By Kevin Mims
With the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, unspoiled spring runs, and long and winding tannic rivers, it’s easy to see why Florida attracts paddlers from near and far.
Kayaking spots are as plentiful as they are diverse in the Sunshine State, and no two rivers or beaches are the same.
Here are 10 of the best places for kayaking in Florida…
1: Coastal dune lakes
Walton County has rare natural features found in only a few other places around the world: Coastal dune lakes, bodies of freshwater that exist alongside the ocean. The county has 15 named dune lakes, where paddlers can enjoy the diverse wildlife, placid water, and the scenery unique to those lakes. It’s the only place in Florida where you can paddle a tea-colored tannic lake surrounded by sand dunes and look over to see the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Kayak rentals for Lake Powell, the largest of the dune lakes, are available through Camp Helen State Park.
2: The beaches of Destin
Paddle a kayak off the beaches of Destin and you’ll understand where the Emerald Coast gets its name. The clear, turquoise waters are great for wildlife-watching and spotting dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, and more. One very popular kayaking and boating trip runs from Destin Harbor, bustling with restaurants, shops, and boat rental outfitters, to nearby Crab Island. Be prepared to see lots of other boats and people and be mindful of the tides. Head to Destin Kayak Rentals to get started.
3: Blackwater River
With white-sand beaches contrasting with dark, tannic water, the swiftly moving and visually stunning Blackwater River attracts paddlers of all kinds as well tubers in the summer months. Of the river’s 56 miles, 31 make up a designated paddling trail that begins five miles from the Alabama border in Okaloosa County and ends in the Blackwater River State Forest.
Options here are many, with multiple launch points along the river (depending on the length and type of trip you’re planning). Blackwater Joe’s offers rentals for everything from overnight kayaking trips to trips as short as two hours.
4: Wakulla River
Kayakers on the 10-mile Wakulla River Paddling Trail can expect an easy, gentle trip down a clear, spring-fed waterway filled with wildlife, including manatees, wading birds, alligators, turtles, and an abundance of fish. TnT Hideaway has kayaks for rent and everything you need for a Wakulla River adventure. Guided tours are available.
5: Suwannee River Paddling Trail
Probably the most iconic Florida river adventure lies along the 171-mile Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, which starts in White Springs and ends at the Gulf of Mexico. Even those unfamiliar with the river itself might recognize the name from the beginning lyrics of Florida’s state song: “Way down upon the Swanee River, far, far away …”
And the river is far away—from noise, from cities, and from the bustling attractions and amusements Florida is known for—but river camps and small downs provide overnight shelter and amenities along the way. The tannic water and quiet riverbanks are teeming with wildlife. Paddling difficulty on the Suwannee ranges from easy to very difficult, depending on what part of the river you paddle and the current water conditions. Rentals for day and overnight trips are available through a number of outfitters, including Suwannee Canoe Outpost.
6: Little Talbot Island State Park
The tidal creeks and salt marshes of Little Talbot Island State Park are perfect for a peaceful morning or afternoon on the water, with route options for everyone from experienced kayakers to beginners. The unspoiled barrier island is home to diverse wildlife and is an excellent place for birding. Rentals and guided eco-tours are available through Kayak Amelia, located on Simpson Creek.
7: Weeki Wachee
The 7.4-mile spring-fed Weeki Wachee River has blue water, lots of wildlife, and a good current to do most of the paddling work for you, making it one of the top destinations for family-friendly paddling trips. The best way to kayak Weeki Wachee is to launch near the headsprings from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park’s resident outfitter, Boating in Florida, which offers rentals and shuttle services. It takes about three hours to paddle the roughly six miles from the launch to the takeout point at Rogers Park.
8: Indian River Lagoon bioluminescence
While kayaking trips typically happen in the daytime, there are some wonders that can be seen only in the dark. Naturally occurring, glowing algae make bioluminescent paddling possible, and seeing the electric blue underwater light show it creates is an experience unlike any other. Peak season is June through October, although bioluminescent paddling tours are available year-round through BK Adventure. Besides glowing algae, the area is home to glowing comb jellies (similar to jellyfish, but they don’t sting), which can be seen November through March.
9: Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail
The 190-mile Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail is a paddler’s paradise of secluded beaches, protected estuaries, mangrove islands and tunnels, and tidal creeks. Here, your kayaking trip can be as short or as long as you want it to be.
The trail starts near Fort Myers and runs from Estero Bay (Mound Key, Bunche Beach and Hurricane Bay, Coconut Point) to Pine Island Sound (Tarpon Bay, Matlacha, Picnic Island) to the Caloosahatchee River (Hickey’s Creek, Orange River). There are options for rentals in towns along the blueway, including Calusa Blueway Outfitters in Fort Myers.
10: Indian Key
There are countless places to kayak in the Florida Keys, but Indian Key Historic State Park stands out for both its seclusion and relative ease of access. While the small island is accessible only by boat from Islamorada, it only takes about 20 minutes to kayak to the island, which was once was home to a shipwreck-salvaging business. Now paddlers go to sunbathe, hike, and explore the clear waters. Eagle rays, dolphins, and manatees are some of the marine animals you can find there. Rentals are available at Robbie’s of Islamorada.
Love kayaking? Check out paddling on the Weeki Wachee River.
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