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Nature Coast SUP Adventure

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“Some days it’s all just manatees and rainbows”

That sounds like the makings of a nice day in Florida doesn’t it? Well if you know where to go, it is not just a saying, it is the literal truth.

A little less than two hours north of Tampa and northwest of Orlando lies Crystal River on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It is part of a group of counties known as the Nature Coast. The name is well justified. There are springs, lakes, rivers, and trails here that are found in great abundance.

The crown jewels of the region though are Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River and The Rainbow River in Dunnellon. Three Sisters is one of the only places in the world you can interact with Manatees in crystal clear water. In the cooler months, they flock to the spring and its warm waters. The entrance to the spring is a narrow bottleneck that requires patience and courtesy as several manatees may be trying to enter and exit alongside you. There are several boats that bring dive groups in and if you are a customer or if you wish to rent a wetsuit you must be instructed on the proper way to passively observe these gentle giants. In the clear water you can see firsthand that they are actually quite graceful in their movements. And although nearly blind, they have an amazing sense of awareness and space.

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On the particular day my crew of like minded adventures visited, the weather was cold, rainy, and gloomy. This was perfect for keeping the crowds minimal. We had several close encounters from curious manatees and we made sure to observe passively. The videos shown prior to the tours will make you cringe when you see the examples of what not to do.

The next morning, the cold front that was the source of the drizzle and chill had moved on and the sky was clear and bright with temperatures warming quickly. The next stop was the Rainbow River, with some of the clearest water you will find in any of the springs in Florida. The first magnitude head spring lies within Rainbow Springs State Park. A short distance downstream lies KP Hole County Park where you can launch watercraft of all kinds. From there, a short paddle up to the springs is well worth it. As you drift back down, the underwater clarity can exceed 200 feet of horizontal visibility in places. There are large beds of eel grass undulating in the current. Schools of Shad are plentiful. Largemouth Bass and turtles of several kinds dart in and out of the shadows.

These two attractions are less than 20 miles apart as the crow flies. They can be visited in one day if you are short on time. They both offer experiences that can’t be found outside this state. So what are you waiting for? The Real Florida beckons…

Justin Hayskar

follow Justin and his SUP adventures Justin Hayskar and @jhayskar on instagram.