Taylor Family Kayaking at Silver Springs State Park Ocala National Forest Florida 2021 10
Kayaking in Florida State Parks and National Park waterways make a trip to the Sunshine State unforgettable. Top picks for the best spots to kayak in the Florida Keys, National Parks, the Gulf Coast and North Florida.
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When people think of Florida, they might not automatically think about kayaking.  As it turns out, there are over 1200 miles of coastline stretching along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Opportunities abound for recreational kayaking in the Sunshine State – from the Atlantic side to the Gulf of Mexico.

Many state and national parks in Florida offer easy access to waterways and other destinations such as beaches, rivers, creeks, lakes, springs, and wildlife refuges. Whether you’re looking for a gentle paddle or a glorious multi-day kayaking trip, Florida has you covered. It’s one of our favorite kayaking destinations!

Kayaking in Florida State Parks and National Park waterways make a trip to the Sunshine State unforgettable. Top picks for the best spots to kayak in the Florida Keys, National Parks, the Gulf Coast and North Florida.

Kayaking in Florida’s State Parks Need to Knows

The following parks offer great accessible kayaking spots for quick day trips, family outings, or just a more leisurely paddle. Be mindful that most of Florida is known for its hot, humid weather, with brutal summers well into the 90s. Winter, while more pleasant, rarely see temperatures below 70 degrees. Moreover, when planning your trip, be mindful of hurricane season, which typically runs from June to November, with September being the peak month.

While some visitors will come for an adventure, most are leisure travelers who want to avoid the bugs and the heat. Just a stone’s throw from some of the significant Floridian cities is the vast spaces that make for your next great adventure.

Most Florida State Parks have kayak rentals available if the park is a good place for it, but if there isn’t a vendor, you can usually bring your own gear for a nominal launch fee ($4-6). In any waterway, you are required to have a PFD available for each paddler, but those over 6 aren’t required to wear them at all times. WE RECOMMEND ALL KIDS UNDER 14 WEAR A PFD WHILE UNDERWAY.

Taylor Family Paddling on Wekiva River with Stanley Growler 2020 4

Top Picks for Florida Keys Kayaking in State and National Parks

The Florida Keys are absolutely beautiful, with turquoise waters and wildlife everywhere. There are actually more than 10 state and National Park sites in the Keys, most with kayaking and SUP opportunities.

Kayaking at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State is located in the backcountry of Florida Bay and Everglades National Park, and is one of best places to kayak in the Florida Keys. The park’s uniqueness is a result of the Everglades’ freshwater colliding with the salt waters of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, creating a diverse ecosystem teeming with wildlife. Complete with dolphins, crocodiles, seabirds, and an underwater world with opportunities for snorkeling, beginner paddlers will enjoy many activities. The beautiful scenery is great for beginners as the area is free of motorized boats and crowds. We recommend checking out the Dusenbury Creek which allows paddlers to kayak through mangrove tunnels. Visit Florida Bay Outfitters or  Out There Key Largo Kayak and Fishing Expeditions for kayak tours.

For more info on John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, visit their website: https://pennekamppark.com/ 

Where to launch:

Kayaking at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Key Largo Florida Keys 2020 2

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

The protected Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the tranquil region, is a great place to explore nature by kayak. Beginners can rent shallow-draft kayaks and will be able to venture out into the pristine backcountry waters. Paddlers can see marine mammals and roosting birds by gliding over shallow seagrass beds and thick mangrove tunnels. The islands and bays are perfect for beginners, given the sheltered bays. The diversity of the marine life ecosystems spans from Key Largo to Key West over 100 miles and is part of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. This is a SUP Friendly paddling destination.

Visit The Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary website to read more about kayaking in the protected area, which includes a portion of Curry Hammock State Park and others.

Where to launch:

Taylor Family Kayaking at Curry Hammock State Park Fat Duck Key Marathon Florida Keys 2020 9

Bahia Honda State Park for Kayaking 

The waters at Bahia Honda State Park are perfect for kayakers and make a great stop on a Florida Keys road trip. Pristine waters will spoil paddlers and white-sand beaches sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. You can paddle to Little Bahia Honda from launching from Loggerhead Beach. Bring snorkels as the park is also home to some of the most vibrant coral reefs in Florida.

Where to launch:

  • Bahia Honda State Park 36850 Overseas Highway Big Pine Key, Florida 33043 CALL for current conditions: (305) 872-2353  **Rentals available
Kayak Rental Sign at Bahia Honda State Park Big Pine Key Florida Keys 2020 1

Kayaking in Florida’s National Parks

Given the vast outdoor space of Florida, it’s easy to find epic multi-day adventures paddling through the great wilderness. An endless number of outfitters will help you plan your trip and guide you through the rugged terrain safely. Those looking for a challenge surrounded by Floridian wildlife won’t be disappointed. 

Everglades National Park Paddling

Everglades National Park is a subtropical paradise for kayakers. With its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, kayakers can choose which side of the park to start on a multi-day excursion. The best way to take in the Everglades is through the Wilderness Waterway, a trail between Everglades City and Flamingo. Tide charts will be your savior from getting stuck in mud during low tide.

It is recommended to make this trip during the winter or spring, taking full advantage of the winds. Multi-day trips start in Everglades City and end in Flamingo. Embarking on this trip is best done through an outfitter as it requires planning and back-country permits.

Kayaking tour idea: Clear Kayaking out of Naples, FL, just north of Everglades National Park. You get the same environment/habitat experience, but can also see underwater via a clear kayak. Check out more Clear Kayaking on the Florida Gulf Coast here!

Our recommended outfitter: Everglades Florida Adventure.  To help you plan your trip, visit the National Park Service website.  

Where to launch:

Alligator and Shorebird in swamp Everglades NPS Shark Valley 1

Dry Tortugas National Park

Beyond a kayak trip, Dry Tortugas National Park provides spectacular snorkeling in crystal clear waters filled with coral reef and marine life. It is home to the historic Fort Jefferson, one of the US’ largest 19th-century forts. Rich in history and beautiful scenery, it is worth the two-hour trip via ferry. Paddlers can load their kayaks onto the ferry and need a permit to explore the area. You MUST check in with a park ranger upon arrival.

For more information on kayaking Dry Tortugas, visit the National Park Service website or the park transportation’s official website. 

Where to launch (in this case, catch the ferry):

Fort Jefferson in Distance Dry Tortugas National Park Key West Florida Keys 2020 8

Biscayne National Park Near Miami

Kayakers wanting to visit Biscayne National Park will find plenty of opportunities to explore the mangrove-lined shorelines and shallow bay waters. The park’s expansive Biscayne Bay is perfect for crossing to Elliott or Boca Chita Keys, and experienced kayakers can find plenty of enjoyable routes to explore. Adams Key is the most popular launching spot and a great spot to base yourself and explore the lagoons, creeks, and channels. Given the shallow waters, you won’t see motorized vessels in the area, and you’ll have the place all to yourself.

The most simple and beautiful kayaking route goes from the kayak landing near the visitor center parking area and cuts across the small bay. Circle the mangrove islands, visit the canal to look for manatees and swimming iguanas, then paddle through the mangroves.

Visit the National Park Services website for more information.  

Iguana Swimming at Biscayne National Park Florida 1

Bioluminescent Kayaking at Canaveral National Seashore

A truly unique experience, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a part of Canaveral National Seashore, is one of the few places in the continental USA that you can kayak in bioluminescent waters. After day the waters come alive with glowing plankton as you paddle. Clear kayaking with the bioluminescence is amazing!

You can go out on your own or take a tour, but if you haven’t been before, a guide is recommended. Kayaking at Canaveral National Seashore is really special and you won’t forget the experience of cutting your way through glowing blue waters in night.

Where to launch:

Sunset and Bioluminescence on Mosquito Lagoon Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Titusville Florida 2020 1

Big Cypress National Preserve

If you’re a kayaker looking for an unforgettable Florida adventure, be sure to check out Big Cypress National Preserve. Bordering the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress is a diverse marine estuary swamp spanning over 700,000 acres. The preserve is home to various plant life and animals, including the endangered Florida panther. There are many trails to explore, but the best time to paddle the waterways is between November and March when temperatures are more tolerable.

For more information, including any paddling trail closures, visit the National Park Services website

Where to launch: 

Resting Alligator in Big Cypress National Preserve 8

Kayaking in Florida State Parks on the Gulf Coast

There are several Florida State Parks on the Gulf Coast (west coast of FL) that offer unique salt water kayaking that ISN’T battling currents and ocean waves. While there are still tidal currents to consider on the Gulf side, they aren’t as strong as in the Florida Keys or the Intracoastal Waterway on the Atlantic side.

Honeymoon Island and Caladesi State Park

Just a short drive out of Tampa is one of Florida’s most beloved parks, Honeymoon Island State Park. For those wanting an escape from the city, kayaking the area offers four miles of beach and a virgin pine forest filled with eagles, osprey, and great horned owls, as well as many land animals. Tortoises, raccoons, and armadillos are common.

While a ferry shuttles most visitors to the neighboring state park, Caladesi Island, we prefer paddling! Be mindful of larger vessels though as you paddle to Caladesi Island, and say hi to the dolphins for us!

For park information, visit the Florida State Parks site

Clear Water and Mangroves at Honeymoon Island State Park Dunedin Florida Gulf Coast 2

Cayo Costa State Park

If you’re looking to kayak in a beautiful, natural setting, Cayo Costa State Park is the place for you. With near miles of trails winding their way through three distinct ecosystems, you’ll find plenty to explore. The park’s highlight is the over 8 miles of undeveloped, natural beaches – perfect for finding seclusion and some well-deserved peace and quiet. The park’s numerous islands and passages between them are teeming with wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, alligators, osprey, eagles, and many seabirds. One highlight includes the Manatee Hole, a small lagoon where manatees can be seen year-round.

For more information, visit the Cayo Costa State Park section of the Florida State Parks website.

Where to launch: 

Cayo Costa State Park Kayaking Gulf Coast Florida 1

Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Looking for a place to kayak and find some peace and quiet? Look no further than the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is located between Marco Island and Everglades City. It is full of mangrove islands, which offer a beautiful landscape of intense green foliage, vivid blue sky, and abundant wildlife. If you’re looking for a kayak trail to tackle, the Sandfly Island trail is perfect for those with moderate kayaking experience.

For more information, visit National Park Service website

Where to launch: 

Entrance to 10000 Islands Everglades National Park Gulf Coast 1

North Florida State Parks for Kayaking

The sights and nature in North Florida are very different from the Gulf Side or the Florida Keys. From the freshwater springs to braided river deltas, North Florida state parks offer a varied kayaking experiences including paddling with manatees, epic bird watching and paddling through the grass islands of the coast.

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park is a great place for kayakers to visit, most famous for its glass-bottom boats that help visitors discover one of the nation’s largest springs. This is also one of the best springs to see manatees in Florida. There are plenty of trails and campgrounds to explore, and the river provides a pristine wilderness experience. Beautiful gardens and historic structures surround the main spring, and the park hosts the annual Springsfest celebration. Kayaking allows you to experience an ancient forest surrounded by sandhills. There are options for an hour paddle or a longer half-day paddle that journeys five miles of the Silver River towards the Ocklawaha River (a personal favorite and rather technical paddle!).

For further information on kayaking Silver Springs State Park visit their official website.

Where to launch:

Manatee Underwater at Silver Springs State Park Ocala Florida 1

Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve

Kayakers visiting the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve can explore the 6,000 years of human history while enjoying the beauty of salt marshes, coastal dunes, and hardwood hammocks. The preserve offers excellent places for kayaking, and the outfitter, Kayak Amelia, provides rentals and other tours in the area. The region is one of the last unspoiled Atlantic Coast coastal wetlands. This is a wonderful, SUP friendly paddling area.

For further information on kayaking in the area, check out the Timucuan paddling trails.

Where to launch:

Waterway Kayaking at Amelia Island Florida 1

Kayaking with Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

One of the best places to see manatees in huge numbers, Blue Spring State Park is about an hour from Orlando. Here you’ll find swimming areas, as well and wonderful paddling trails. Kayak rentals are available on a first come first served basis at the state park, and it is a very popular place, so get there early if you don’t have your own gear. March through November you can paddle in the crystal clear run at Blue Spring State Park, but in winter months it is closed to kayaks and SUPs due to the hundreds of manatees that congregate.

Launch from the French’s Landing boat ramp and paddle upstream on the St Johns River for lots of wildlife and interesting waterways. The bend in the river offers access to Snake Creek, which is a tight but beautiful paddle all the way into Hontoon Island State Park.

Where to launch:

Taylor Family on Kayaking at Blue Spring State Park Orange City Florida 2020 4

Recommended Kayaking Tours in near Orlando

We realized many visitors come to Florida visiting Disneyworld and the theme parks in Orlando. The following tours are a suitable alternative to the more adventurous paddling in the national and state parks listed above for those wanting some time on the water. This is ideal for taking a break from the theme parks and getting into nature easily.

Bioluminescence on Haulover Canal Merritt Island NWR Titusville Florida 2020 4

When to Visit Florida for Kayaking

While kayaking is a year round sport in Florida’s state and national parks, visiting in summer means you’ll be paddling in some intense heat. That’s fine if you are well prepared with sun protection and plenty of water, and if you go out in the morning. Visiting in fall and spring is best though, as the temps are more bearable.

Weather in Florida

The best kayak in Florida is typically from late October to early March. These months have relatively low rainfall levels and cooler temperatures without too much heat and humidity. The weather is usually calmer during this time, and you’re more likely to see migratory birds and other wildlife. Keep in mind that there may be more storms later in March and into April.

Summer you will need to be wary of storms, and the possibility of getting hit by lightning, though rare, is very much possible. The Atlantic Hurricane Season starts on June 1 and lasts until November 30. The season peaks in August and early October as surface temperatures in the Atlantic hit their highest temperatures.

Sunset Kayaking on Mosquito Lagoon at Merritt Island NWR Titusville Florida 2020 1

Need to Know for South Florida

Mosquitoes are a common problem throughout Florida and can ruin a kayaking trip. The best time to kayak in South Florida is winter when the mosquitoes are less prevalent. If you do go during the summer, be sure to take precautions against mosquitoes and use insect repellent. Again, the weather is generally cooler during the winter, making it a better time to kayak. Additionally, the tides are more predictable during this time of year, making it easier to plan your trip. You’ll face mosquitos on the Gulf side and in North Florida, but it’s not as bad as in South Florida.

Manatees in Marina at Marathon Key Florida Keys 2020 4

There are, of course, many more Florida state parks and national park paddling spots than we’ve included here, but these are our top picks for a wide variety of kayaking experiences. If you have any questions or additional suggestions, please leave a comment so we can follow up with you.

Kayaking in Florida State Parks and National Park waterways make a trip to the Sunshine State unforgettable. Top picks for the best spots to kayak in the Florida Keys, National Parks, the Gulf Coast and North Florida.

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