After our repair stop-over at our RV dealer in Tampa, Lazydays, we had to make a couple of changes to our original plan. Originally after Lazydays, we planned to head to Carrabelle FL (near Tallahassee). Unfortunately they needed to order a few more parts to fix our side-view camera. That meant we had to stay relatively close so we could come back once they had our parts. We heard some nice things about Homosassa Springs, FL and it’s only about 90 miles north of Tampa so we decided to check it our while we waited for Lazy Days.
We stayed 30 minutes north of Homosassa in Crystal River FL at Lake Rousseau RV Park, a nice, homey, and quiet campground. The weather was some of the nicest we’ve had since starting our adventure. Temperatures were around 80 during the day, 60 at night, and there was very little humidity. Strangely enough, there were also almost no mosquitos… a first for our trip! We spent most of our time outside Rover, relaxing on our “patio” reading books, brushing the dogs, and napping.
The biggest draw for the area are the manatees. Since the area is full of natural springs, the water is always at 72 degrees. As winter approaches, the Gulf of Mexico’s water temperature starts dropping and the manatees start migrating into this area. Manatees can’t survive for long in water below 68 degrees. While you can see manatees in lots of places, Crystal River FL is the only area where you are allowed to swim with and touch the manatees.
We signed up with River Ventures for a 6:15am manatee tour of Kings Bay. They have another later tour but early morning means less people on the water fighting for manatee space. Unfortunately 6:15am in late October also means an air temperature of 55 degrees…brrrr! The tour company provides wetsuits which help in the water but not so much in the air.
There were eight of us on the tour and it was very quiet on the bay. We watched the sun come up and enjoyed the pretty birds soaring over the water. Since manatees are mammals, they come up for air about every 10 minutes, so our tour guide kept an eye out for noticeable nose breaches on the surface of the water, then swirl patterns from the manatee fins.
After our guide would spot a manatee, we’d put on our mask and snorkel and head into the water. There are some strict rules when interacting with manatees. If they come to you, you are allowed to touch/pet them with one open hand but you cannot chase them or bother them if they are sleeping or eating. Some of the manatees just ignored us but the young manatees we saw were curious enough to come close for brief pettings before heading back to grazing on the sea grass. By the last swim, my lips were blue and I couldn’t stop shaking but the experience was totally worth it! If you’re in the area and you are curious, definitely give it a try!
We also checked out Homosassa State Wildlife Park. They are a wildlife refuge and take in injured, orphaned, and endangered animals. We saw red wolf, otters, Lou the hippo, alligators, reptiles, a young Florida panther, and lots of birds. I did feel melancholy looking at the wolves and the hippo. The wolves spent the entire time pacing and panting around their enclosure which seemed to indicate stress. To be fair, the enclosure is large but they didn’t seem comfortable while we watched. The hippo has a large pool and concrete beach area with no entertainment or other company. Since the hippo has been there for at least 30 years, the park knows what they are doing but it still evoked sadness when we watched the hippo. On a positive note, the snakes, alligators, and most of the birds seemed pretty content. The resident manatee seemed pretty pleased with themselves as they could eat as much as they want and relax in 74 degree water. Obviously I had some mixed feelings about the park. I think they are doing the right thing and obviously cannot release these animals back into the wild but it is tough to see stress behavior in them.
We enjoyed our week relaxing on Florida’s “Nature Coast“, and found some local pizza that even impressed Mike—not an easy task! The rest of the parts needed for our repairs arrived at Lazydays, so it’s time to head back to Tampa for a few days to wrap that up, then we can really begin our journey west.
I enjoyed reading your entry about swimming with the Manatee’s. It will be added to my list of “to dos.” My husband and I had visited Homosassa Springs, but didn’t know about swimming with the manatees in Crystal River. So close, and yet so far…
Love, love, love the photo of Opie. What a great shot.
We too, like you, need to make a pit stop for a repair before heading down to Florida. We need to get the electric hot water heating element replaced, again! It’s always something.
Safe travels back to Tampa and beyond.
Vicki, it’s definitely worth it. Apparently it’s even more amazing in the winter (jan-mar) when there are a lot of manatee in the water. If you go when it’s cold outside, bring sweatshirt, sweatpants, and a fleece or wool blanket to wrap around when you’re out of the water. A thermos of hot tea or coffee is good too.
Ugh, don’t you hate having to deal with the repairs? Hopefully the heater element isn’t making it hard to full-time right now. Only one more month till you’re in FL right? Have a great drive south!
If you’re heading past St Augustine, we visited this place and found it worthwhile: http://www.staugustinewildreserve.org/
They have a handful of wolves but mostly cats.
Thanks, Pablo. We won’t be back in the St. Augustine area for a while, but we always want to know the good spots to visit. We’ll put it on our list and check it out next time we’re in the area
The pic of Lake Rousseau RV Park looks like a great place to stay. I’ve always wanted to see the Manatees in Crystal River. It’s been on my ‘to do” list for awhile now. We will be in Florida for 6-8 weeks next Mar-Apr. we will definitely need to reserve a few days there!
Wonderful pic of Opie!
Tomi, it is peaceful and quiet but it’s definitely not a “resort” place. We did like it though since we prefer the quiet. Definitely definitely stop in Crystal Lake in Mar-Apr if you’re in the area. The manatee tour is worth doing no matter how cold it is. :) There are some closer RV parks to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs that looks nice too. We were originally going to stay at Chassahowitzka River Campground but they didn’t have the availability. Should also check them out too if you’re going to be in the area.