Measuring up to 13 feet and weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds, it’s not hard to figure out how manatees became known as the cows of the sea. These gentle creatures dot the Florida coasts, lumbering along through channels frequented by boaters, fisherman, and others. The telltale scars on their backs from boat propellers vaulted the animals into the hearts of many Americans as a symbol of our impact on nature.
It’s surprisingly easy to experience these incredible mammals up close, and general aviation is your ticket. From November through April, manatees frequent central Florida’s clear spring-fed rivers near Crystal River. At Three Sisters Springs and Homosassa Springs, guides can bring you in a boat or kayak to manatee areas. There you can simply observe from above the water, or snorkel or scuba dive with the animals. Although they are endangered, touching and interactions are allowed. Landlubbers can even spot manatees from boardwalks that overlook the water.
Flying in to the Crystal River airport, pilots are treated to great views of the nearby springs and Florida’s nature coast. The airport is well outside the state’s busy Class B areas, and it is a quick and easy in and out. There’s ample ramp parking with low overnight fees, available rental cars, and a friendly and attentive staff. Don’t forget about the Dairy Queen just outside the airport fence. The airport represents some of the best that GA has to offer.
Why you should go: A nature lover’s dream of hiking, natural springs, wildlife, and more are all just a few minutes from a gem of a general aviation airport.