Home > Kayak Theory > Safety > Kayaking With Alligators – How to Avoid OR Paddle With Them and STAY SAFE

Kayaking With Alligators – How to Avoid OR Paddle With Them and STAY SAFE

Mark Armstrong
Updated on:
- If you buy via a link on this page, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. Learn more
- Read our review guidelines

Are you brave enough to kayak with alligators? If so, then read on! In this post, we’ll explore some of the best places in the United States to kayak with these prehistoric reptiles, as well as some of the best places to kayak without them.

We’ll also provide some tips on how to stay safe while kayaking with alligators. So, are you ready to take on these apex predators? Kayak on!

Hidden alligator swimming in a swampPin

Do Alligators Attack Kayaks?

The short answer is: yes, alligators have been known to attack kayaks.

Video: Alligator attacks North Carolina kayaker

However, the good news is, alligator attacks are not a common occurrence and it’s unlikely that one will attack you or your kayak.

Generally, alligators will not attack humans unless they feel threatened. Unlike crocodiles, alligators generally target smaller prey, so an alligator is unlikely to see you as food.

There are some reasons why an alligator may attack. For example, during mating season and nesting season, alligators may be more aggressive towards anyone or anything they see as a threat.

Similarly, if you’re fishing or you have a dog with you, an alligator may be more likely to approach looking for food. Alligators are known to kill dogs, as dogs are more similar in size to an alligator’s normal prey, for example, a raccoon. In 2019, 12 dogs were attacked by alligators in just one Florida county (Martin County).

But attacks on humans are much rarer. An average of eight unprovoked attacks on humans happen each year in Florida. But the chances of being attacked by an alligator in Florida is around one in 3.1 million.

Deaths from lightning strikes in Florida are seven times more likely to happen than death from an alligator attack. And you’re 3,229 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident in Florida than from an alligator attack.

American Alligators are found in every county in Florida. They are also found in parts of some Southern states, ranging from eastern North Carolina to the Rio Grande in Texas. The USA is the only place where the American alligator is found.

Western China is home to the Chinese alligator and the only other alligator species in the world. A caiman, or cayman, is an alligatorid, so it’s in the same family as the alligator. Caimans are native to Central and South America, and Mexico.

Alligators are different from crocodiles. The American crocodile can only be found in Southern Florida and is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators coexist.

Other types of crocodiles can be found in Asia, Africa, and Australia. Europe and Antarctica are the only continents with no native crocodilian species.

How To Stay Safe If Kayaking Near Alligators

1. Keep Your Distance

You should allow a space of around 60 feet between yourself and an alligator. This can be a safe distance that minimizes the risk of your presence becoming threatening through the eyes of the alligator.

There may be some times when an alligator appears within this distance. In these instances and when you see them basking on a sandbar or bank, it’s best to slowly continue paddling so that your kayak is side-on to the alligator.

Don’t paddle towards the alligator and don’t paddle furiously. It’s best to remain calm and move quietly through the water. Avoid pointing your kayak at the alligator.

If you see an alligator up ahead and you appear to be paddling into its path, try to  maneuver a little so that the bow of your kayak is not facing the alligator. You should still opt to pass from the side.

However, if the alligator is calm, it will probably slowly disappear under the water to protect itself from the perceived threat. For safety, it’s probably best not to paddle directly over the alligator or the area where you last saw it.

Remember, an alligator can swim faster than you can paddle (up to 20 mph) so it’s best to give them as much space as possible.

2. Never Feed An Alligator

It is against the law to feed an alligator. Feeding them can cause their natural fear of humans to diminish and can lead them to associate humans with food. This can be dangerous as it can mean that alligators can become more likely to approach people and kayaks, in their search for food.

You should never feed any wildlife while you’re kayaking (or even when you’re not kayaking), as this can affect the animal’s ability to hunt naturally and can lure dangerous animals closer to residential areas where humans are. Nobody wants a gator or a family of bears in their backyard.

It is also against the law to harass alligators.

3. Recognize An Alligator’s Body Language

Recognizing the behavior of an agitated alligator can be important if you plan to kayak in alligator habitats. Just like with most animals, and some people, there are warning signs to look for that suggest the alligator might attack or react in defense.

There are a few signs to look for that can let you know if an alligator is angry or stressed. One sign you might notice is hissing.

Video: Alligator Hissing

If you don’t back off after the hissing, you might witness other signs of agitation, such as the alligator bellowing. This is when the alligator makes a very low, loud growling sound to ward off rivals and attract mates. When they do this, their backs will cause noticeable vibrations in the water.

They will also raise their bodies out of the water. You may also see the alligators raising their bodies out of the water without bellowing, as they puff up and down, which can be another sign of agitation.

Additionally, if the alligator is approaching you, it’s usually not a good sign. This means you should retreat by paddling backward if you’re facing the gator. If it’s coming at you with speed, use your paddle or any object to bang against the side of your kayak to create as much noise as possible to try to scare it off.

4. Don’t Take Your Dog Kayaking

Dogs are a similar size to an alligator’s natural prey. Alligators eat fish, birds, and small mammals. Some will also eat hogs, sheep and cows, deer, and sometimes smaller alligators.

Larger gators are also known to eat bears and even the Florida panther. This means that your dog can be an easy target.

It’s recommended that you don’t allow your dog near any lake, pond, or river where there might be alligators. In Florida, this can be all bodies of fresh water. You should never allow your dog to swim in any body of water in Florida or in any other state where there are gators.

Kayaking with your dog can bring added risk, as the alligator could be attracted to the smell of your dog. This means an alligator may be more likely to approach your kayak in the hopes of grabbing an easy meal.

5. Avoid Alligator Nests

Female alligators make their nests on land around 10 feet from the water. The nests are made up of a mixture of vegetation and appear like mounds on the ground.

When you’re kayaking, you may not always be close enough to see the mounds from the water, which can make it difficult to know if there’s a protective mother alligator nearby. However, if you do get too close to a nest, you’ll probably be chased off by the alligator. Alligators nest during the summer, with baby alligators hatching in late summer and early fall.

It can be best to stay away from the banks while you’re paddling because if there’s a nest that you can’t see, an alligator is probably not far away.

6. Be Extra Alert During Alligator Mating Season

Alligator mating season is when alligators are at their most aggressive. During this season, which usually begins at the start of April and runs through June, alligators can be more likely to be on the move.

Video: Alligator Mating Seating Begins

This means you may encounter them in places where you might not ordinarily see them, such as in your backyard or swimming pool.

As well as being extra alert while you’re on the water, this also means you should be aware of alligators potentially being at your launching or landing site. Even on land, alligators can run at speeds of up to 35 mph, although they’re not likely to run this fast for very long.

This can be even more important when you’re kayak camping, as you may wake up with an alligator close to your camp or next to your kayak in the morning. This can be an especially likely occurrence in wilderness camping spots that are close to the water’s edge. However, you might find that this can happen whether it’s the mating season or not.

7. Don’t Jump Off Your Kayak To Swim

Swimming in freshwater environments in states where there are alligators is not a good idea. Swimming is only generally allowed in designated swimming areas but even this is not without risk, as alligators can move easily between bodies of water.

Swimming at night should be avoided at any time of the year, as this is when alligators are most active and can be more likely to hunt their prey.

Wading into freshwater can also be dangerous in alligator habitats, as you might not be able to see the alligator as you wade in to push your kayak out. This scenario can be particularly dangerous if you have a child with you, as small children are especially vulnerable to being attacked at the water’s edge because of their size.

It can be a good idea to get into your kayak from the land rather than from two feet of water.

8. Don’t Block The Alligator’s Exit

If you’re paddling straight for a basking alligator, or you can see you’re about to pass one on the banks beside you, don’t corner it. Give the alligator enough room to be able to escape into the water if and when it wants.

If you block the gator’s path, it may become defensive which could lead to an attack if it feels threatened.

9. Carry A Sound Producing Device

In some places, it may be a legal requirement for kayakers and boaters to carry a sound-producing device. This can usually be in the form of a whistle. While a whistle can be better than nothing, an air horn may be more useful if you want to scare off an angry alligator.

You can also make a noise by clapping your hands, shouting, or banging on the side of your kayak if you don’t have a suitable device to use.

3 Best Places To Kayak WITH Alligators

1: Everglades National Park, FL

Kayaking along the river in Everglades National ParkPin
Courtesy: WIDTTF on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Everglades is one of the best and most wild places to kayak with alligators. And this part of Florida is the only place in the world where you can kayak with both alligators and crocodiles on the same trip.

There are many miles of paddling trails throughout the park, with options to take you a couple of hours or several days. There are wilderness campsites dotted around the park, giving you the chance to immerse yourself in this unique natural landscape.

You can rent kayaks from Guest Services in Flamingo, where you can also launch from the marina. Kayaks can be rented hourly or daily.

Alligators can be found just about everywhere in the inland areas of the Everglades. Crocodiles prefer saltwater environments, such as coastal mangroves. A good five-mile paddling trail for gator-spotting starts at Nine Mile Pond.

Where to Launch & How to get there: 40001 State Highway 9336, Homestead, FL 33034.

2: Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, LA

Paddling next to the cypress forest at lake MartinPin
Courtesy: Eli Braud on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest river swamp in the US, covering almost a million acres. This swamp habitat is home to alligators, black bears, hundreds of species of birds, and nutria, or coypu (a large rodent).

There are many areas of the swamp to explore by kayak, with numerous outfitters and tours available.

One place where you can launch, rent kayaks, or take a guided tour, is Lake Martin. There’s a small fee to launch your own kayak or canoe.

From Lake Martin, you can experience the wilderness of the Cajun swamps and bayous and paddle through flooded Cypress forests as you keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. There are many alligators in this area, as well as bald eagles and lots of other wildlife.

It can also be a good spot for kayak fishing – if you’re careful.

More places to kayak in Louisiana

Where to Launch & How to get there: 1151 Rookery Road, Breaux Bridge, LA 70517.

3: Okefenokee Swamp, GA

A canoe surrounded with water lilies at Okefenokee swampPin
Courtesy: TimothyJ on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Okefenokee Swamp is a National Wilderness Area in Georgia close to the Florida state line. This remote area has 120 miles of paddling trails through swamps filled with alligators and lots of other wildlife.

The Suwannee Canal Recreation Area can be a good place to launch, with direct access into the canal which links to the vast area of lakes and swamps. The Suwannee Canal is prime alligator habitat.

You can also rent kayaks and camping gear from the outfitters at the launch site.

The many paddling trails have designated rest areas for picnics, with some allowing for overnight stays. You need a permit to camp overnight but this can be a fantastic way to make the most of your trip and get a real taste of the Georgia wilderness.

There are also guided tours available at the Suwannee Canal launch area.

Guide to kayaking in Georgia

Where to Launch & How to get there: 4159 Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA 31537.

3 Best Places To Kayak WITHOUT Alligators

1: Huntington Harbour, CA

Paddling towards Huntington Harbour coast on a sunny dayPin
Courtesy: Jonnel Medina on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Huntington Beach, in Southern California, is home to the sheltered waters of Huntington Harbour. This can be a picturesque place to paddle, alongside the waterfront homes that line the five manmade islands.

There are lots of canals to explore, with several little beaches where you can land along the way. You’ll also find many places to launch, either from the beaches or from the launch ramp at the northern end of the harbor area.

The harbor area is home to several kayak outfitters, with one of them offering easy beach launches and even providing all the gear you need to make the 22-mile trip across to Catalina Island (if you’re feeling adventurous).

Huntington Harbour sits between two protected wildlife areas. These saltwater marshes and wetland areas are home to many birds. Almost half of US bird species have been seen in Huntington Beach, so it can be great if you prefer your wildlife to be in the sky above you. With the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the harbor, you may also see seals.

More Cali kayaking locations

Where to Launch & How to get there: Sunset Aquatic Marina Boat Ramp, 2901 Edinger Ave, Huntington Beach, CA

2: Lake Pleasant, AZ

Paddling with a dog near the shore of the Pleasant lakePin
Courtesy: Mary Fairchild on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lake Pleasant can be a fantastic place to paddle in warm, dog-friendly conditions without the dangers of alligators. This six-mile-long lake is surrounded by cliffs and canyons, making it a scenic spot for a kayaking adventure.

You’ll also find many small islands to paddle around. The northeastern end of the lake is where you can paddle through smaller canyons. The area is home to wildlife, including wild burros (donkeys), mountain lions, and desert mule deer.

If you’re looking to extend your trip, Lake Pleasant offers shoreline camping in designated areas. There are also additional developed campgrounds around the lake, so it can be an ideal spot for a relaxing weekend trip.

There are two marinas at the lake and several launch spots, with kayak rentals available at Pleasant Harbor Marina.

See more AZ kayaking places

Where to launch & How to get there: Pleasant Harbor Marina, 40202 N 87th Ave, Peoria, AZ 85383.

3: Portofino, Italy

Portofino, Italy is home to some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world. And it probably has one of the most famous bays in the world, with its beautiful multicolored buildings lining the shore.

This can be a spectacular place to kayak with no chance of seeing any alligators. The clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea are calm and sheltered by the natural harbors and coves of this rocky Italian coastline.

You can rent kayaks in Portofino and paddle along the coastline to discover scenic coves, little beaches, and swimming holes, with views of large villas built into the mountainside.

Where to launch & How to get there: Niasca Beach (Paraggi Bay), Via Duca degli Abruzzi, 62, 16034 Portofino GE, Italy.

Leave a Comment