We have officially completed our first stop as full-time RVers and we’re ready to move on! I thought I’d give a rundown of everything we did of Crystal River and what we thought of the area.
We stayed at Gulf Coast RV Park in Inglis, Florida, which is about 10 minutes north of Crystal River. Now, we’re a bit new at this, so we might not be as adept at assessing parks, but we liked this one. There may have been a few permanent residents, but all sites were clean and well-kept. It was mostly older folks with lots of small dogs – I think I only saw one or two kids the entire two weeks we were there. However, the older folks were perfectly nice and nobody had a problem with my kids riding their bikes or taking the dog to the dog park unsupervised. There’s no playground, but there is a nice, heated pool and a big fenced-in dog park. The bathhouse and laundry facilities were new and clean. The wi-fi was acceptable.. we could stream in the mornings and late at night, but not in the evening (we could still browse websites in the evening, just not stream). They do accept packages at the office if you need something mailed to you – but budget extra time. Amazon Prime two-day shipping took more like three or four days. There were really only two downsides to this park – we rarely had a cell signal (we use MetroPCS, so Verizon might’ve done better), and it was a good 20-25 minutes to Walmart or a decent grocery store.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time at this campground and would definitely stay here again.
We had one really great trip to Fort Island Beach, and another one that we had to cut short almost immediately after arriving. The beach is small and quiet, but has nice clean sand, lots of picnic tables, and a bathhouse. It’s not a far walk from the parking lot, so that’s nice. Our pleasant trip was on a day that was quite cold – maybe a little over 50*. We were eager to go back – but when we arrived on a warmer day with a picnic dinner, we were immediately swarmed by bugs. Also, most of the picnic tables were covered in lots of bird poop. So.. I’d suggest bringing bug spray and a tablecloth. Otherwise, it was lovely!
Our visit to Three Sisters Springs was one of the highlights of our stay in Crystal River. You access the springs by either walking in, or taking a trolley that departs from the visitor center behind City Hall. The trolley ride was enjoyable and makes multiple stops, so you could use the trolley as a way to tour Crystal River without having to move your car.
The springs themselves were beautiful. The tide was out so the manatees were all clustered around Idiots Delight (a name we found hilarious) along the river versus deeper in the springs. Even so, we had a wonderful time walking around the boardwalk. There wasn’t a whole lot of the manatees to see from the boardwalk – they basically look like big rocks in the water. There are a lot of tour companies in the area that will let you swim or kayak near the manatees, and I’m sure you get a much better view that way. With the weather so cold, though, we didn’t even consider that as an option.
The second state park we visited was Crystal River Archaeological State Park. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this, but it was really wonderful. The rangers in the museum were very helpful and friendly, and the displays were informative and well-done. There was a video, but we skipped it since Niall was with us and I didn’t want to deal with him getting bored.
The walking trails outside were, again, just lovely. Lots of huge oak trees with Spanish moss hanging everywhere, with easily identifiable locations with the help of the park map. Each location had a paragraph or two explaining what we were looking at – midden mounds, burial mounds, and temple mounds. Lachlann especially seemed to enjoy navigating with the map and telling us all what we were looking at.
Our third state park was Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. There are two entrances to the park – the visitor center and the west entrance. If you start at the visitor center, you must take either a boat or a tram ride to the west entrance, which is were you can access the park itself. We were lucky enough to take one of the last boat rides of the day (the boats stop running earlier), and the driver was full of interesting information about the park, the area in general, and the wildlife. If you park at the west entrance, there’s another mini visitor center with a gift shop, restaurant, and ticket booth. Once through that gauntlet of kid-temptation, there’s a loop about a mile long.
All the animals at the park are native Florida species, aside from the hippo, Lu. We especially enjoyed watching the foxes and red wolves. Some of the animals were pacing, which is always sad to see. But the guide told us that all of the animals there are rescues of some sort and unable to be released into the wild. Given that, the enclosures were pretty decent. Lach was a little disappointed that the reptile house held only snakes (he would have preferred to see some lizards, too), and the kids were all disappointed that when they went down into the underwater manatee viewing area, the water was too cloudy and they couldn’t see any manatees. However, we all had a really great time and would gladly go back next time we’re in the area.
One of the trolley stops is at the Shoppes at Heritage Village, Crystal River’s quaint little ‘downtown’ area. We went in a few different shops, but our favorites by far were the Heritage House and Karma Cottage. The Heritage House has all sorts of ocean-y, coastal goodness, from décor to clothing to baby gear and stuffed animals. They also had a great selection of gourmet and artisan foods. Karma Cottage reminded me of my favorite shops back in Salem, Massachusetts. The kids were really enamored with it, too, and were very disappointed that they couldn’t go back again due to the Manatee Festival blocking off the whole area.
When our beach picnic got bugged out, we ended up at Cracker’s Bar and Grill. It’s a popular restaurant on the bank of the Crystal River, complete with outside seating on a deck overlooking the water and lots of boats. The food was excellent – we all enjoyed sampling the clam strips, gator bites, and conch fritters that Lachlann wanted to get as an appetizer. Doug’s fried oysters were fantastic, and my scallops were fresh and delicious. Surprisingly, we both really liked the hush puppies, something we usually find to be “eh.”
This is a cute little free museum in downtown Crystal River. It’s got the usual assortment of miscellaneous items donated by residents, as well as a few more interesting items, like a jail cell. The kids particularly enjoyed joking about the fact that the jail cell was in the room that the museum uses as a break room/office: “Oh, wow, look at this ancient printer!” “Oh, I didn’t know people had microwaves back then!”
Normally I wouldn’t find a mall worth mentioning, but the Crystal River Mall hardly counts as a mall. It’s been declining for quite some time, with most of its anchor stores long since closed. However, it does have an unusual assortment of local businesses inside that might be worth a look. We were there to see a movie (the Regal Cinema inside is fairly inexpensive), otherwise we probably wouldn’t have bothered. However, we all found Rural King, the one remaining anchor store, to be pretty interesting. It’s like a super rural version of Walmart. There were tons of people there with their dogs, which was a big bonus for us. They have a bigger RV section than Walmart usually does, but if you’re looking for something for your RV, Buddy and Fred’s Hardware, about 15 minutes north, had a better selection.
Crystal River was a great first stop for us, I think. It had enough to do to keep us occupied, but not so much that we felt rushed or unable to take the time to unpack, get settled, etc. I’d definitely be happy to go back and spend another week or two there – preferably when it’s a bit warmer!