The months of December - March are prime time for watching the Manatee and one of the greatest places to see these magnificent creatures is in the headwaters of the Homosassa River located in Homosassa Springs, Florida. This river is six miles from the Crystal River, which is another great spot to see these gentle giants.
During this time of year the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops to a blubber chilling 68 degrees (F). This temperature is too cold for these gentle mammals, so they move up the Homosassa River. The Homosassa remains a constant 72 degrees year around, it is clear and keeps the manatees close together. It is also a birthing area and if you are lucky you will get to see infant manatees.
I planned a surprise paddle for my wife during the school spring break in March. The timing was late in the season for manatees but with the recent cool weather I thought we had a good chance of seeing a small group. I made reservations with American's River Rendevough for Friday and Saturday, packed the car, tied the kayaks to the roof and set out on a five-hour drive north from Pembroke Pines. We arrived and they took good care of us giving us a cabin on the water with an easy portage to a concrete boat ramp.
Saturday the manager gave us great instructions and directions on where to paddle. We paddled a short two miles on this scenic river. The bird life, natural scenery and homes were beautiful. On the paddle up the river we saw a couple of manatees that were being visited by swimmers. I was worried that the trip might be a bummer and Suzi would not get a great manatee experience. This was not to be the case.
On the way back we began to run into groups of manatee feeding in the shallow edges of the river. Some were young some were old weighing up to 4,000 pounds. A couple motoring by pointed us toward a mother with a two-week-old calf. We paddled with two canoeists from the Manatee Protection Group that we met, we headed toward the mother and baby. We were not disappointed. The mother and infant drifted right by. Other manatees swam by, some brushing the bottom of Suzi's kayak. She received the thrill of her life, having been touched by these gentle giants.
While it was wonderful to see these great creatures it was disheartening to see all the propeller scares on their bodies. Even the two week old had three slashes on it's body.
The weather started to turn rough and with severe weather warnings 60 miles south we paddled back to the lodge. At the launch ramp, we spend time talking to one of the tour boat captains. He said that earlier in the month there were as many as 50 manatees in the river.
This trip is a great experience it is an easy paddle in which you can see manatees as well as an abundance of bird and animal life. I would also recommend visiting the Homosassa Springs State Park. The park contains the Homosassa Spring as well as an abundance of Florida wildlife, great presentations from trained park staff, and a manatee show.
There are several hotels and motels in the Homosassa Springs and Crystal Springs Area. They are easily located on the net.
American's River Rendevough has a ramp. Typical ramp fees in the area are $5.00 if the place you are staying is not on the river. There is a fee of approx. $7.00 with tax to visit the State Park plan on at least 3-4 hours.
Homosassa Springs, Florida is located where 490 meets US (19,98,55) It is easily reached from I 75 by taking US 98 if you are coming from the South or 44 if you are coming from the north.
AAA provides a great map but it is very easy to find. I recommend the DeLorme 3-DTopoQuads for any adventures but locals are the best for navigating this easy river.