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Kayaking In Tampa, Florida

Nicola Burridge
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Embark on a thrilling aquatic adventure with my guide to kayaking in Tampa.

Discover the picturesque waterways and hidden gems in and around this vibrant city, from the serene Hillsborough River to the Gulf Coast’s pristine shores.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced paddler, this guide will hopefully ensure an unforgettable kayaking experience in Tampa’s natural Florida paradise.

15 Best Places To Kayak In Tampa

1: Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon Island Preserve showcasing lush mangrove trees and serene waterwaysPin
Courtesy: Calmuziclover on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Weedon Island Preserve is a protected area of around 3,700 acres on Tampa Bay that’s home to various native species of animals and plants. This is a coastal ecosystem where you can paddle through mangroves, seagrass flats, and alongside numerous islands.

The South Paddling Trail is a well-signposted water trail that lets you explore deep in the mangroves. You’re likely to spot many wading birds and turtles. You can also paddle around Riviera Bay.

There are kayak rentals available inside the park, near the public kayak launch and fishing pier. Don’t forget your insect repellent as this area is home to lots of mosquitos. Some of the wetlands that you can paddle through were once dug out as mosquito ditches back in the 50s.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, coastal flatwater

Where to launch & how to get there:

Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702.

2: Shell Key Preserve

Shell Key Preserve offers the quintessential picturesque Florida coastal scenery, with white sand beaches, crystal clear shallow water, and tiny islands with mangroves.

Launching at the Pinellas Bayway, it’s a short distance across to Shell Key. It should take around 30 minutes of paddling from the launch site. The water is clear and calm, making it an easy trip for most paddlers.

I’d also recommend this spot for paddle boarding as well as kayaking, as the water is shallow and it’s pretty easy-going.

As well as experiencing the quiet waters, deserted beaches, and small mangrove keys, you’re also in with a good chance of spotting dolphins.

You can take a guided kayak tour of Shell Key Preserve at Island Kayak Adventures, located just south of the kayak launch on Pinellas Bayway.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, shallow coastal water

Where to launch & how to get there:

Pinellas Bayway Kayak & SUP Launch, 2822-2876 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde, FL 33715.

3: Terra Ceia Preserve

Located near the mouth of Tampa Bay, the Terra Ceia Preserve offers 2,000 acres of natural landscape to explore. And, in my opinion, the best way to check it out is by kayak. 

This area is filled with mangrove forests that create tunnels that you can paddle through to get a taste of real Florida. There are both freshwater and saltwater wetlands, making this a great place to spot wildlife, including native and migrating species.

Roseate spoonbills are just one of the species of birds found in the Terra Ceia Preserve.

The park is free to enter and there are several kayak launches but there are no facilities so I recommend you bring plenty of water. You’ll also need sunscreen and bug spray.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, slow-moving water

Where to launch & how to get there:

Frog Creek Launch, Bishop Harbor Road, Palmetto, FL 34221.

4: Longboat Key

Longboat Key offers easy access to the mangroves and wildlife of Sarasota Bay. Paddling around the gentle waters of Longboat Key you can spot dolphins, manatees, turtles, and plenty of fish. There are also various birds to be found.

If you want to paddle through mangrove tunnels and find lots of turtles, head north from the launch at Longboat Key’s Bayfront Park. The Sister Keys have some of the best mangrove forests for kayak adventures.

Just north of the Sister Keys, you’ll find Jewfish Key, which has a sandbar on the western side of the island. This is a popular spot for boaters to stop and can be a great place for a swim. 

Kayak rentals and guided tours are available at Bayfront Park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, shallow, calm coastal water

Where to launch & how to get there:

Bayfront Park, 3970 Royal Road, Longboat Key, FL 34228.

5: Hillsborough River

Kayak peacefully gliding on the Hillsborough River in TampaPin
Courtesy: joiseyshowaa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Hillsborough River flows through downtown Tampa and can offer a good combination of both urban and natural scenery.

Launching from Lowry Park, you can choose to paddle upstream for around three miles to the dam or head downstream toward downtown. Heading downstream toward the bay offers spectacular views of the City of Tampa skyline.

The water is typically flat in this stretch. However, there is boat traffic as you get closer to the bay.

If you like rapids, there are some rare class II rapids on the 30-mile paddling trail that runs between Hillsborough River State Park and Rowlett Park. Kayaks and canoes can be rented in the state park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, slow-moving river

Where to launch & how to get there:

Lowry Park Boat Ramp, 1204 W. Flora Street, Tampa, FL 33604.

6: Tarpon Springs

Located around 30 miles northwest of Tampa, Tarpon Springs is a beautiful place to kayak. It’s also a great place to experience manatees in the wild.

The Anclote River flows through Tarpon Springs and is home to various aquatic life, including wading birds such as roseate spoonbills, wood storks, and pelicans. You may also see alligators, river otters, and dolphins.

Launching at the Anclote River Park, paddle upstream where you can access several bayous in search of manatees. You can also paddle alongside the historic sponge docks.

River Wild Kayaking, located near the sponge docks, offers guided tours around Tarpon Springs, including a sunset tour and a “haunted” night tour.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, flatwater

Where to launch & how to get there:

Anclote River Park Boat Ramp, 1119 Baillies Bluff Road, Holiday, FL 34691

7: Honeymoon Island/Caladesi Island State Park

If you’re looking for those dreamy white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters that Florida’s Gulf Coast is renowned for, then head to Honeymoon Island.

Park and launch at the causeway to Honeymoon Island and you can paddle in the tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico while discovering some of the best beaches in the USA.

You can paddle to Caladesi Island in 20 minutes from the launch. This state park is only accessible by boat and features pristine beaches and mangrove trails.

You can rent kayaks from the causeway launch or you can take a ferry from Honeymoon Island to Caladesi Island and rent kayaks when you get there.

Don’t forget your sunscreen.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, shallow coastal water

Where to launch & how to get there:

Sail Honeymoon/High & Dry Grill, 61 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin, FL 34698

8: Clearwater Bay

Kayaking around Clearwater Bay can let you check out some of the waterfront homes of Clearwater Beach.

This bay is also great for kayak fishing, with lots of fish including snook, redfish, flounder, and tarpon. The water is calm and flat but there are motorized vessels you should watch out for.

Heading north from the launch, you’ll discover several small islands and mangroves as you make your way toward Caladesi Island State Park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, mostly flat water.

Where to launch & how to get there:

Seminole Boat Ramp, 198 Seminole Street, Clearwater, FL 33755

9: Fort De Soto

One of the best ways to explore Fort De Soto is by kayak. Fort De Soto Park covers over 1,100 acres of natural landscape, with miles of sandy beaches and fantastic scenery all around.

The park covers five islands, or keys, giving you plenty of opportunities to explore by kayak. You can rent kayaks in the park so you don’t need to bring your own. The water is very shallow and easy to paddle, making it a good place for beginners to kayak.

There are lots of chances to spot wildlife in the park, with various species of marine life, birds, and plants to be found.

Another great reason to visit Fort De Soto is that it’s very dog-friendly. You can even take your dog paddling. Kayaks, canoes, and SUPs rented at Fort De Soto Park are dog-friendly.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, flat coastal bays

Where to launch & how to get there:

Fort De Soto Park, Pinellas Bayway S, St. Petersburg, FL 33715

10: Weeki Wachee River

About an hour’s drive north of Tampa, the Weeki Wachee River is known for its crystal clear water and manatees. This is an easy paddle that’s perfect for beginners, with slow-moving water and lots of wildlife.

There is a decent amount of shade from the overhanging trees along much of the river so it can be a good place to paddle in the summer.

Launching at Rogers Park, head east toward the springs and the state park. You can paddle up to the state park.

Swimming is allowed in the river but only outside the boundary of the state park. However, there are snakes and alligators in the river. The good news is, you should be able to see them because the water is clear.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, slow-moving river

Where to launch & how to get there:

Rogers Park, 7244 Shoreline Boulevard, Spring Hill, FL 34607

11: Little Manatee River

The Little Manatee River is a designated Outstanding Florida Water that flows naturally through wilderness and protected lands. This pristine river can be found less than an hour’s drive south of Tampa and is part of Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve.

The river offers easy paddling for all skill levels and there are plenty of sandbars and places to stop for a picnic or to stretch your legs. Trees line the river, providing shade from the hot sun as well as providing habitat for various species of wildlife. Manatees can be seen here during spring and summer. 

Launching at the Canoe Outpost, just off the US-301, you can paddle downstream through the Little Manatee River State Park. The Little Manatee Canoe Outpost offers canoes and kayaks for rent.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, slow-moving river

Where to launch & how to get there:

Canoe Outpost, 18001 US-301, Wimauma, FL 33598

12: Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island offers breathtaking scenery, including turquoise clear water and pristine white sand beaches. You can paddle through grass flats and alongside waterfront homes on calm, shallow water.

There’s also a good chance of spotting manatees and dolphins as you paddle around these waters.

Fishing is popular in Anna Maria Island, with three fishing piers on the island. You can also fish from your kayak to access more remote spots.

If you don’t want to fish, I recommend packing a snorkel to check out some of the shallow reefs nearby.

Happy Paddler offers kayak tours and rentals for Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, shallow coastal water

Where to launch & how to get there:

Holmes Beach Boat Ramp, 6398 Marina Way, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

13: St. Petersburg

If you’re looking to explore quiet waterways without having to stray too far from the city, St. Petersburg is just the place.

Launching at Coffee Pot Park, you can paddle along the still waters of Coffee Pot Bayou as you head toward Tampa Bay. You’ll pass the Coffee Pot Bayou bird preserve, a small island home to numerous nesting birds, including egrets and pelicans.

Head east past the waterfront homes and there are other inlets and bayous to explore, including Smacks Bayou under the Overlook Drive Bridge.

Good Vibes Kayak Rentals offers kayaks for rent around St. Petersburg and will deliver kayaks to Coffee Pot Park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, flatwater

Where to launch & how to get there:

Coffee Pot Park, 1st Street NE & 31st Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33704

14: Old Tampa Bay

Just west of Tampa Airport and a short distance from downtown Tampa, you can launch from the Courtney Campbell Causeway to explore Old Tampa Bay. This is a great place to kayak if you’re looking for calm, shallow water and beautiful views.

If you want to do some kayak fishing, this is an excellent spot to cast a line. Snook, mangrove snapper, pufferfish, redfish, and bonnethead sharks are all frequently caught in the waters around the causeway.

However, shore fishing from the causeway is not allowed so it’s best to stick to kayak fishing.

Launching at Ben T. Davis Beach, you’ll find plenty of parking and easy launching. There’s also a kayak rental outfitter at the beach.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, flatwater coastal bay

Where to launch & how to get there:

Ben T. Davis Beach, 7740 W Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa, FL 33607

15: Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve

If you’re looking for tranquil water surrounded by wilderness and wildlife, Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve is the place to go. There is ample parking and a good kayak launch, including a low dock and a ramp.

There’s a paddling trail that takes you through the mangrove forests of the bayou. It’s well-signposted so you don’t get lost.

This area is filled with wildlife, giving you opportunities to spot manatees, roseate spoonbills, and alligators. If you’re lucky, you could spot a loggerhead turtle or a green sea turtle.

There are no kayak rentals available but there are guided paddle board tours at Empower Adventures in the park.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I – easy, flatwater

Where to launch & how to get there:

Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, 423 Lafayette Boulevard, Oldsmar, FL 34677

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