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Bioluminescence Kayaking in Florida (Glowing Water on the Space Coast)

Nicola Burridge
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Bioluminescent kayaking in Florida is a unique and magical experience that attracts adventure seekers and nature lovers from all over the world. 

Bioluminescence is the ability of living organisms to produce light, and in Florida, it’s the tiny plankton that light up the waterways. 

When kayaking through the clear, shallow waters of Florida’s lagoons and bays at night, you can witness this natural phenomenon as the water lights up with a soft, blue and green glow. It’s a breathtaking sight that can only be experienced in a few places in the world. 

Bioluminescence Kayaking Florida - Pinterest ImagePin

What Is Bioluminescence Kayaking?

Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that occurs when light is emitted by bioluminescent organisms. These bioluminescent creatures produce the light as a result of a chemical reaction that occurs naturally within them. 

These chemical reactions inside and outside their bodies or cells make them glow in the dark. 

This phenomenon happens in marine environments (but it is not exclusive to marine creatures) and bioluminescent kayaking is one of the best ways to experience it. 

Sea Walnut, American Comb Jelly, Warty Comb JellyPin

This is because the movement of your paddle and kayak through the water causes disturbance, illuminating the organisms and creating a magical light show beneath your kayak.

Because of the bioluminescence created by the plankton and other organisms, anything that is moving in the water will also become illuminated. For example, when a manatee or dolphin swims past, they will be illuminated because of the bioluminescent plankton on their bodies. 

There is no shortage of bioluminescent kayaking trips around Central Florida, especially on the Space Coast, with most of them operating daily. A guided tour can often be better than trying to locate the bioluminescence yourself. 

Guided tours can also be beneficial when it comes to accessing waterways around the Kennedy Space Center.  

When Is The Best Time To Go Bioluminescent Kayaking In Florida?

Video: Biolumininescence on Florida’s Space Coast

Bioluminescence occurs at night and dark nights tend to be the best. In the warm waters of Central Florida, you can witness bioluminescence all year round. 

But this colorful phenomenon of lights is best viewed in Florida between May and November when the water temperature is warmer. Summer can be the optimal time for bioluminescent kayaking, particularly on Florida’s Space Coast, where kayaking tours can fill up fast.  

If you want to see comb jellies as part of your bioluminescent kayaking tour, it can be best to head out from around the middle of October through May. The comb jelly is a naturally bioluminescent creature that is similar in appearance to a jellyfish but it doesn’t sting. 

While you can see bioluminescence in the Sunshine State all year, it can be best viewed when there is no light pollution. 

Though you might still be able to see the glowing plankton, it can be better to go on a bioluminescent kayaking tour when there is a new moon rather than a full moon. This is because the light from a full moon can be too bright to fully show the bioluminescent creatures glowing. 

Best Places To Go Bioluminescence Kayaking In Florida

The best places to go bioluminescence kayaking in Florida tend to be on Florida’s Space Coast, making it an easy trip if you’re staying near the theme parks in Orlando

However, there are some limited opportunities to go bioluminescent kayaking on the Gulf Coast during July and August, generally around Fort de Soto in Tampa Bay

1: Indian River Lagoon

Indian River LagoonPin

The Indian River Lagoon is probably one of the best and most popular places in Florida to go bioluminescent kayaking. This lagoon is designated Outstanding Florida Water as well as an Estuary of National Significance. It is the most biologically diverse lagoon in North America.

The natural lagoon is located between the mainland and the barrier islands on Florida’s east coast. It is made up of the Indian River, the Banana River Lagoon, and Mosquito Lagoon.

The Indian River is not really a river, in that it does not flow in a constant direction. Sometimes it flows north, sometimes it flows south. And sometimes it doesn’t flow at all. 

The large lagoon is home to thousands of plant and animal species, including sea turtles, manatees, various birds, and it’s the only place in the world where you’ll find the Atlantic salt marsh snake. 

A good place to launch is at the Haulover Canal, just north of Merritt Island. The kayak launch can give you good access to the Indian River Lagoon. But you can also paddle along the canal to Mosquito Lagoon so this can be an ideal spot to launch to experience bioluminescence in more than one of our top locations.

Lots of organized group kayak excursions tend to launch from Haulover Canal so it can sometimes be busy during the peak summer months. 

Bioluminescent Kayaking Tours And Rentals

BK Adventure

BK Adventure offers various bioluminescent tours on the Space Coast throughout the year, with tours to see the comb jellies in the winter months and the bioluminescent plankton or dinoflagellates in the summer. 

There are kayak tours available in clear kayaks for added magic, as well as rafting tours that can take up to eight people in one paddle raft.

BK Adventure guided tours launch from several locations near Cocoa Beach. You can also book sunset bioluminescent tours that combine manatee and dolphin spotting with the bioluminescence viewing. 

BK Adventure also offers kayak and paddle board rentals during the day. Remember to wear your water shoes and pack your bug spray. Read our guide on Natural Ways To Keep Bugs Away

Where to launch & how to get there:

Haulover Canal Kayak Launch, Haulover Road SW, Mims, FL 32754. 

2: Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island during sunsetPin

The Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge sits within the Indian River Lagoon, just west of Titusville. This island is also where you will find NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. 

The wildlife refuge covers 140,000 acres of protected habitats, including salt marshes and hardwood hammocks. These habitats provide homes to numerous varieties of plants and animals, including 15 federally endangered species.

Because of the Kennedy Space Center and government agencies operating in Merritt Island, there are some restrictions on where you can paddle. Some waterways have limited access at certain times, due to rocket launches or other activities. 

Merritt Island Kayaking Tours And Rentals

A Day Away Kayak Tours

A Day Away Kayak Tours can be found across the Space Coast, with launches close to Cocoa Beach. There are several tours available, including bioluminescence tours both in the winter to see the glowing jellies and in summer to see the plankton. 

You can also book a sunset bioluminescence tour that lets you paddle near Mullethead Island, a protected island that is home to hundreds of different bird species. So it can be a great place to spot roseate spoonbills, ibis, egrets, and, of course, pelicans. 

You can witness the birds above your head while dolphins splash nearby, all before the waters come alive with lights after the sun goes down.

Get Up and Go Kayaking 

Get Up and Go Kayaking is located in Titusville but also has other locations throughout Florida for other kayak tours and rentals. The bioluminescent kayak tours take you through the wildlife refuge in a clear kayak for a true underwater view. 

The bioluminescent tours only operate from May through October through this outfitter. But you can also book a VIP experience where your personal experience will be filmed so you can treasure the magic and memories of the bioluminescence for years to come.

Where to launch & how to get there:

Parrish Park Boat Ramp, Max Brewer Memorial Parkway, Titusville, FL 32796. Just across the Max Brewer Bridge. 

3: Banana River Lagoon (Near Orlando)

The Banana River Lagoon is part of the Indian River Lagoon and the intracoastal waterway. It can be easily accessed from Orlando with a direct road between the Disney area and Cocoa Beach.

The Banana River sits to the west of Cape Canaveral. The lagoon offers excellent opportunities for bioluminescent kayaking, with several bioluminescent kayaking tours operating in the area. 

From here you can explore the mangrove wetlands and experience Florida wildlife up close, including manatees, stingrays, dolphins, and even alligators.

There is also the opportunity to take night tours on a larger pontoon boat, which might be good if you have very small children or elderly relatives who might not manage a kayak tour.

Banana River Lagoon Kayaking Tours And Rentals

BK Adventure and Florida Adventurer both offer bioluminescence kayaking on the Banana River Lagoon. 

Where to launch & how to get there:

Martin Anderson Beachline Expressway, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920. Access is next to the Banana River Bridge off the 528.

4: Kiwanis Island Park

Kiwanis Island can be one of the closest and most convenient places for bioluminescent kayaking if you want to stay close to Cocoa Beach on the Space Coast. 

You can launch your own kayak here and you will also find bioluminescent kayaking tours in the area that launch from this location.

This island is within a wildlife preserve on Sykes Creek, allowing for exploration of the shallow waters of the Indian River mangroves and salt marshes.

Launching from Kiwanis Island, you can head north to reach the Barge Canal where you can access both the Banana River and the Indian River

Kiwanis Island Park Kayaking Tours And Rentals

Florida Adventurer

Florida Adventurer offers several options for bioluminescent tours, including both kayak tours and raft tours. These guided tours launch from Titusville and Cocoa Beach, with tours available daily. 

The tour guides provide you with glow sticks to wear, along with a life jacket. Water shoes are recommended and flip flops are not advised. 

You can book bioluminescence tours in a clear kayak if you want to make the most of the spectacle and witness it happening directly below your boat. You may also get an interesting view of any larger creatures that happen to swim underneath you.

Where to launch & how to get there:

Kiwanis Island Boat Launch, Kiwanis Island Park Road, Merritt Island, FL 32952. The island is just off the Merritt Island Causeway on Sykes Creek.

5: Mosquito Lagoon

Mosquito Lagoon is probably the most remote and least inhabited location on our list. Embarking on a kayak tour around this lagoon will let you experience the real Florida, with almost zero light pollution so that you can fully appreciate all the wonder of the glowing plankton and glowing water. 

This Central Florida lagoon is a great place to kayak through the mangrove wetlands on a bioluminescent kayaking tour.

With this area being pretty much in the wilderness, you will generally encounter lots of bugs. The lagoon’s name doesn’t come from nowhere. So it can be important to bring plenty of bug spray before you head out, particularly if you plan to do a sunset bioluminescence tour.  

Mosquito Lagoon Kayaking Tours And Rentals

BK Adventure, Florida Adventurer, and A Day Away Kayak Tours all offer bioluminescence tours around Mosquito Lagoon. There are no tours based on the shores of this lagoon due to its remote location. 

Where to launch & how to get there:

Beacon 42 Boat Ramp, Courtenay Parkway N, FL. North of the Manatee Observation Deck. You need to have a Refuge Pass from Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge to launch from this ramp. You can buy it online here.

In Conclusion

Central Florida, particularly the Space Coast, is one of the best places in the world to go bioluminescent kayaking. 

Witnessing this natural light spectacle can be a bucket list experience and in Florida’s warm weather, it can be even more magical. Imagine yourself watching the glowing jellies on a warm Florida February night. 

Just remember to wear some water shoes and apply your bug spray before you set off on your unique wildlife tour.

Also check out our guides to kayaking in north and south Florida.

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