Crystal River, you can get out into the Gulf of Mexico and explore the undisturbed waters and mangroves that almost no one knows about.
When we went out, there were no other boats on the water, save one lone fisherman way out in the distance. The area around here is super shallow so there are no large ocean-going vessels to worry about either.
It’s just you, and your airboat group exploring the calm, shallow waters in the Gulf. The spectacular St. Martin’s Marsh Aquatic Preserve is an area of marshes, mud flats, oyster bars, mangrove islands, and seagrass beds that we visited on our airboat tour.
Fed by two rivers in the area, the Homosassa and Crystal Rivers, it’s part of the extensive Saint Martins Marsh and Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserves that protect some of the largest seagrass beds in the world. It’s incredible and I highly recommend a visit here. Try Ozello Keys Marina for a fantastic airboat ride and get ready to take in the glorious views.
Another popular water activity in Crystal River is scuba diving. Whether you are an experienced scuba diver or a beginner, Crystal River may be the perfect place to jump in and explore underwater.
There are courses for beginners where you’ll be fitted with your gear, then you’ll have lessons and become more familiar with your equipment in the confines of a pool. Your instructor will be very nearby. For experienced divers, you can get your open water and even get your scuba certification.
Shop In Downtown
I’m always up for shopping but I prefer little boutiques and local art stores. My favorite souvenir is a piece of local art. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, it just needs to be handcrafted in whatever town I’m in.
The best art shop I found in Crystal River is the Coastal Art Gallery. The last time we were in Crystal River, I visited this cute little shop more than once because they had so much to look at. Located in a gorgeous craftsman home, this art boutique is brimming with art glass, pottery, paintings, photography, sculpture, and woodwork. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Crystal River FL.
I found treasures to bring home, and my mom loved the beautiful glass plant marker I brought her as a special thank you for watching my pup.
Another favorite store is Salty Girls Beach Shop. If you need anything at all related to water activities, they will most likely have it here. I stopped in to grab a swim shirt right before our kayaking adventure, and they had many to choose from. It’s a fun place to grab some souvenirs, too.
Crystal River and nearby Homosassa are home to many natural freshwater springs that pump out millions of fresh water daily. This area is a paddler’s paradise and sports some of the best things to do in Crystal River FL.
Whether you want to kayak or test your balance on stand-up paddleboards, there’s no place more beautiful in Florida to do either. The trip down the Chassahowitzka River to “The Crack” is quite a beautiful adventure.
This place is entirely untouched by modern developments so you get a real sense of Old Florida. This space is super remote and has the wild feel you’d expect of somewhere lost in time. Definitely one of the best things to do in Crystal River FL.
Things to Do in Crystal River FL: Last Words
No matter how you choose to spend your time in Crystal River, you’ll have plenty of options for outdoor fun. There’s no shortage of fun, adventurous things to do in Crystal River FL.
SJ is a freelance writer based in Omaha, specializing in travel and food. Whether she’s on an undiscovered beach in Florida or an off-the-beaten path in the White Mountains of Northern Arizona, SJ likes the unexpected travel experience.
She especially enjoys exploring sunny U.S. destinations, chatting with locals, and digging into creative cuisine. SJ holds a BA in history and is a member of NATJA and IFWTWA. Follow her travels on Instagram at @theprosperousblonde and on her website, TheProsperousBlonde.com.
Visiting other destinations in Florida? Check out our other guides:
- 9 Must-Try Marco Island Restaurants
- 13 Fun Things To Do In San Marco Island
- The 9 Best Amelia Island Restaurants & 9 Fun Things To Do In Amelia Island
- 7 Best Kissimmee Restaurants
- 7 Must-Try Clearwater Florida Restaurants
- 7 Best Celebration FL Restaurants
- 10 Must-Try Cape Coral Restaurants
- 9 Must-Try Madison FL Restaurants
- 10 Must-Try Restaurants In Palm Beach Florida
- 13 Best Disney Springs Restaurants
- 9 Best Things To Do In Vero Beach Florida
SJ is a freelance writer based in Omaha, specializing in travel and food. Whether she’s on an undiscovered beach in Florida or an off-the-beaten path in the White Mountains of Northern Arizona, SJ likes the unexpected travel experience. She especially enjoys exploring sunny U.S. destinations, chatting with locals, and digging into creative cuisine. SJ holds a BA in history and is a member of NATJA and IFWTWA. Follow her travels on Instagram at @theprosperousblonde and on her website, www.TheProsperousBlonde.com .