Eight thousand four hundred and thirty-six miles of coastline. 68 water trails. 33 natural springs. 7,800 square miles of Everglades. With so many water sources, it goes without saying that the state of Florida is a haven for veteran paddlers and novices alike. From the crystal-clear springs inland to the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast, kayaking in Florida offers something for everyone.
Best kayaking in Florida
With such a variety of areas to kayak, from lakes and ponds to saltwater trails, you’re sure to find great paddling points anywhere in the state. Here are a few of the best places across the state to get you started.
If you’re looking for a laid-back paddle on the Gulf Coast, head to Cedar Key. Explore the 13 barrier islands, float by grass flats, or enjoy some open-sea kayaking on the Gulf. Cedar Key is touted to be what Key West was half a century ago before it became the bustling vacation spot it is now. This island is perfect for beginner and intermediate paddlers.
Heading across the state to the east coast you’ll find Amelia Island. Located in the popular vacation destination county of Nassau, there are tons of places to paddle around this barrier island, including the Amelia River or Cumberland Island National Seashore. Whether you are in the mood for something leisurely or something more adventurous, you’re sure to have a good time on the water here.
Even if you’re not planning on taking a trip to Disney World, you can still have a lot of fun on the water in the Orlando area. With trips perfect for beginners, get up close and personal with manatees at Blue Springs State Park, enjoy even more wildlife viewing of alligators, waterfowl, manatees, and more on the Wekiva River, or head out for a night-time bioluminescence trip on the Indian River.
Said to be one of the top spots for paddling the Gulf Coast, St. Petersburg has no shortage of water adventures. If you’re an experienced kayaker with good navigational skills, check out the winding maze called 17 Runs on the Hillsborough River. For beginners wanting to try out a local river, the Little Manatee River offers a 10-mile paddling trail with great kayak fishing opportunities as well. Head up and out to Caladesi Island for a short, novice-friendly paddle in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Keys
The Keys are one of Florida’s most popular vacation spots and it’s easy to see why. You don’t have to be an expert paddler to enjoy any number of the area’s most popular tours, including mangrove sightseeing, moonlight paddles, or even taking a charter out to the backcountry for some kayaking and snorkelling fun.
Everglades National Park
No trip to South Florida would be complete without a stop in the Everglades. Known for its alligators, swampy terrain, and huge surface area, the Everglades has just about any kind of kayaking tour you can dream of—including a beginner-friendly trip through mangrove forests and an overnight camping trip in the 10,000 Islands Natinoal Wildlife Refuge for the truly adventurous. There are also around 12 water trails throughout the park to explore.
Best springs to kayak in Florida
Florida’s freshwater springs are truly a natural wonder. Fed from underground aquifers, most of these springs average 72°F water temperatures year-round and can be so clear that you can see the bottom of them perfectly, even at 20+ feet down! Read on for some of the state’s best natural springs to check out by kayak.
Just an hour north of Tampa lies Weeki Wachee Springs and River. Begin your journey down this ultra-clear waterway in the identically named state park; you can paddle for 5.5 miles in the shade of palms and cypress as you scout for manatees, otters, pelicans and more spring-dwelling creatures. You can bring your own vessel or rent one within the park for up to four hours on these calm, beginner-friendly waters.
Near Dunnellon, Florida, you will find the state’s fourth-largest “first magnitude” spring: Rainbow Springs. Paddle the crystal-clear, six-mile section of river through the center of town before reaching the Withlacoochee River south of Highway 484. Rainbow Springs State Park can be quite busy during the summer months, so plan accordingly for your best chance to see turtles, hawks, alligators and more.
Begin your leisurely paddle down the Ichetucknee River within the boundaries of the similarly named state park. You will feel like you’re paddling through an oasis on your six-mile journey along blue-green waters fed by not one, but eight different springs. Cool off in the shade of oaks, cypress and pines as you search for beaver, gar, wood ducks and more along the way.
Mangrove kayaking in Florida
Perhaps one of Florida’s most well-known natural highlights, other than beaches, is its mangrove forests. It is estimated that 469,000 acres of mangrove forest occupy the southern portion of Florida. These unique forests will have you feeling like you’re paddling through a secluded woodland maze. Best of all, they are the perfect place to explore no matter your skill level.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The Keys are arguably one of the best spots in the state for mangrove tours. Rent a kayak at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and explore 50 miles worth of mangrove trails. Their kayak rentals are amazingly inexpensive at $30 for four hours.
Escape the bustling Sarasota area and head down to Ted Sperling Park at the southeastern edge of Lido Key. This area features the red mangroves, the roots of which sprawl above the waterline, creating an important ecosystem for many water-dwelling animals as well as birds. The west Indian manatee and dolphins are common visitors to this area.
Don Pedro State Park
If you find you really enjoy paddling through the mangrove tunnels of Florida, head about an hour and 20 minutes south to Don Pedro State Park in Placida. This park boasts all four of the different types of mangrove trees the state offers and tons of marine life. The passageway at Don Pedro is especially neat because it leads to a secluded lagoon in the middle of the island. This trip may be slightly better suited to intermediate paddlers as the tunnel gets pretty narrow. It is also important to check the tides before you go (you will want to avoid going at low tide).
Kayak camping in Florida
With so many water trails and as such a paddler friendly state, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of backcountry paddle camping trips to be had. Whether you choose to plan your own route or go with a guide, here are several of the most popular and exciting spots to kayak camp in Florida.
Suwannee River Wilderness Trail
Although this trail technically begins in the Okefenokee Swamp of Southern Georgia and runs across the state until it empties into the Gulf, you’ll find some particularly nice accommodations at the camps along the river in the Mayo area. These sites can only be reached by paddlers and camping is free. You can even take a hot shower and cool off under a ceiling fan in the screened-in platform at some of these sites! The Suwannee River is one of the largest in the state and its slow-moving waters make it acceptable for beginner trips.
Everglades National Park
For a truly immersive experience in the Everglades, check into one of the several overnight kayaking tours Florida Outdoor Adventures offers. There is one for every skill level and desired trip length. Experiences range from exploring the Gulf and 10,000 Islands area on the western side of the Everglades to paddling the entire 99-mile length of the Wilderness Waterway.
For an easy paddling trip perfect for the novice kayak camper, the Peace River in Central Florida is the place to go. The river itself runs for 106 miles north to south with 67 miles of designated water trail from Bartow to Arcadia. You’ll drift past cypress swamps and hardwood forests as you make your way down. Kayak fishermen will love this trip too.
Manatee kayaking in Florida
If you haven’t gathered by now, running into a manatee or two while on the water is a staple of any great paddling trip in Florida. If you’re ready for your own encounter with these gentle giants, check out some of the following places.
Little Manatee River
With a name like that, you know you’ll have a high chance of getting up close and personal with some “sea cows.” Head to Little Manatee River State Park and start off in the swampy, narrow area of the river in the north and make your way down to the wider, sunnier blackwater portion in the south of the park. A visit during the summer will afford you the best chance to view manatees.
Manatee Park, located in Fort Myers, serves as a non-captive refuge for the manatees during the cooler winter months. You can rent a kayak within the park and head out for hours at a time on their waterways in search of these creatures. Be sure to go in December, January or February for your best chance to view them at this park.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Head to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on the east coast, near Kennedy Space Center, and explore the waters of this 140,000-acre park. The best place to look for manatees here is near the Haulover Canal and Bairs Cove area. The gentle giants frequent the area year-round, but spring and fall are your best bets.
Bioluminescence kayaking in Florida
For a truly unique night-paddling experience, you won’t want to miss out on a bioluminescence tour while you’re kayaking in Florida!
BK Adventure Tours
Head out on the “Bioluminescent Bay” with BK Adventure. They offer several different bio tours in the Indian River Lagoon, including a sunset and bioluminescence tour for a romantic night on the water, and clear kayak tours.
Get Up and Go Kayaking
For another fun adventure in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, take one of the popular bioluminescence tours with Get Up and Go Kayaking. Their clear kayaks make this experience even more enjoyable. Tours fill up fast, especially during new moons, during which time viewing is optimal, so be sure to book in advance.
Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours
For a bioluminescence paddle in the Florida Keys, you can’t beat Blue Planet. Located in Key West, their Sunset and Starlight tour will give you amazing views of the bioluminescence in the mysterious mangroves. Tours are offered seven days a week.
Clear kayak in Florida
Clear kayaks are becoming all the rage, especially among popular vacation spots, such as Florida. They offer great views of marine life and, as mentioned above, bioluminescence on night paddles. Here are some particularly fun spots to hit up around the state in a clear kayak.
Hunter Springs Kayak
To enjoy the beautiful blue waters of yet another popular Florida spring, head out on an eco-tour with Hunter Springs Kayak to the Three Sisters Springs. Their clear kayaks will give you great peaks at the manatees and other marine life swimming beneath the surface.
Get Up and Go Kayaking
Even if you’re not taking a bioluminescence tour with Get Up and Go Kayaking, you can still enjoy their clear kayaks. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, you can paddle the clear waters of Rock Springs or meander through the tree-lined tunnels of Winter Park Chain of Lakes.
Clearly Unique Charters
For a daytime eco-tour of Key West, check out the island’s only guided clear kayak tour providers, Clearly Unique Charters. This tour is great if you want to do some snorkelling as well. Once their powerboat takes you to the Great White Heron National Refuge, you’ll have time to do just that as well as paddle around to explore the coral reefs, marine life and even shipwrecks.
Sea kayaking in Florida
What Florida kayaking trip would be complete without at least a little bit of sea kayaking? Whether you want to stay close to shore and paddle for a couple of hours or go on an epic quest along the entire coastline, you’re sure to find a sea kayaking excursion for you below.
For a leisurely introduction to Florida’s sea kayaking in the Keys, check out the plethora of trips offered by Marathon Kayak. You can paddle just about anywhere, from mangrove forests to isolated beaches off the coast. Half-day and full-day tours are offered.
Big Bend Saltwater Trail
If you are already experienced with sea kayaking, taking a trip along the Big Bend Saltwater Trail may be just the adventure you’re looking for. On this 153-mile route, you will pass by and through state parks, Fish and Wildlife areas, and national wildlife refuges, before finally ending up at the mouth of the Withlacoochee River.
Vero Beach, on the Atlantic side, is another great place for beginners to “get their feet wet” with sea kayaking. Take one of Paddles by the Sea’s kayaks out to the Breconshire shipwreck or go sea turtle spotting as they love this area, especially in the spring.
Florida kayak trails
With 68 water trails, it’s hard to know where to begin if you are visiting or new to the state. Here are a few of the best ones to get you started.
Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Trail
Perhaps the state’s most well-known water trail, this circumnavigational trail is waiting for the truly adventurous. It flows for 1,515 miles from Big Lagoon State Park in the panhandle to Fort Clinch State Park on the Atlantic coast. If you want to take in all of the diverse natural areas Florida has to offer, you’ll love this trip.
If you’re looking for something a little less intense than a months-long paddling trip around the entire state, check out the Calusa Blueway. It’s composed of several different waterways, but the slow-moving waters and mile markers along the way make it much more beginner-friendly.
Beginning north of Okaloosa in the Blackwater River State Forest and winding its way to Blackwater River State Park, this 56-mile trail will take you through secluded backwoods. There are plenty of access points along the way and the calm waters make it the perfect trip for a novice.
Florida kayak tours
Let’s face it—we all have our own definition of “fun,” but some guided tours are just more fun than others. Here are some of the most interesting kayak tours you can find in the state, regardless of your paddling skills.
Head to Blue Springs State Park with Adventures in Florida for one of the best guided manatee-viewing trips in the state. Home to one of the largest populations of manatees in the state, you are sure to see plenty of these amazing creatures as they head from the refuge in the morning in search of breakfast. You will also learn a lot about the flora and fauna of the area from the Master Naturalist on your trip.
Bugeye Backcountry Adventure Eco Tour
Set sail on a schooner to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge with Sebago Watersports. There you will be able to explore the mangrove islands via kayak before diving in for some snorkelling. Keep an eye out for sea turtles, dolphins, rays and more.
Full Moon Kayak and Paddleboard Tours
For a truly illuminating experience on the coastal waters of Florida, head out with the Virginia Key Outdoor Center for a moonlight paddle and spectacular views of the Miami skyline.
Florida kayak laws
Due to some of its unique marine residents and aquatic habitats, there are a few special laws to be aware of while kayaking in Florida.
- Since manatee populations are on the decline, they are protected by state and federal law. If you do anything to “disrupt a manatee’s normal behavior” you can be fined up to $50,000 or even spend a year in jail.
- Seagrass beds are also protected by Florida state law in some areas. Be sure to avoid these areas at all costs so as not to damage them, or you may be fined up to $1,000.
- It is also worth noting that all children age 6 and under must wear a PFD at all times while in a kayak (though of course we recommend everyone always wear one while paddling). It is not necessary to register kayaks in the state of Florida.
Whether you’re looking for an adventurous paddle on the ocean or a relaxing float down a spring-fed river, Florida has a kayaking trip for everyone from beginners to experts.