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Kayaking In Florida – Let’s Conquer “The Sunshine State”

Kayaking in Florida can let you discover parts of the state that you may not otherwise get to see. For one thing, you can paddle through the habitat of various species, alongside manatees, alligators, dolphins, and even crocodiles if you head to the Everglades.

You can paddle along the Gulf Coast or the Atlantic Coast, explore freshwater lakes, journey along wild rivers, or check out mesmerizing mangrove tunnels.

Just remember your water and sunscreen before you head to some of these amazing spots.

Kayaking on a crystal clear waterPin

17 Best Places To Kayak In Florida

1: Indian Key (best in South Florida)

Indian Key Historic State Park can be a fantastic place for a Floridian coastal adventure. This uninhabited island lies just off the Overseas Highway and Islamorada and can only be reached by kayak, with a sign in the water pointing you to the landing.

There’s a self-guided walking tour to explore the ruins of an old 19th-century village and there’s also excellent snorkeling around the island too.

You can launch from Islamorada, where there are kayak rentals and tours, and it’s around 20-minutes to paddle to the island over shallow waters and seagrass. This can be great for all skill levels, as the water is shallow. You also have the chance to spot sharks and stingrays in the clear blue water.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, shallow flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Robbie’s, 77522 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, FL 33036.


2: Indian River Lagoon (best in Central Florida)

Kayaking near the shore of Indian River LagoonPin

The Indian River Lagoon is just an hour’s drive east of Orlando’s theme parks and features some of the world’s most spectacular bioluminescence displays: glowing plankton and marine creatures.

There are many places near Cocoa and Titusville where you can rent a kayak or join a night paddling tour to witness the bioluminescence spectacle. Or you can paddle during the day and explore the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge around the Kennedy Space Center.

The Banana River and the Indian River form the Indian River Lagoon and it can be a great place for spotting dolphins and manatees in the wild. The lagoon is also home to sharks, and alligators can be found in the inland waters.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, intracoastal flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Kelly Park East, 2550 N Banana River Drive, Merritt Island, FL 32952.


3: Suwannee River (best in North Florida)

Blue kayak laying on the river shorePin
Courtesy: Vítor Baptista on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Seeing the name of the Suwannee River may get you singing or humming the tune of the famous 19th century “Old Folks at Home” song. But it can be even better to paddle along this historic river on the 177-mile Wilderness Trail that runs from Big Shoals State Park to the Gulf of Mexico.

Depending on the water level, Big Shoals State Park has the only Class III rapids in the state. But the rest is flat Class I. This can be an ideal family adventure, with places to camp along the river, scenic white sand beaches, and plenty of alligators and other Florida wildlife. The river also flows through several state parks. Kayaks and canoes can be rented near Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy (but one section in Big Shoals Park with occasional Class III depending on water levels)

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Deese-Howard Boat Ramp, 263 107th Road, Live Oak, FL 32060.


4: Weeki Wachee River

Floating along the crystal Weeki Wachee RiverPin

The Weeki Wachee River flows for eight miles from its headsprings at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to the Gulf of Mexico. The turquoise waters are known for being crystal clear, with great views of manatees who head to the springs in winter.

Launching at the state park, where you can also rent kayaks, you can paddle along to Rogers Park or continue another couple of miles to the Gulf, where you’ll find a kayak landing at Bayport Park.

The calm river can be paddled in both directions so, alternatively, you can launch at Bayport Park or Rogers Park. There’s a fee to launch a kayak at the state park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, very slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
7240 Shoal Line Boulevard, Spring Hill, FL 34607.


5: Great Calusa Blueway

The Great Calusa Blueway is a 190-mile-long marked trail that runs along the coastal waters and tributaries of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The calm waters are ideal for all skill levels and can be great for spotting marine life, such as dolphins, turtles, and manatees. The trail passes by sites once inhabited by the Native American Calusa who constructed towns out of shells.

Many places around Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, and Bonita Springs offer kayak rentals and tours.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, mostly flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Lovers Key, 8700 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931.


6: Blackwater River

The Blackwater River flows through the scenic Blackwater River State Forest and features stunning white sand beaches that are ideal for picnic stops or camping. The paddling trail runs for 31 miles from Kennedy Bridge to Deaton Bridge in the state park.

From the Cotton Bridge launch it’s a 20-mile paddle to the landing at the state park. Kayak rentals are available just south of Blackwater River State Park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, slow-moving water with lots of banks to stop

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Cotton Bridge, FL-4, Baker, FL 32531.


7: Coastal Dune Lakes

The Coastal Dune Lakes can be found a few miles up the coast from Panama City. Fifteen named lakes form this rare geological feature that is found in only three other countries.

Lake Powell is the largest of the lakes and can be a great place for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. There’s a lot of water to explore, with natural shoreline areas, quiet inlets, and a state park, where you can rent kayaks. Lake Powell is designated an “Outstanding Florida Water”.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, shallow flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
22926 Lakeview Drive, Panama City, FL 32413.


8: Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park is around an hour’s drive north of Orlando and features crystal clear blue water that’s home to manatees during the winter. However, to protect the manatees, the Spring Run is generally closed to paddlers through winter.

The park lies on the banks of the St Johns River so there are plenty of options for paddling through wild Florida. Alligators are usually a common sighting in the brackish river and you can also spot Florida scrub jays and other wildlife. Kayak rentals are available in the park and the river can be paddled in both directions, even by beginners.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
French Landing, 2398 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL 32763.

9: Wakulla River

The Wakulla River can be an excellent location for spotting wildlife. The spring-fed river is home to manatees all year round - just remember it’s illegal to harass or disturb them, so keep a safe distance.

You can paddle around eight miles between the Shadeville Road bridge and Wakulla River Park in St Marks or you can take out after four miles at the Highway 98 bridge. The river is calm and can be paddled in either direction.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, very slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
County Road 365, Crawfordville, FL 32327.

10: Lido Key Mangroves

The Lido Key Mangroves can be one of the most interesting and unique places to paddle. The mangroves at Ted Sperling Nature Park form tunnels that you can paddle through, for an immersive wildlife adventure where you can see crabs scuttling over roots and fish swimming in the clear, shallow waters below. This can be ideal for all abilities, as the mangrove trails link back to the park and the water is calm with no boat traffic.

In the calm waters around the key, there’s the chance to spot manatees and dolphins. Kayaks can be rented at the launch in the nature park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, shallow water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
190 Taft Drive, Sarasota, FL 34236

11: Everglades National Park

The Everglades covers 1.5 million acres of wetlands, making it the US’s largest area of subtropical wilderness. Known for its alligators, this area is also home to American crocodiles and it’s the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.

There are miles and miles of paddling trails, with options to suit beginners and advanced paddlers. Paddling trails can be found on the Gulf Coast and around Flamingo on the south coast. You can plan multi-day trips if you want to head deeper into the wilderness.

Kayak rentals are available at Flamingo Marina and Everglades City.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy but remote

Where to Launch & How to get there:
1 Flamingo Lodge Highway, Homestead, FL 33034.

12: Fort De Soto Park

Fort De Soto Park encompasses five keys and lies between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This can be a relaxing place to paddle through a diverse ecosystem with fantastic opportunities to view wildlife in its natural habitat.

Some of the species you can see include manatees, dolphins, and various species of birds. During the summer months, the white sand beaches are nesting sites for sea turtles. You can rent kayaks in the park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, clear, shallow flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
St Petersburg, FL 33715. The launch is just before the southernmost bridge on Pinellas Bayway South.

13: Wekiva River

The Wekiva River is a designated National Wild and Scenic River and can be found just a short drive north of Orlando. A scenic 27-mile paddling trail begins at King’s Landing on Rock Springs Run, heading through Wekiwa Springs State Park before joining the Wekiva River.

You can also start at the state park. Kayak rentals are available at King’s Landing and the state park.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
5722 Baptist Camp Road, Apopka, FL 32712.

14: Little Talbot Island State Park

Little Talbot Island State Park can offer a range of paddling experiences, with coastal kayaking and direct access to two creeks: Simpson Creek and Myrtle Creek. You can explore the salt marshes, paddle alongside sand bluffs, and camp overnight at this barrier island. Wildlife is also abundant in this protected area.

You can rent kayaks in the state park, along the banks of Simpson Creek where you can also launch private kayaks.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, slow-moving water

Where to Launch & How to get there:
Kayak Amelia, 13030 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32226.

15: Key Largo Mangroves

The mangroves off the coast of Key Largo can give you an up-close look at the natural ecosystem of the Florida Keys. Paddle through the mangrove tunnels on your own or by taking a guided tour. You can discover stingrays, manatees, various birds, and dolphins in the surrounding waters.

Kayak rentals and tours can be found in Key Largo.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy, shallow flatwater

Where to Launch & How to get there:
104050 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037.

16: Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest features hundreds of lakes, making it a fantastic place to explore by kayak. One of the highlights of the forest is Juniper Run, which is considered one of the best canoe runs in the States.

The seven-mile trip lets you travel quietly under the forest canopy with great wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy but there are often low-hanging branches.

Where to Launch & How to get there:
26701 FL-40, Astor, FL 32102.

17: St Johns River

The very slow-moving St Johns River is Florida’s longest river and can offer excellent paddling and wildlife-viewing opportunities along its 310-mile length. A paddling trail runs between Lake George and Palatka, through Ocala National Forest and Welaka State Forest.

The St Johns River is known for alligators, so you will likely encounter at least one during your trip.

Class of Rapids rating:
Class I - easy but motorized vessels can cause wake

Where to Launch & How to get there:
9199 Elm Street, Welaka, FL 32193.

Kayak Rentals, Tours And Laws Around Florida

US Coast GuardPin

Sometimes it can be more convenient to rent a kayak than bring your own. There are many places across the state where you can rent kayaks. You’ll also find several outfitters that offer guided tours so you can learn about the area’s history and wildlife while you explore.

●    Robbie’s of Islamorada (Indian Key - rentals and tours)
●    BK Adventure (Indian River Lagoon - rentals and tours)
●    Suwannee Canoe Outpost (Suwannee River - rentals)
●    Weeki Fresh Water Adventures (Weeki Wachee River - rentals)
●    Lovers Key Adventures (Great Calusa Blueway - rentals and tours)
●    Blackwater Canoe Rental (Blackwater River - rentals)
●    Camp Helen State Park (Coastal Dune Lakes - rentals)

Laws

One of the main kayaking laws in Florida is that a PFD must be readily available for each person on any boat. Children under six must wear their PFD and adults are advised to wear theirs.

You don’t need to register your kayak in Florida unless it has a motor attached. And remember, alcohol and kayaking don’t mix - it’s against Florida law to kayak under the influence of alcohol.

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