800-pounds of gray giant gently breaks the water’s surface with two perfectly round nostrils and many, many whiskers. The warm springs of Citrus County are an extremely popular refuge for endangered West Indian manatees. The springs allow these docile creatures to escape winter’s cold and serve as a place to mate and nurse their young. In winter, Citrus has the world’s largest collection of manatees in their natural environment and their local Florida neighbors are anxious to say hello. Few people realize that Citrus County is the only place in America that you can legally enter the water with these gentle giants. Here’s how:

Kayak, Canoe or Paddleboard: Some of the best places to see manatees this way is in King’s Bay in Crystal River, the Chassahowitzka River, and the Homosassa River. Guides and rental companies have everything that is needed for a manatee-filled adventure.

Swimming Tours: Although visitors can go it alone, guides are recommended. Guides are knowledgeable about federal regulations for manatee interactions, and swim-with tour operators show all guests a short manatee manners video.

View From Land: One of the most popular places for manatees to go in the winter is Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. Visitors to the property can’t enter the water from land, but they get an unbeatable view of the springs and manatees from the boardwalk that surrounds the area.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park: This is home to captive manatees, many of which are being rehabilitated and will eventually be released back into the wild. It’s the perfect place to see manatees by land, no wetsuit required! Manatees meander in the headspring of the Homosassa River and relax in their custom pools.

Lucky for residents of GlenLakes, these gentle giants are just a short drive away. With visiting grandchildren and guests, it’s a real thrill to experience the natural wildlife in person. When the eco tour is complete, it’s time to hit the links, and GlenLakes newest home sites are located between the 10th, 11th and 12th fairways. Each estate home offers outstanding views and plenty of room for friends and family visiting from the north. For more information on living the Florida lifestyle at GlenLakes, click here