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With wildlife and water just about everywhere you turn, kayaking in Key West can be an exciting experience. Add that to the endless summer weather, mangroves and white sand beaches and it can be like paddling in paradise.
But when you’re surrounded by water it can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve put a quick guide together with some of our favorite spots to paddle around Key West to give you an idea of places to launch.
5 Best Places To Kayak In Key West
The Southernmost Point in the continental United States is one of the most popular places to visit in Key West, not just for boaters. While there is no launch area at the marker, you can launch your kayak just around the block to the east at Duval Street Pocket Park.
The little park has a beach and a pier, as well as parking. From here you can paddle east along to Higgs Beach or you can paddle west past the Southernmost Point marker and make your way along the southwestern edge of Key West.
Be aware of larger vessels, including cruise ships, once you hit the western coast, as the cruise piers and ferry terminals are nearby.
The Saddlebunch Keys are located to the east of Key West. This group of islands and mangroves are uninhabited and can be a great place to spot wildlife, including wildlife that is native to the Florida Keys.
There are plenty of coves, channels and sandbars to explore, as well as lush mangroves.
You can explore the Saddlebunch Keys by launching your kayak across from Bay Point Park. There is limited parking available at the park and a few picnic tables but no restrooms or other services.
There’s a public boat ramp on the adjacent Sugarloaf Key, at Sugarloaf Creek, which can also be used to access the Saddlebunch Keys.
Smathers Beach is known as one of the largest beaches in Key West, which means it can sometimes be busy, particularly during spring break. There is plenty of space to launch a kayak from the white sand beach and you’ll also find restrooms and showers.
Parking is available at the beach but there is an hourly charge of $4 (August 2020).
Launching from Smathers Beach gives you a chance to paddle along Key West’s south coast. You can also head east and kayak into Cow Key Channel where you’ll find little mangrove islands.
For a longer trip you can paddle underneath the A1A from Cow Key Channel, continuing behind the houses. There’s a boat ramp at 11th Street for put-in or take-out.
Sugarloaf Key is located a few miles east of Key West and can be a great area to explore from a kayak. The shallow waters around the Key are usually calm, although some of the channels may have stronger currents than you might expect.
There are lots of mangroves, islands, coves and sandbars to check out. There is also plenty of wildlife, including dolphins and manatees.
You can launch your kayak at Sugarloaf Marina, but be prepared to pay a launch fee, or you can head down to Sammy Creek Landing at Sugarloaf Creek. Both spots can be good for exploring the area, with the marina on the north side of the A1A and the public boat ramp on the south side.
From the launch point at Sugarloaf Creek you can also explore the Saddlebunch Keys quite easily. For a longer paddle (easier from Sugarloaf Marina) you can head north to the Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge, which is an important breeding ground for birds.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West can be a great place to launch your kayak and spend the day exploring both on the water and on land. You can also explore the old fort, which was built as a defense during the Civil War.
There is a fantastic beach with sheltered waters, which can be popular with sunseekers and swimmers, but you should find it easy to launch a kayak. Be sure to keep out of the swimming areas though – there are buoys to let you know where these are.
You’ll also find parking, biking trails and picnic areas.
What Are The Kayak Laws?
When paddling in Key West you will need to follow Florida kayak laws.
- PFDs – Florida law states that each person on board a vessel must have a wearable US Coast Guard approved life jacket. The PFD must be a suitable size for the wearer and readily accessible. More on life jackets
- Children 5 years of age and under are required by law to wear a US Coast Guard approved PFD (Type I, II or III) at all times while on a kayak that is underway.
- Boating Under The Influence is illegal in Florida. You are considered intoxicated if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or above. The limit is 0.02% if you are under the age of 21.
- Sound Producing Devices are required when paddling around Key West. A whistle is sufficient for a kayak.
- Visual Distress Signals for night use are required by law if paddling after sunset and before sunrise.
- Boat Registration is not required for non-motorized kayaks.
Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Key West
- Sugarloaf Marina (Sugarloaf Key, FL – rentals and tours)
- Blue Planet Kayak (Stock island & Lower Sugarloaf Key, FL – rentals and tours)
- Kayak Kings (Cow Key Marina, Smathers Beach, FL – rentals and tours)
- Danger Charters (Margaritaville Marina, Key West, FL – tours)
- Clearly Unique Ocean Adventures (Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge, FL – tours)
- Lazy Dog Adventures (Stock Island, Key West, FL – rentals and tours)
- Kayak Adventures Key West (Cow Key Channel, Key West, FL – tours)
Key West can be a busy place, especially during peak seasons but there are still plenty of places where you can experience peace and relaxation on the water.
Whether you’re looking to discover wild Florida or you want to paddle around the southernmost point in the continental U.S., Key West can be the ideal kayaking location. Just remember to bring your sun protection and stay hydrated.
Do you have a favorite paddling spot near Key West or anywhere else in the Keys? Let us know. And if you want to help others find great spots, share this with them.