Best Places to Kayak in Florida
According to the 2019 Special Report on Paddlesports, kayaking is the most popular type of water paddling sport. Nearly 23 million people in the United States participated in paddlesports in 2018. Kayaking, in particular, is an excellent way to stay active and challenge yourself while immersing yourself in nature. Depending on the type of trip you want, it can be a source of peaceful relaxation or a thrilling adventure.
Florida is one of the best places to kayak in the U.S. thanks to its warm temperatures and easy access to both saltwater and freshwater. Plus, Florida is lush with beautiful landscapes, scenery and natural wildlife. No matter where you go, a kayaking trip in Florida means witnessing breathtaking views and experiencing the outdoors in an intimate, special way.
Read the full guide or jump to a specific section:
- Saltwater Kayaking vs. Freshwater Kayaking
- Kayaking in Florida: Top Spots to Check Out
- Kayaking in Florida: Frequently Asked Questions
- Launch Your Kayak With Ease With EZ Dock
Saltwater Kayaking vs. Freshwater Kayaking
In Florida, you have access to freshwater rivers and lakes, as well as saltwater estuaries and ocean trails. There are a few differences between saltwater and freshwater kayaking you should know before heading out on your Florida adventure.
- Your kayak system matters: The most significant difference between saltwater and freshwater kayaking is your kayak system. There are sea kayaks — also known as saltwater kayaks — and lake kayaks — also called freshwater or river kayaks. Sea kayaks are generally wider, longer and outfitted with rudders and skags to help navigate ocean waters more easily. When purchasing your kayak, take into consideration the types of trails you want to explore. If you would like to do a little of both, consider renting a kayak for the day at a kayak launch spot or outdoor recreation center.
- Consider water safety: When kayaking or swimming in saltwater, you must be aware of the tides and currents at all times. Even in calm waters, riptides and ocean currents post a threat to unaware kayakers.
- Recreational opportunities differ: Different types of waters mean different types of recreational opportunities when on your kayaking adventure. For example, if you are paddling an ocean trail, consider fishing for sea fish. Lake trails are ideal for turning kayak excursions into all-out camping trips.
- A vast array of wildlife: The best kayaking in Florida will expose you to beautiful southern wildlife. Depending on the type of water you are exploring, that wildlife could mean manatees, dolphins or alligators.
Kayaking in Florida: Top Spots to Check Out
The Sunshine State is large and diverse. Each region in Florida has different lakes, rivers and ocean access, resulting in multiple types of possible kayak excursions. For example, kayaking in southern Florida is often a different experience than kayaking in the Panhandle or on the northeast coast. We have compiled a list of some of the most popular kayaking destinations, as well as a few hidden gems. Use this as a guide to kayaking in Florida, but remember — some of the best places are those you discover yourself.
Are you heading for the Florida panhandle? If you want to know where to go kayaking in North Florida, check out Perdido River and Holmes Creek.
- Perdido River: Perdido River is a beginner-friendly spot that spans parts of both Alabama and Florida. Water is dark and tea-colored with plenty of sandbars, perfect for lunch breaks or even a riverside camp out.
- Holmes Creek: Holmes Creek is a diverse, gently curving waterway that is abundant in plants and wildlife, including heron, turtles and water lilies. Some parts of Holmes Creek are sandy, while other parts take you through swamplands.
North Central Florida
North Central is home to some of the best kayaking in North Florida, including:
- Cedar Key: Cedar Key, an island off the Gulf Coast, is a sea-kayakers paradise. The waters are easy to moderate, depending on the tide. While you’re there, be sure to stop by the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.
- Suwannee River Trail: Suwannee River Trail flows from Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia to the Gulf in Florida. This trail can take you to some of the best springs to kayak in Florida. Water is cool and ranges from easy to challenging waters, depending on the water level. Many kayakers love the Suwannee River Trail because of its easy access to clear water springs, state parks and river campsites.
Anastasia and Pumpkin Hill Creek State Parks in Northeast Florida offer a variety of kayaking, including gentle marsh water.
- Anastasia State Park: Anastasia State Park is home to more than 1,600 acres of beach and marsh water, including Salt Run. When kayaking the flat waters of Salt Run, expect to see the occasional dolphin or even a manatee.
- Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park: You’ll find Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park near the north side of Jacksonville. Paddlers and kayakers spend hours on Pumpkin Hill Creek marsh waters, bird watching or just relaxing on the gentle waters.
Central West Florida
Central West Florida is home to Rainbow River and the beloved Weeki Wachee.
- Rainbow River: Rainbow River boasts vast wildlife and crystal clear waters. Kayakers and paddlers flock to Rainbow River, making it one of the busiest destinations on this list. But don’t let that stop you — bring a group of friends with you, or use this as an opportunity to meet fellow kayakers.
- Weeki Wachee: Known by many as a river of paradise, Weeki Wachee’s warm waters, palm trees and frequent West Indian manatee sightings make it the perfect excursion for both sightseers or sport kayakers.
Wondering where you can kayak in Central Florida? Fisheating and Arbuckle Creeks have something for everyone.
- Fisheating Creek: Fisheating Creek is a breathtaking, scenic free-flowing tributary that feeds into Lake Okeechobee. It is a moderately challenging kayak trail lined with cypress trees and Spanish moss. Before you head out, be sure to check the water levels that day, as levels tend to fluctuate drastically here.
- Arbuckle Creek: Arbuckle Creek is, for the most part, an undiscovered gem. The creek is a moderately challenging, 3-mile paddle. Aside from wildlife, you can expect privacy and peaceful quiet. Although the trail is located near the training area of the Avon Park Air Force Range, no need to worry — the waterway is a safe distance away.
Central East Florida
For paddlers in the Central East region of the state, check out these top places to kayak:
- St. Lucie River: St. Lucie River is an easy day trip from Fort Lauderdale. This winding body of water is actually a saltwater estuary that grows into a freshwater river. On your journey, expect to find several islands, beaches and maybe even a few alligators or manatees.
- Indian River Lagoon: Indian River Lagoon is located near Merrit Island and is a good place to kayak if you’re looking to avoid motorboats. Water is open and mostly shallow, but home to a lot of wildlife in their natural habitat, including dolphins and alligators.
Southwest Florida is home to some of the best places to kayak in South Florida.
- The Great Calusa Blueway: The Great Calusa Blueway is a popular kayak destination that spans 190 nonlinear miles and consists of bays, sounds, mangrove tunnels, creeks and more. The Blueway offers something for every type of paddler, including beginners, adventurous kayakers or those hoping to experience Florida wildlife up close.
- Shell Creek: Shell Creek is a beginner-friendly kayak destination with a slight current near Punta Canta. The shoreline is largely untouched and littered with fossilized shells.
Wondering where to go kayaking in South Florida? Look no further. In the southeast part of the state, you can spend your day venturing through mangrove tunnels or sunny freshwater rivers.
- MacArthur State Park: Here, kayakers can paddle through mangrove tunnels and saltwater lagoons until they reach historic Munyon Island. Munyon Island is only reachable by boat, making MacArthur State Park a go-to destination for adventurous kayakers interested in exploring land and water.
- Middle River: Middle River is a calm, freshwater destination with plenty of sunshine and little boat traffic. It is ideal for beginners who are just getting comfortable on their kayak or experienced paddlers looking for a good way to spend a lazy afternoon.
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys are a top destination for outdoor adventurers due to the natural beauty and abundant wildlife found here.
- Indian Key State Park: Indian Key is an 11-acre island accessible only by boat. The island is surrounded by clear, glassy water with beds of shallow seagrass, resulting in a leisurely paddle that takes about a half an hour.
- Long Key State Park: Near Long Key State Park, you will find a shallow, sheltered kayak path along the coastline. Relax on the water while birdwatching, or stop to snorkel along the way.
Kayaking in Florida: Frequently Asked Questions
A little bit of preparation and research is all it takes to get the most out of your Florida kayaking trip. Not sure where to begin? Here are some frequently asked questions about kayaking in the Sunshine State.
Is Kayaking in Florida Safe?
No matter where you kayak, it is important that you understand how to stay safe on the water. Follow these tips, and you are on your way to a fun, memorable and safe Florida kayaking trip:
- Always check the weather before heading out for a day on the water. Do not kayak in stormy weather or when winds and tides are too strong to navigate safely.
- Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated throughout your trip. Even on overcast days, don’t risk dampening your kayak trip with sunburn or dehydration.
- Understand how to behave near wildlife, including alligators. Never disturb wildlife.
- Travel with others whenever possible. If you are a solo paddler, make sure you tell someone where and when you are going and when to expect your return.
- Wear a life jacket, even in calm waters. Tides, currents and strong winds can change water conditions quickly.
- Avoid kayaking in areas outside of your experience level. Beginners should start their journey on easy, calm waters before venturing to moderate or challenging trails.
- Know where to go kayaking in Florida. Avoid restricted areas, as they are prohibited for your safety.
Do I Need to Register My Kayak?
It depends. In Florida, motorized kayaks require a title and registration, no matter the length. Non-motorized kayaks under 16 feet typically do not. You can apply for a vessel registration at your local county tax collector or license plate agent.
What Do I Need to Kayak in Florida?
The top places to kayak in Florida are breathtaking and scenic. However, this scenery and adventure bring you into direct contact with the hot sun, insects, wildlife and more. To get the most out of your kayaking trip, always have these essentials:
- Your kayak and kayak paddles
- A properly fitting lifejacket
- Your title and registration, if applicable
- A bilge pump to remove water from your vessel if necessary
- A bottle of water-resistant sunscreen
- Plenty of water-resistant insect repellant — especially in marsh areas
- Drinking water and snacks
- A dry bag for personal belongings, like your keys, wallet, cellphone or lip balm
- A marine whistle or another sound-making device
If you are going for a long, adventurous or challenging kayak trip, consider safety gear such as:
- A map and compass
- Emergency flares
- A two-way radio
- Emergency shelter, like a small tent
- Firestarter or matches in a waterproof container
Other kayaking gear that you might want to bring, but do not necessarily need, include:
- Binoculars for bird watching or sightseeing
- A camera for capturing the moment
- Water shoes and water gloves for optimal comfort
- A sunhat or sunglasses to keep your face cool and vision clear in sunlight
If you plan to do other activities during your kayak trip — such as fishing, camping or snorkeling — you always want to be sure to bring all the necessary equipment.
What Regulations Surround Kayaking in Florida?
When kayaking in Florida, you must abide by some regulations, including:
- Lifejackets: Everyone under the age of 6 must wear an approved floatation device. Otherwise, you should always have at least one approved flotation device onboard for every person.
- Visibility: In periods of low light — including sunrise and sunset — or dense fog, you must carry a light on your kayak, such as a flashlight or lantern. This light only needs to be displayed when another kayak or vessel approaches.
- Sounding device: A sounding device, like a marine whistle, is required for Florida kayaking. Use it to signal to other boaters that you are heading their way.
- Awareness: In most Florida waters, there are laws surrounding manatee awareness and seagrass awareness. Never do anything that damages or disturbs a manatee or destroys a bed of seagrass.
- Safety: Never operate a boat or kayak while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This could result in injury to you or others.
In addition to abiding by these regulations, always check your launch area and kayak trail for posted signs that might prohibit fishing, swimming, pets or boat access. Failing to follow regulations or posted signs may result in a fine. Additionally, always make sure you are not kayaking on anyone’s private property.
Launch Your Kayak With Ease With EZ Dock
Take the stress out of kayaking with EZ Launch. The EZ Kayak Launch by EZ Dock is an innovative docking system that makes kayak entry and exits a breeze. The EZ Kayak Launch features:
- A one-piece design: Our one-piece design moves with the fluctuating water, making it easy to access.
- A more stable entry: Integrated and secure paddle notches and V-shaped entry keeps your kayak stable so you can launch safely and with ease.
- Easy installation: EZ Kayak Launch has seamless connections that allow it to attach to virtually any dock, including both standard floating and traditional fixed docks.
- Options: EZ Kayak Launch is wide enough to easily accommodate both kayaks and canoes.
All EZ Dock products are constructed with durable material and designed to withstand inclement weather. With traditional wooden docks, you risk getting a splinter or burning your feet on sunny days. Our slip-resistant, splinter-free dock surfaces provide a comfortable experience, even during hot temperatures. Our docks are also easily configured to meet your specific requirements. The best part? EZ Dock products are low maintenace in both saltwater and freshwater. Gone are the days of pressure washing, frequent repainting or replacing rotten boards.