Let’s Get out and Explore Nature Coast Springs
There is nothing like hopping into a 72-degree spring on a hot, humid day to cool the body and soothe the soul. Florida is graced with many natural springs, providing crystal clear, cool (some would say cold) water and the Nature Coast has a great concentration of these magical geological phenomena.
Although we tend to think of these wonderful Florida phenomena in the singular form, most are groups of vents in Florida’s karst, or porous limestone rock foundation, where pristine water pushes out of the aquifer, or underwater river, below at immense pressure. Each vent, or each group of vents, is usually known by a singular name.
Today, we will explore the largest Florida springs in the Nature Coast – Weeki Wachee, Homosassa, Three Sisters in Kings Bay, Crystal River, Chassahowitzka, and Crystal. Be aware that there are hundreds of “hidden and unnamed springs” throughout the area and if you can find a local native, they may be able to guide you to their favorite.
Florida’s Nature Coast Springs
Chassahowitzka Springs form the headwaters of the Chassahowitzka River, which flows westerly to the Gulf of Mexico approximately 6 miles through low coastal hardwood hammock and marsh. Purchased in the early 1990s, this property is part of the National Wildlife Refuge that protects the Chassahowitzka Swamp ecosystem and wildlife resources. Here is a map of the entrances.
Chassahowitzka Springs is a first magnitude spring, which means that more than 64,600,000 gallons of pure water go through its vents daily.
The Chassahowitzka River’s headwaters, several tributaries and springs are within this tract and are known locally for their great sportfishing and crabbing. The vast expanse of salt marsh, hardwood swamps, and crystal-clear water are a boater’s paradise.
Chassahowitzka Springs and River are within the Chassahowitzka Riverine Swamp Sanctuary (Southwest Florida Water Management District), and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge (US Fish and Wildlife Service – mostly accessible by boat). They are used for swimming, snorkeling, and pleasure boating, with small boat rentals, camping and river tours available.
The easiest way to get to the Chassahowitzka head springs is to go to the intersection of US 19 and US 98. If you go west on Miss Maggie Drive (hwy. 480), it will take you to the boat ramp and campground.
In 2013, the Chassahowitzka Springs Restoration Project was conducted to remove accumulated sediments. Artifacts dating as far back as 100-1500 AD were discovered in the process. Check out some of the amazing discoveries at the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum in Inverness.
The Homosassa Springs are located in the town of Homosassa Springs on the Homosassa River, also known as “Old Homosassa”. The main vent, through which all three vents issue, is just below the underwater viewing platform in the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This is known as “The Fishbowl” where freshwater and saltwater fish can be observed, as well as manatees. It is worth a visit to this park just to experience the fishbowl.
The actual Homosassa Springs vents are within a cave system, and there is no swimming or boating allowed in the park’s protected area.
However, this first-magnitude system forms the head of the Homosassa River and Halls River, which are rich in sport fishing and recreational opportunities. Most weekends you will find boats anchored throughout the rivers’ open areas with recreational activities from swimming to waterskiing abounding. During scallop season, vessels are traversing the river to get out to scallop hunting grounds.
There are several restaurants, bars, and lodging opportunities along the rivers. It can get rowdy on weekends.
Captains are available for fishing charters for both inshore and offshore excursions and most leave out of the public boat ramp at the end of Yulee Drive.
King’s Bay in Crystal River
King’s Bay is the head of the Crystal River. There are about 30 known springs, including Tarpon Hole and Hunter Spring, that either issue from the bottom of King’s Bay or flow into the bay from side creek heads. Their combined flow feeds the Crystal River, which flows approximately seven miles west to the Gulf of Mexico.
There are many ways to enjoy King’s Bay, as the City of Crystal River borders most of the bay. A boardwalk runs along a nice part of the bay, adjacent to US 19 just north of the downtown. You can park at one of the restaurants or hotels and enjoy a walk, stopping for a bite, drink or a little shopping.
Hunter’s Spring has a city park built around it where you can passively observe manatees from a boardwalk, swim with them in the spring, and put your kayak, canoe or SUP in the water at the free public launch.
Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River
If you want to visit Three Sisters Springs, the boardwalk is open daily from 8:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m., with an entrance fee of $7.50 per person or an annual pass of $25. Click here for more details. From October through May, a trolley ride is available from downtown Crystal River. No boats are allowed in Three Sisters Springs from November 15 – April to give the wintering manatees more space to enjoy.
Manatees use Florida springs to keep warm and rest in the winter months. The Florida springs in Kings Bay and Crystal River have been home to over 800 manatees in a single day during the winter months.
Weeki Wachee Springs
While Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is home to the famous mermaids, the underwater theater in which they perform is another first magnitude spring. Weeki Wachee is one of 33 first-magnitude Florida springs.
In the park, you can rent tubes and enjoy a short tube run around the swimming area of Buccaneer Bay onsite. It is refreshing and relaxing. There is a riverboat ride as part of your park admission.
The Weeki Wachee spring, plus a second-magnitude spring in the park and several smaller springs outside the park, combine to form the 7-mile-long Weeki Wachee River. This river is a wonderful resource for kayaking, canoeing, swimming, tubing, and fishing. Many manatees have been seen while enjoying the river, as well as dolphins, otters and a myriad of shorebirds. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at several local outfitters.
Weeki Wachee has an amazing underwater cave system that has been mapped and filmed by several divers. It goes right underneath US19! You can see it here.
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs Florida state park comprises 3,296 acres, including 4 miles of coastline.
Salt Springs is a second-magnitude spring, with an oval-shaped pool only 80 feet by 60 feet that is an amazing 320 feet deep. Water flows strongly in the short spring run, which is bordered by live oaks, cypress trees, and sabal palms, and on into the estuary and the Gulf of Mexico beyond.
Salt Springs Park is a beautiful example of how swamp lands move to coastal plains. There are four great hiking trails and a natural kayak launch in Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park.
The park is open to the public and is a wonderful place to get away from the more urban buildup of west Pasco and US 19. Just turn west off U.S. Highway 19 at Regency Park Boulevard and travel a quarter mile to the intersection of Scenic Drive and Cinema Drive.
Crystal Springs flows into the Hillsborough River approximately 3 miles south of Zephyrhills.
This second magnitude Florida spring system discharges 30-million gallons of water per day and is part of Crystal Springs Preserve, a 530-acre sanctuary devoted to environmental education and preserving Florida’s natural environment. Nestle Waters N.A. supports the Crystal Springs Preserve.
Crystal Springs Preserve
Crystal Springs Preserve offers miles of wooded trails, river boardwalks, a unique nature center, wilderness pavilion and extensive butterfly gardens for touring to groups of 15-100 by reservation only. There are educational programs for all ages, as well as Master Naturalist programs and Project WET workshops. You can find out more about Crystal Springs Preserve by clicking here.
It is important to take care of our water resources. Please, whenever you visit a spring, take everything out that you brought in. Be sure to watch for wildlife and try not to disturb while you observe.
There are many, many more Florida springs in the Nature Coast area, so we will write more as time permits. Meanwhile, please share any stories about your trip to a spring or locations of “secret springs” in the comments below.