Marvin Key Kayakers Florida Keys 1
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The Florida Keys are a chain of around 1700 islands stretching from the tip of mainland Florida and drifting west to Key West. Kayaking the Florida Keys is a bucket list item for many, and there are plenty of backwaters to check out… without crowds of vacationers. Yes, you’ll see some avid nature lovers, but kayaking the Florida keys is a sure way to see another side of the famous islands.

Kayaking the Florida Keys takes you away from the crowds and out into nature. Find out more about the Florida Keys kayaking trail, wildlife, and best launch spots through the Keys, including Key West.

What to Expect Kayaking the Florida Keys

Paddle a kayak through the backcountry waters of the Florida Keys, and you’ll see one of the world’s most diverse marine life ecosystems. The quiet, shallow backwater region of flats and mangrove islands has inspired many naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts to combine environmental tourism with the sport of sea kayaking.

Between large and small islands, kayaking the Florida Keys provides diverse views and habitats to explore. No two islands are the same… and there are nearly 1700 of them.

Great White Heron NWR Marvin Key Clouds Florida Keys

SUGARLOAF KEY, Florida Keys — The flat calm waters of the Florida Keys backcountry are a popular location for pleasure boaters in the Lower Keys. The mangrove islands are situated roughly 5 miles from the main island chain and feature sandy bottom and crystal-clear waters. Many areas in the backcountry are part of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. (Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bu

Wildlife in the Florida Keys

Not easily accessible to boat traffic, the backcountry area is largely untraveled, unspoiled and teeming with fascinating plant and animal life. Avian inhabitants include roseate spoonbills, osprey, great white herons and even some bald eagles. The roots of the tangled mangroves are a great place to spot young grouper, lobster and barracuda, while the sponge flats are home to bright-colored sponges and soft corals. And we can’t forget about manatees!

In part because Keys waters are protected within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the tranquil region is an excellent locale for exploring nature by kayak.

Manatee in Turquoise Waters Florida

Locals Love Kayaking the Keys

It takes a special type of person to live in the Florida Keys, and those people care deeply for this unique island chain.

“Everything in the Keys has some layer of protection designated by the sanctuary,” said Bill Keogh, owner and operator of Big Pine Kayak Adventures in the Lower Keys. An expert kayak and nature guide, nature photographer and author, Keogh has explored the Lower Keys for decades and knows them intimately.

“The shallow, clear, protected waters contribute to the pristine condition of the Florida Keys,” Keogh said. “That’s what folks want to see and these conditions are ideal for wildlife viewing.”

Marvin Key Kayakers Florida Keys 1

SUGARLOAF KEY, Florida Keys — Kayakers paddle over a stretch of sandy flats near Marvin Key in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. Located a few miles off Sugarloaf Key, Fla., at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, the region’s islands and inlets offer boaters, flats fishermen and snorkelers a realm of calm, clear waters year-round. (Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bur

Florida Keys Kayaking Trail

The kayaking trail throughout the Keys runs some 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West. Each area of the destination features specific spots for optimal paddling and close-up viewing of the Keys’ natural world.

Key Largo Kayaking Sites

Key Largo offers launching locations at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Sunset Park, Dove Creek and Florida Bay Outfitters, among others.

Check out the kayaking launch sites here!

Monica Woll, owner and operator of Florida Bay Outfitters with her husband Frank, said they welcome kayakers to launch from their shop. “Since we’re located in Key Largo, we use Pennekamp and occasionally go to Dusenberry Creek which is canopied over,” said Woll. She echoes Keogh regarding the beauties of kayaking in the Keys.

“The water is so clear and there are so many things to see like stingrays, sharks and turtles,” Woll said. “Kayaks have no problem with the shallow dips of the water, so it’s really the perfect boat to explore nature.”

Kayakers paddle along mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Fla. The nation’s first underwater preserve encompasses 70 square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Islamorada Launch Spots

Continuing south through the destination, launching sites can be found at Islamorada’s Founders Park, Lorelei Restaurant (and they have rentals), Whale Harbor Channel Bridge, Florida Keys Kayak at Robbie’s Marina and Anne’s Beach. Whether you are bringing your own gear or you need to rent a kayak, Islamorada has many options.

And who doesn’t want to experience sunset kayaking in the Florida Keys?

Lorelei Restaurant Sunset Islamorado Florida Keys 1

Launching from Marathon Key

In the heart of the Keys at Marathon, kayakers can launch from Curry Hammock State Park, Tom’s Harbor Cut (by Duck Key) and Sombrero Beach. You’ll find addition spots for putting in, but these are easy options for any skill level.

Continuing southwest through the Lower Keys, the Old Wooden Bridge Marina, Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key Reef Resort (book it here!), and Dolphin Marina will keep you moving through the island chain. Backcountry kayaking in the Florida Keys get quieter and quietr as you go.

Before you get to Key West, there are three sites on No Name Key that are prime launching spots in the Lower Keys. These will let you circumnavigate No Name Key and explore the eastern edge of Big Pin Key.

SUGARLOAF KEY, Florida Keys — The flat calm waters of the Florida Keys backcountry are a popular location for pleasure boaters in the Lower Keys. The mangrove islands are situated roughly 5 miles from the main island chain and feature sandy bottom and crystal-clear waters. Many areas in the backcountry are part of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. (Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bu

Kayaking at Key West

At the end of the island chain is Key West. Known for many things, including being the LGBTQ destination of the keys and Ernest Hemmingway’s stomping grounds, there are countless ways to spend your time in Key West.

Key West kayaking launch sites include Key West City Marina, Smathers, Higgs, Simonton Street and Dog beaches and Lazy Dog Adventures (they do tours and rentals as well).

Guided kayak excursions are available throughout the Keys, designed for paddlers of all skill levels. Kayak rentals are available for those who want to venture into the backcountry waters on their own.

Note: always have an offline map downloaded onto a smart phone if you’re kayaking the Florida Keys on your own. If you paddle far and lose your way, an offline map with GPS will help you out a ton.

KEY WEST, Florida Keys — The southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West lies at the tip of the 125-mile Florida Keys island chain and is located just 90 miles from Cuba. With an average temperature of 77 degrees, the island is a popular visitor destination. Attractions include a rich cultural community, historic architecture and a relaxed, laidback charm. (Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bure

With their pristine conditions, abundant wildlife and numerous launch sites, the Keys can be a paradise for kayakers. Even a strong wind, the kayakers’ worst enemy, doesn’t have to scuttle a day of paddling in the island chain. If high winds make conditions rough, just heed the words of expert kayak guide Bill Keogh: “You can always find an island somewhere in the Keys to hide behind and kayak.”

For more information about kayaking and other ecotourism activities in the Florida Keys, visit Florida Keys Ecotourism.

Kayaking the Florida Keys takes you away from the crowds and out into nature. Find out more about the Florida Keys kayaking trail, wildlife, and best launch spots through the Keys, including Key West.

For more Florida kayaking and paddling information, check out our Florida Paddle Destination page.


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