Kayaking in Florida [10 Best Places]

If you’re a kayaker, Florida has a wealth of beautiful spots you should experience. What are the best places to kayak in Florida?

The 10 best places to go kayaking in Florida are as follows:

  1. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
  2. Juniper Run
  3. Winter Park Chain of Lakes
  4. Blackwater River
  5. Shell Key Preserve
  6. Fort Pierce
  7. Rainbow River
  8. Manatee River
  9. Weeki Wachee River
  10. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Florida is famous for kayaking and canoeing. Each of these destinations offers beautiful natural surroundings that you won’t want to miss.

Read on to learn more about the 10 best places to kayak in Florida and what makes them great.

Kayaking in Florida – 10 Best Places 

The best places for kayaking in Florida are diverse, which you will soon discover through our list below:

1. Ichetucknee Springs State Park

kayaking in Florida

This state park is open all year round for canoeing and kayaking. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated it as a National Natural Landmark due to its unmatched crystalline, clear waters from the surrounding freshwater springs.

Along its 6-mile length, you could witness firsthand softshell turtles, beavers, wild turkeys, wood ducks, otters, and other wildlife animals living in their natural habitat. That is why this location is truly one of the best springs to kayak in Florida.

You could also go snorkeling or do other watersports that you’re interested in. There are numerous activities you can begin doing in this nature haven.

2. Juniper Run

best kayaking in Florida

The Juniper Run, Ocala National Forest, is a perfect paradise to paddle. You can savor the fresh, crispy air and crystal-clear waters.

You could watch the various wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and the verdant matte of cypress and palm trees as you paddle your way through the narrow and meandering waters.

ReserveAmerica named Juniper Run as one of the Top 25 Canoe Runs in the U.S. You shouldn’t miss this 7-mile pure adventure with the remarkable wonders of Mother Nature along the Ocala National Forest.

You will have to bring your inflatable kayak, though, as there are no rentals in the area. [1]

3. Winter Park Chain of Lakes

kayak in South Florida

Next on our list for the best kayaking in Florida is the Winter Park Chain of Lakes. There are six large freshwater lakes that you could explore for unforgettable kayaking in Orlando, Florida adventure. As you paddle through the intricate human-made canals, you may want to capture the historic city’s fascinating architectural designs with your camera.

There are turtles, herons, osprey, and a school of fish that you can witness in their natural environment, firsthand, along the freshwater lakes.

It would also be a relaxing and calming experience as the canal is shaded from the sun’s sweltering heat. Hence, you would enjoy watching the breathtaking scenery comfortably.

4. Blackwater River

The Blackwater River provides a welcome respite to all kinds of kayakers as there are various rentals along its 56-mile stretch. You could go on an overnight kayaking trip or spend only two hours touring the area.

The black river calmly snakes its way through the paddling trail, mesmerizing people with its dark beauty. Your kayaking adventure would end at the Blackwater River State Forest.

Its slow-moving current would lead you to wetlands and forested swamps, but don’t worry as the black-tea-colored water has no alligators. But you could occasionally encounter bobcats, otters, turkeys, and deer within the vicinity.

5. Shell Key Preserve

If you want to experience kayaking in Tampa, Florida, you better visit the Shell Key Preserve.

It provides mangrove forests, white beaches, and unadulterated marine surroundings, where you can watch dolphins, starfish, and other water creatures in their respective territories.

With a transparent kayak, you will have a phenomenal view of all these wonders at the 1,828-acre preserve bordered by a vast, underdeveloped barrier island.

You can only reach the white beaches through paddling. Hence, one of the best attractions of this kayaking journey is visiting these hidden paradise coves.

You could also explore its seagrass beds and hundreds of mangrove islands and immerse yourself in its fantastic biota.

6. Fort Pierce

Fort Pierce offers you a unique night kayaking adventure as in this paddling journey, you will be able to witness bioluminescent comb jellies. You could observe them underneath your kayak as they glow in the dark.

Navigating the coves and mangroves in the darkness will surely be a heart-stopping adventure for you. You may want to get out of your kayak and explore the waters, sandbars, or the surrounding areas during low tide. 

You could hire a tour guide to help you maneuver the mangroves, especially if you decide to do night kayaking.

7. Rainbow River

best kayaking in South Florida

If you’re looking for a place to kayak in Central Florida, then look no further than this magical place.

You can paddle at Dunnellon’s Rainbow River through the spectacular limestone formations and remarkable aquatic life and vegetation. The splendid wildlife and amphibious fauna would hold you in awe as you cruise amidst the rippling, clear waters.

You can rent and launch your kayak at the Rainbow Springs Park and paddle the 6-mile (9.7 km) waterway into the Withlacoochee River.

As you paddle, bask in the wonder of nature past the wilderness of the Ocala National Forest. You could watch turtles, herons, otters, and other aquatic mammals as they play.

The matte of greenery coming from the moss growing on the cypress and pine vegetation is a beautiful sight to behold. The occurrence would seem to put you in the heart of some isolated jungle in the Himalayas and not in North Central Florida.

8. Manatee River

Next on our list for the best kayaking in Florida is the Manatee River. The Manatee River flows magnificently with its 36-mile (57.9 km) length through Manatee County to Tampa Bay.

It’s one of the favorite places for canoeing and kayaking, as you will not run out of scenes to admire during the superb cruise. The river flows into the southern edge of Tampa Bay and Mexico’s Gulf.

The wildlife is as wild as it can get, with alligators, manatees, gar, bass, and other fish species waiting for you to discover them. You may also occasionally find bull sharks in the brackish water.

Note that you could rent your paddling gear and go in the company of other kayakers. You should do this in case you may need each other’s help if you want to spend some time in the sandbars along the Manatee Dam for a refreshing picnic while you savor nature’s beauty around you.

9. Weeki Wachee River

You could take your family for a rejuvenating trip along the 7.4-mile (12.231 km) stretch of the Weeki Wachee River. The three-hour paddling cruise would allow you to witness firsthand the diverse wildlife and aquatic wonder that nature brings. [2]

Weeki Wachee River is often called River Paradise as it’s one of the most beautiful rivers in Florida. The crystal-clear spring water dotted with manatees, raccoons, otters, turtles, herons, deer, and many more mammals is a sight to see.

You may also want to go swimming or bird watching as an extra activity that you could enjoy.

10. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

This island is Florida’s largest barrier island and one of America’s most famous bioluminescence kayaking places. If you want to witness billions of diamond-like plankton glow in the dark waters, this is the best place where you should go night kayaking.

A bioluminescent kayak tour in Florida is a phenomenal experience you should not miss when you are on the island.

Merritt Island provides 140,000 acres of natural preserve and also houses NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Florida’s remarkable ecosystem offers the growth of various wildlife types and animals, such as manatees, alligators, dolphins, and hundreds of bird species.

If you need some kayaking tips to get you started, follow the vital pointers below, and you will thoroughly enjoy your exploration.

6 Tips for Kayaking Beginners

1. Wear the Proper Outfit

kayaking in Tampa Florida

Remember that the temperature in the water may be colder than the weather outside. Thus, wear an outfit that could keep you warmer regardless if you choose to kayak in South Florida or go kayaking in Florida keys. Of course, if it’s summer, you can wear something lighter.

You could don layered clothing, so you can remove the layers whenever necessary. It would help if the outermost layer is waterproof.

Your footwear should also be a slip and waterproof pair to avoid your feet getting soak more often than they should.

2. Learn How to Paddle Correctly

If you’re new to kayaking, you must learn how to paddle correctly before going out in the waters and experience the best kayaking in Central Florida. It would be best if you kept a good posture with your shoulders relaxed and your back straight. Don’t lean back.

Rest your feet comfortably on the foot pedals, with your legs splayed out and flexed. You would suffer less back pain and muscle strain with the correct posture. You would also be safer in the water.

Choose a kayak that you feel comfortable in. You may want to rest and watch your surroundings at some point in your journey; so, your seat should be comfortable to lounge in. Rentals in the area could provide you a kayak of your choice.

3. Wear Your Life Jacket

You can choose between a U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III or Type V life jacket. Type V includes pullovers and rescue jackets. Learn how to use them properly. It would help if you considered safety as your priority.

Ensure that everyone has a life jacket before starting your cruise. There are rentals in launching points where you can rent all the kayaking gears you need.

4. Take Pictures

Take snapshots of your journey, so you can relive the moment with your family and friends anytime you want to. Photographs capture your memorable happenings and are precious jewels you could look back to in your old age.

Naturally, it would be best if you chose a waterproof and shock-proof camera during this trip. Experts recommend a video camera because it could capture both pictures and videos.

Also, bring extra batteries and paraphernalia. You wouldn’t want to run out of battery while in the middle of taking a spectacular scene.

5. Beware of Alligators

Generally, alligators in the freshwater, lakes, marshes, and swamps of Florida don’t attack kayakers as long as they leave them alone. Nevertheless, there are few instances of alligators attacking the kayaks causing minor injuries to kayakers.

Hence, steer clear of alligators and take heed of notices put up in such habitats. Note that you cannot shoot or kill an alligator unless it attacks you.

Florida law prohibits feeding, capturing, injuring, possessing, or killing alligators and their eggs. The act is considered a third-degree felony and is punishable by law.

Don’t attempt to do any of these acts unless you have a permit. This law is created because alligators are classified as one of the endangered species. [3]

6. Enjoy Your Adventure

kayaking in Orlando Florida

Most probably, one of the reasons why you have decided to go kayaking is to relax and take a respite from city life or the burden of daily life. Hence, maximize your exploration.

Take time to explore your surroundings as you pass through the waterways. Feel free to submerge your feet in the water or swim – if permitted.

This event is also a special moment to spend quality time with family members or friends. Your loved ones may be waiting for you to invite them for a refreshing getaway. Thus, please make the most out of it.

Conclusion – Kayaking in Florida – 10 Best Places 

Kayaking in Florida is a must adventure for kayakers. You can choose one or more of these 10 best places to kayak in Florida:

  1. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
  2. Juniper Run
  3. Winter Park Chain of Lakes
  4. Blackwater River
  5. Shell Key Preserve
  6. Fort Pierce
  7. Rainbow River
  8. Manatee River
  9. Weeki Wachee River
  10. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Take note of the tips and get yourself ready for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure only found in the waterways of Florida.

If it’s your first time going kayaking, we recommend a guided tour. Perhaps, next trip you can go alone, or go with your family or friends. 

Related reading:

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness [Activities, Routes, Permits]

Canoe in Illinois [Best 16 Places for Canoeing in Illinois]

Kayak in Tampa Bay [Best Places for Kayaking]

Best Places to Kayak in Florida – Top 14 Places