Crystal River beckons campers with sprawling wetlands and chance meetings with manatees.
The Nature Coast of Florida houses the city of Crystal River at its heart with all the favorite activities of hiking, fishing, birding, and boating, as well as more challenging recreational fare like seasonal hunting, backwoods biking, and equestrian trails. Wetlands surround the 141-mile-long Withlacoochee River, whose lakes and tributaries provide life to unique flora and fauna: the gentle manatee, scrub oaks and marsh trees, and the reclusive scrub jay (which many birders wait a lifetime to see). Crystal River campgrounds feature primitive or tent camping sites, plus water and electrical hookups for RVing or car camping. Most sites include fire pits, picnic tables, and grated grills.
Lakes, marshes, swamps, and the small isles of the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes surround Flying Eagle Preserve. Camping in southwest Florida offers access to ecological and environmental wonder, with opportunities for birding, fishing, and hunting—provided campers apply for the proper licenses from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Flying Eagle welcomes horse trail riders, too—both equestrian and primitive camping sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and barbecue grills (free with a reservation). ADA-accessible bathrooms allow all to enjoy campsites, boating, and canoeing among the open waters and live oak scrub.
Connected to the same waters as Flying Eagle, the wetlands of Potts Preserve are home to an array of wildlife and plants unique to the gulf coast. Waterside camping in Potts Preserve provides opportunities to catch sight of leatherback turtles, while visiting birders might glimpse the elusive and endangered Florida scrub jay. Stay at equestrian, primitive, or backcountry campsites only available by foot, letting hike-in and hike-out campers experience the splendor to the north and south of the park. Bike down the nine miles of multi-use trails, reserve a horse-drawn buggy ride, or just park off of Hooty Point for day-use and river hiking trails.
The Withlacoochee State Forest follows the same river as Flying Eagle and Potts Preserve. Obtain a State Forest Use Authorization by either calling ahead or stopping by the visitor center for access to 50,000 acres of outdoors recreation, campsites under shady oaks with concrete pads for car or tent camping, and an RV park with full hookups and dump stations. Campsites feature fresh water, each with a picnic table and grated fire ring. Hike the Citrus Loop Tracts or hunt (with proper licenses mentioned above) during the proper season. Motorbikes and ATVs can cruise the 2,600-acre Croom Motorcycle Area, a designated off-road exploration and recreation section.
With the hot and heavy summers of the gulf coast, Hipcampers enjoy visiting Crystal River, Florida from November through March, where the lowest temperature averages out to 45°F. In January, when the Gulf of Mexico experiences its winter cool down, Crystal River welcomes over 400 manatees with the Florida Manatee Festival, offering the opportunity to celebrate and even swim with gentle and majestic sea cows in their natural habitat.