Few places in the United States inspire visions of subtropical paradise like the Florida Keys do. With practically perfect weather year-round, clear blue water, and plenty of beautiful beaches to explore, kayaking Key West is a dream. It’s no wonder more than 2 million tourists visit the Keys each year.

With the ocean as your playground, the Keys offer an abundance of water recreation opportunities, including kayaking and canoeing. If exploring the local scenery and wildlife by paddle is your thing, you’ll want to plan your next getaway for Key West.

The southernmost point of the contiguous United States offers everything an ocean lover could want: Guided kayak and canoe tours, boat rentals, saltwater fishing, and snorkeling, just to name a few. In this guide to kayaking Key West, we’ll explore the best of the above and much more to take the guesswork out of your next kayaking trip to the Keys.

[ Get all the gear essentials for your kayaking trip in the Paddling Buyer’s Guide ]

Must-sees / top places to kayak

With so many interesting places to explore around Key West, it’s hard to decide where to begin. Check out our list of must-see places to get you started on your own personal tour of the island.


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Saddlebunch Keys

If exploring mangrove forests at your leisure is what you seek, Saddlebunch Keys is a great place to start. These keys are a chain of mangrove islands located 7 miles east of Key West. There are tons of places to pull off the highway and launch your kayak or canoe, as well as a boat ramp at mile marker 11 on US 1. This is said to be one of the most scenic areas in the Lower Keys, Saddlebunch Keys will not disappoint!


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Smathers Beach

Although only half a mile in length, Smathers Beach is the largest public beach on the island. 150,000 visitors come to swim, kayak, paddleboard, and relax here annually. Located on the south side of Key West, you’ll find beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean as well as endless palm trees and white sands.


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Geiger Key

Geiger Key is most notable for its large, combined marina, restaurant and RV park. If you’re not into the hustle and bustle of marinas, there is also a public launching area nearby. If you’re looking to do some fishing on your trip, be sure to give Geiger Key a go. Even if you’re not, there are plenty of small islands to explore and the Naval Air Station is nearby as well, so there is a good chance you’ll get to view some military planes and helicopters on your paddle.


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Fort Zachary Taylor

Launch your boat from the southernmost state park in the lower 48 states. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park boasts one of the most popular beaches in the area. While you’re out paddling here, take a break to bird watch or snorkel too. And, of course, it’s not a bad idea to visit the fort itself while you’re already there.

PHOTO: Pexels
PHOTO: Pexels

Top-rated kayak rentals

If you don’t have your own kayak or simply don’t feel like hauling it with you on your trip to Key West, never fear. There is no shortage of boat rental businesses here. Most offer guided tours as well.

Lazy Dog Adventures

Lazy Dog Adventures is one of the most highly rated kayak rental and tour businesses in Key West. They have earned a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor with over 1,000 reviews. Single and double kayaks are available. You can rent your boat by half a day at $25, or a full day at $45.

If you are heading out by yourself, Lazy Dog will offer you a map of the local waterways and points of interest. As you might imagine from their name, they also offer tours, which we’ll talk about more below in our Key West kayak guide.

Kayak Kings of Key West

Kayak Kings of Key West has the best rental rate around, offers several different types of kayaks to borrow, and is very accommodating with special requests. Standard singles and doubles are available at a flat-rate fee of $25/day. It doesn’t matter if you’re only out there an hour, half a day, or all day; it’s $25.

Kayak Kings also have explorer and fishing kayaks available for a bit more as well as ocean kayaks for experienced kayakers only.

Aside from the plethora of kayaks they offer, Kayak Kings also have dry bags, coolers, kayak anchors, and snorkeling gear available for rent. They also provide drop off services for locations up to 15 miles away and will allow you to take their boats on the ferry if you’re planning to visit the Dry Tortugas while you’re there.

Night kayak Key West

For an extra unique experience while kayaking Key West, check out the clear bottom single and double kayaks available at Night Kayak. A single boat will run you $20 for 1 hour or $30 for half a day. Double kayaks are $30 for 1 hour or $40 for half a day.

Night Kayak Key West is fully licensed and insured. They also offer night paddling tours and rent out snorkeling and fishing gear

PHOTO: Old Town & Ocean Kayak
PHOTO: Old Town & Ocean Kayak

Where to go kayak fishing

Whether you’re an experienced saltwater angler or first-time fisher, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect kayak fishing spot for you around Key West. It’s a great place to try out saltwater fishing since most of the waters surrounding the key are calm and shallow.

Fishermen are notoriously secretive about giving away information on their best spots. With that said, here’s some general areas around Key West to get you started. And, if all else fails and you really want to catch some fish, you can always find a guided kayak fishing tour or private guide to take you out.

Don’t forget your Florida saltwater fishing license!

Fleming Key

Located just north of Key West, Fleming Key is close enough that you won’t have to do much driving to find a launch spot. You can find red grouper, jack crevalle, and snapper here, to name a few.

Key West National Wildlife Refuge

According to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, this backcountry area offers one of the best saltwater fishing areas in North America with over 200,000 acres to fish! (It is worth noting some areas are off-limits to protect nesting bird and sea turtle habitats.) You can find lobster, bonefish, tarpon, grouper, and snapper, amongst others, here.


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Geiger Key

As mentioned earlier, Geiger Key is a great place to try your hand at saltwater fishing too. Head back up the highway about 20 minutes for a chance to catch mahi mahi, blue runners, snapper, bar jack, cobia, and more.


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Saddlebunch Keys

If you’re already in the Geiger Key area, head northeast a little further to the Saddlebunch Keys. With plenty of mangrove areas and bridge connections to explore under, cast out for a chance to catch mangrove snapper, yellowtail, jack crevalle and tarpon.

6 best Key West kayak tours

Whether you’re looking for the best eco tour, mangrove sight-seeing, or combining two of the best warm water activities by kayaking and snorkeling, Key West, Florida has you covered! No matter which tour below interests you, always make sure to check for departure times on their respective websites as these can change depending on weather and tidal conditions.

PHOTO: pexels.com
PHOTO: pexels.com

Eco tours

Key West Eco Tours

If you’re ready to get away from the hustle and bustle of shore and explore the vast natural area the backcountry has to offer, Key West Eco Tours is your ticket. They offer a couple of tour options of varying lengths that wind through mangrove islands, sunny sandbars, and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

Backcountry Tour: 2 hours starting at $65 for adults.

Sail, Kayak, and Snorkel Tour: All-inclusive, half a day (4 hours) tour starting at $115 for all ages.

Honest Eco Tours

For some extra authentic eco-friendliness, Honest Eco Tours is true to their name. Other than their rave-reviewed tours exploring the mangrove islands of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, dolphin watching, and snorkeling amongst coral, sponges, and sea life galore, Honest Eco also offers organic fruits and veggies from a local retailer, use an electric boat for chartering out to the refuge, and take pride in their informational tours about the local ecosystem and wildlife, actively promoting conservation in a fun way.

Kayak & Snorkel Tour: 4 ½ hours at $124/person

“All of the Above” Tour (Kayak, Snorkel, and Watch Dolphins): 5 hours at $145/person

Mangrove tours


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Lazy Dog Adventures

With two tour options, Lazy Dog Adventures promises up-close exploration of the mangrove creeks of the backcountry. “Lazy Dog” is not just a name, either. Your four-legged friends are welcome to come too.

2 Hour Guided Tour: $50/person

3 ½ Hour Guided Kayak & Snorkel Tour: $70


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Kayak Kings of Key West

Join the Kayak Kings on their signature tour: The Mangrove Maze! You’ll wind your way through the narrow water channels of the mangrove forest, where your boat is about the only thing that can fit! Other than the wide variety of creatures living in the waters here, this tour is a great opportunity for bird watching as well.

Mangrove Maze: 2 hours at $45/person; 3 hours at $65/person

Kayak and snorkel tours


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Danger Charters

Another highly rated tour company with 5 stars and almost 5,000 reviews on TripAdvisor, you’re sure to have a top-notch experience on Danger Charters’ Sail, Snorkel, and Kayak trip. It doesn’t get much better than sailing the ocean blue in a schooner, discovering underwater wildlife, and kayaking through mangrove tunnels.

All Day Tour (6.5 hours): $120/adult, $95/child

Morning Half-Day (4.5 hours): $80/adult, $60/child

Afternoon Half-Day (4.5 hours): $90/adult, $70/child

PHOTO: pexels.com by Richard Segal
PHOTO: pexels.com by Richard Segal

Clearly Unique Ocean Adventures

Clearly Unique is just that and offers the only guided tours in clear bottom kayaks in the area! Once you get to your destination in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge by powerboat, spend some time exploring the calm waters in your kayak before taking the plunge with your snorkel gear. Other than coral reefs, sponge gardens, and wildlife viewing, you’ll also get to check out some shipwrecks.

Kayak and Snorkeling Tour: 3 hours at $109/person

What wildlife might you see?

Needless to say, you can find a wide assortment of creatures, on land, in the sea, or the air, around Key West. Here are just a few of the interesting birds, mammals, and more to look for on your excursion.

Sea Wildlife: Horseshoe crabs, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, spiny lobster, shrimp, loggerhead turtles, blue crab, pufferfish, parrotfish, barracuda, lemon sharks, grouper, nurse sharks, iguanas, rays

Birds: Spoonbill cranes, hawks, falcons, Northern gannets, ospreys, frigatebirds, egrets, herons, bald eagles, terns, belted kingfishers, merganser ducks

What you’ll need to go kayaking

PHOTO: pexels.com | Wendy Wei
PHOTO: pexels.com | Wendy Wei

One of the draws of kayaking and canoeing is that you don’t need to take a whole lot of gear with you. If it’s your first time kayaking Key West, or if you just need a refresher, here is a list of recommended items to take to ensure you have the most pleasant experience possible:

  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Drinking water
  • Snacks
  • Bathing suit or light clothing (light both in style—such as shorts and a t-shirt—and color)
  • Waterproof bags are a good idea for valuables (wallet, phone, keys, etc.)
  • Camera
  • A wide-brimmed hat
  • Valid Florida saltwater fishing license and other fishing gear such as poles, line, bait, hooks, etc.

PHOTO: pexels.com | Nextvoyage
PHOTO: pexels.com | Nextvoyage

What’s the weather like in Key West?

Other than, perhaps, hurricane season, there’s never really a bad time of year to visit Key West. The average highs and lows remain reasonable year-round with highs around 85°F and lows at 65°F.

If you’re wanting to avoid summer crowds while still enjoying the terrific weather, winter and spring are both great times to visit. December through March is the driest time of year. The average low during winter is 65° with an average high at about 73°.

There is also a surprisingly low number of tourists during spring as well. Key West receives average lows around 73° and average highs of 83° during this time.

If you happen to get a rain shower on your visit, don’t stress too much. They are usually short-lived and pass quickly.

Although it may be disappointing to know that hurricane season lasts for half of the year, from the beginning of June through the end of November, it might be reassuring to know that the most active time for hurricanes in the Keys is only from August through October.

No matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for in Key West, Florida, you’re sure to find the perfect trip in our kayak guide. With so many options, from a relaxing, sight-seeing trip aboard a clear bottom kayak, an exciting fishing trip at sea, or exploring the twists and turns of a mangrove forest, kayaking Key West will keep you busy for hours… or your entire trip!


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