Are you planning a trip to kayak in Florida and want to know where you’ll find the top kayaking spots?
We’ll tell you all about the must-visit places that offer an excellent paddling experience.
Florida forms the long tongue of land in the south-eastern United States that divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico.
Apart from the world-famous Everglades, or the “river of grass”, the state is also home to hundreds more rivers and lakes, their fresh waters stained the color of tea by all the tannins they pick up from the surrounding vegetation.
The whole state is heaven for kayakers, whether you want to take on the tides and the ocean currents or prefer a more peaceful meander along slow-flowing rivers, where even paddling upstream takes little effort.
It’s the quietest and least intrusive way to experience the rich profusion of bird, animal, and aquatic wildlife that the state is famous for; not to mention endless varieties of vegetation, from mangrove swamps to sawgrass.
The rivers and beaches are not only plentiful, but they’re also diverse; when you kayak in Florida, no two trips are the same.
It’s no wonder the state attracts paddlers from around the US and all over the world.
You can take your own kayak if you have one, but they are also available to hire at all the popular locations, or you can sign up for a guided kayaking tour.
Here is a list of the best kayaking destinations in Florida, grouped by region.
Along The Keys
The Florida Keys, a chain of tiny islands stretching into the Gulf of Mexico from the southern tip of Florida and linked to the mainland by the Overseas Highway, is a renowned watersports playground.
In one section, a historic saddleback bridge takes you to Bahia Honda Key. This is the heart of the Bahia Honda State Park, a little gem that anyone who plans to kayak in Florida should definitely explore.
The crystal-clear water is one of the main attractions of this route, as it allows you to see an abundance of marine life from your kayak.
You can stick to the shallows, or if the weather is clear and the sea calm, take a 30-minute paddle out to tiny Little Bahia Honda.
Explore the fascinating tide pools of this coral islet or use it as a base for a snorkeling adventure.
Indian Key Historic State Park is the best kayaking venue in the Keys for history buffs as it was once the county seat of Miami Dade County.
Indian Key can only be reached by water from Islamorada, so it’s perfect for kayaking, and the mangroves and marine life also make snorkeling a treat.
But the ghost town at the heart of the island, which is the last surviving evidence of European settlers and the conflicts that arose between them and the indigenous Seminole inhabitants, is the main attraction.
You simply cannot kayak in Florida without visiting the Everglades, the magnificent wilderness of rivers, lakes, and swamps that dominate the southern part of the state.
The Turner River kayak trail is rated by many experts as the best in the Everglades, taking you through three distinct biomes: cedar swamps, mangroves, and sawgrass.
The start of the Turner River trip, on the Tamiami Trail, is only eight miles east of Everglades City and 75 miles from Miami, so it’s easy to get to.
In places, the vegetation crowds in so much that paddles are not needed; you can pull yourself through mangrove tunnels instead. You can also vary your trip, as the river current is sluggish, so paddling to a beach for a picnic, then back upstream to where you started, is no hardship.
Or if you prefer, you can book a guided paddle all the way to Everglades City in six hours.
Where the Everglades meet the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll find the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge; the perfect spot to see dolphins, manatees, and all sorts of fish, as well as a bewildering array of birdlife.
A relatively short kayaking trail to Sandfly Island will allow you to explore the natural beauty, but it is easier if you paddle out to it on a falling tide, and then return as the next high tide rises.
The Gulf Coast Panhandle
The panhandle where Florida meets Georgia and Alabama also offers options to kayak in Florida. Walton County boasts a feature not seen in too many other parts of the world; a line of coastal lakes separated from the ocean by sand dunes.
Lake Powell is the largest of 15 named freshwater bodies in the county and offers gentle paddling through its tannic waters as you take in the rich array of plant and animal life.
Those seeking a more challenging watercourse should try kayaking the Blackwater River.
It offers stunning white-sand beaches and the same tea-brown water, but it is swiftly flowing and has sections of different class rapids, offering more excitement to kayakers and tubers alike.
The 31-mile trail from the Alabama border to the Blackwater River State Forest will expose you to some spectacular scenery.
Northern and Central Florida
The Suwannee River, famous in song as the “Swanee”, also flows into the Gulf of Mexico in northern Florida.
It should be on any respectable list of places to kayak in Florida for its folklore value alone, but the Suwannee River Paddling Trail also offers an attractive long paddle for experienced kayakers.
It starts at White Springs and continues for 171 miles until it reaches the Gulf and despite its length, it is one of the most peaceful kayaking trails available in the region.
The gentle pace of the river combines with the deep quiet of the true wilderness, so it’s easy to forget how close you are to the bustling urban attractions that are the more usual face of Florida tourism.
You can generally expect an abundance of wildlife along the riverbanks.
On the Atlantic seaboard, a little further south in central Florida, you will find the Indian River Lagoon.
This is the one Florida kayaking experience you should try at night when bioluminescent algae illuminate the water in an electric-blue light show.
It’s an unforgettable sight, as are the comb jellies; a type of non-stinging jellyfish that also glow with bioluminescence.
Ready to get in your kayak? Have fun, stay safe, and enjoy what Florida has to offer from a different vantage point.
Can you kayak anywhere in Florida?
Yes, provided there are no signs or laws that prohibit watersports. If the water is privately owned you will need to have permission from the owner.
Is it safe to kayak in Florida?
Generally yes. There are, however, alligators in fresh and brackish water and they have caused damage to kayaks and bitten kayakers in the past. It’s advised that you exercise caution around these animals.
What do you need to kayak in Florida?
A boating licence is not required to kayak in Florida. However, in certain situations, Florida statutes require kayakers, canoeists and paddle boarders to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II or III PFD onboard. Children under 6 years old must wear a PFD, and all PFDs must be in good condition.
Where can I kayak in Central Florida?
Rainbow Springs, Silversprings State Park, Hillsborough River State Park, the Withlacoochee River and the Wekiva River are all great places to kayak in central Florida.