Exploring the King’s Bay Riverwalk in Crystal River
The City of Crystal River has had big plans to revitalize their downtown area. We’ve seen the changes-
the shiny street signs, the cool splash pad (no pun intended) and renovated downtown parking area. The freshly restored water tower casts a shadow over nice public restrooms, but doesn’t quite reach the
water fountain and glistening manatee statue that greets visitors and locals alike to the ‘home of the
King’s Bay Riverwalk in Crystal River
A proposed riverwalk connecting the waterfront businesses and parks has been in the works for nearly thirty years. It was meant to be a trail with boardwalks over King’s Bay from the Best Western to King’s Bay Park, a connector for pedestrians to access the waterfront restaurants and shops and for all to enjoy the beauty of the bay and perhaps catch a sighting of the manatees that call Crystal River ‘home.’ Bricks
were laid. Signs were erected. And time slipped away.
The King’s Bay Riverwalk is One of Many Downtown Crystal River Projects
With all the other refurbishments revitalizing the downtown, the brick byway paths of the river walk, although an unfinished project, provide a nod back to the lazier times – when Crystal River was a quiet
I followed the King’s Bay Riverwalk path one wet day with my sister and a friend. We enjoyed a nice coffee at Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters. Then we parked our cars in the main public parking area, under the colorful mural touting Crystal River’s finest outdoor recreation activities – from paddle boarding to fishing.
Insider tip – watch your parking spaces in downtown Crystal River. They allot some to 2 hours- others all day, and others are for only specific businesses.
After parking, we donned our rain gear and crossed over North Citrus Avenue, following the sidewalk along US19 North for two blocks, where the entrance to Crystal River’s King’s Bay Riverwalk began. To the right was Charlie’s Fish House, a view of construction and King’s Bay.
The landscaped urban trail followed between downtown and a little peninsula jutting out into the bay.
Eventually, the pretty bricks gave way to white gravel, and the ornamental plants to rustic wooden fences.
The white gravel connector rejoined our brick path again, and a dead-end point that would have been a
boardwalk entrance out on the bay at the backside of the King’s Bay Lodge. We turned left, walking between the long, white-washed lodge building and an open grassy field. The rain let up, and the sun began to peek from behind the clouds.
Spring-Fed Pool at King’s Bay Lodge
Founded in 1957 as a fish camp by a group of fishing buddies from Tennessee who came to Florida regularly, the historic King’s Bay Lodge is home to one of Florida’s few spring-fed swimming pools. On the edge of the bay, a third-magnitude spring flows from the hotel pool’s depths. Sea grass grows in the bottom- a natural filter, and the tides raise and lower the pool depths, as part of the tidal river itself.
Seafood Market & Restaurant on the King’s Bay Riverwalk
The path edged along the opposite side of the lodge, ending at a bench with an expansive view of the
bay. Then the trail turned at a second totem pole and led across the street, past stacked crab crates at
the entrance of The Crab Plant. A local popular seafood market and waterfront restaurant since 2014,
the owners of The Crab Plant are a fishing family, bringing in fresh catches since 1995.
The path rounded the corner between The Crab Plant parking lot and a canal to the bay and led to yet another dead-end. Another would-be entrance to the boardwalk that wasn’t.
End of the Trail at King’s Bay Park
We retraced our steps to NW 5th Street to get back to the path again. The trail led us beside houses and through a green space with another totem. The King’s Bay Riverwalk came to a final dead end at a stand of trees. A secondary path, this one a concrete sidewalk, followed along the side of a sea grass filled canal and through King’s Bay Park.
King’s Bay & Crystal River Restoration
The day before, the local Save Crystal River organization told us local that school children took part in
growing and planting ‘rockstar’ sea grass, a resilient variety of eel grass. At the end of their year’s program, they took a trip out to the river to plant their grass. This canal was one of their planting locations. You can learn more about the ongoing seagrass restoration in Crystal River here.
The King’s Bay Riverwalk trail carried us past a playground area, the slides still wet from the morning’s rain. Then we rounded a corner and found ourselves at King’s Bay. Past an outfitters shop, we took the pier out over the water, with a view of the iconic blue warehouse across the bay – Pete’s Pier Marina.
Around us, in the water, lush fields of healthy green sea grasses swayed in the underwater currents.
Crystal River is a rare environmental success story. Through local community and business efforts with
the Save Crystal River organization, over 83 acres of the waterways have been cleaned – literally vacuumed of algae. Over 850 spring vents were uncovered, and 99% of phosphorus from the
waterways around the bay was removed.
With the local students’ help, over 420,000 seagrass plants have been planted, revitalizing the ecological environment and providing much needed food for the wintering manatees. A restored river to match the refreshed downtown, just in time for the city’s upcoming 100th anniversary in July 2023.
Manatees of Crystal River
When the ocean temperatures drop during the cooler months, hundreds of manatees head up Crystal River and into King’s Bay, seeking the warmer spring waters. King’s Bay is a 1st magnitude springs complex with over 70-named springs. And the springs in the area average an even manatee-perfect temperature of 72°F year-round.
In the winter, manatees gather in droves around Idiot’s Delight spring and the Three Sisters’ Spring complex at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Like cows, manatees spend their days grazing. A manatee can consume 100-150 pounds of aquatic vegetation a day. For them, King’s Bay is one great big green grazing pasture. At one time, there were over 300 manatees counted wintering in the Crystal River NWR. That’s a lot of grazing. As a result, seagrass restoration will continue to be an ongoing project in Crystal River.
An anhinga dried his wings from his perch beside the path at King’s Bay Park. Below in the water, a
school of mullet slipped through the green aquatic grasses. It was time to head back to our car.
We followed the walkways to North Citrus Avenue, taking the trail past the King’s Bay Lodge and to the
local boutiques and galleries.
The King’s Bay Riverwalk in Crystal River is still on the forefront of the local city planner’s minds. They
recently received $3 million in state funding to build the boardwalk portions of the trail. The city’s vision will soon come to full fruition. But until then, take heart in the cozy river views and quiet dead-ends – an
unintentional nod to the past of what was once a sleepy little fishing town on Florida’s Nature Coast.
Things to Know Before You Go to the King’s Bay River Walk
- The King’s Bay Riverwalk is walking trail that parallels King’s Bay in Crystal River.
- You can find the trailhead at 118 NW US-19, Crystal River, FL 34428.
- This urban trail can be accessed at many points throughout the pedestrian-friendly downtown area.
- The nearest (free) public parking is a gravel lot, one block South at NW 1st Ave.
- Keep an eye on City of Crystal River parking, as some is 2-hour, some is all-day, and some is delegated to a certain business.