Florida is a water state. Not only are we surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but there are many miles of rivers, bays, and large lakes throughout. For those who enjoy kayaking or canoeing, Florida, obviously, has much to offer. Here is a list of top paddle trips that will help you explore Florida’s waterways.
1. Ocklawaha River In Central Florida
5 Or 12 miles
This, in my opinion, is the best river paddle trip in Florida. You paddle downstream with the current. There isn’t a lot of twisting and turning in the river channel, so you don’t have to contend with tricky currents. Much of this river is shrouded in trees, giving you a cool shade canopy. In the winter, those trees are filled with birds.
You have two options for this trip. First, you can launch kayaks at Ray’s Wayside Park and make a long paddle to the Ocklawaha River Outpost; about 12 miles, an all-day trip. Many paddlers opt to paddle partway and camp for the night at Gore’s Landing, a county park. Your second option is to actually start your trip from Gore’s Landing and paddle about 5 miles downstream to the outpost. That’s a half-day paddle. The outpost can handle kayak rentals and shuttles.
2. Silver River Monkey Paddle
10 Miles Roundtrip
You launch this trip from Ray’s Wayside Park as well. Instead of heading north on the Ocklawaha, you turn right and paddle up the Silver River. You paddle against the current on the way upstream to Silver Springs State Park, about 5 miles. The river actually begins at the springs, with gin-clear water. If you have a sit-on-top kayak, you can roll out in the water and go for a swim. Just make sure you know how to get back in the boat in deep water.
The paddle downstream is, obviously, less strenuous. A point of interest on the trip is the wild rhesus macaque monkeys. Keep your eye out on the south side of the river. Legend says the monkeys are descendants of monkeys that were released into the wild after a Tarzan movie was filmed along the river in the 1930s. Be careful: State health officials say the monkeys carry hepatitis B. If you get too close, they may try to jump in your kayak, thinking you have food.
3. Wekiwa Springs And River Near Orlando
The Wekiwa is one of Florida’s most beautiful and threatened rivers. It is designated an Aquatic Preserve to protect it from development in booming Central Florida. Located north of Orlando, this is a popular paddle for visitors to Wekiwa Springs State Park. You can rent kayaks at the park or from outfitters along the river outside the park. Most people make this as a half-day trip and paddle a short distance downstream before turning back. A full-day paddle takes you to where the Wekiwa flows into the St. John’s River.
4. Rock Springs Run, Also Near Orlando
This is actually a tributary of the Wekiwa River. The springs are in Kelly Park, Apopka. The run goes for about 9 miles before it merges with the Wekiwa. This paddle is all downstream and goes through a beautiful forest. There is a primitive campsite at about the mid-point. During the hottest months, the river can become clogged with hydrilla, which can make for difficult paddling.
You can rent kayaks or canoes at King’s Landing. Just note that this paddle trip gets pretty congested on the weekends.
5. Little Econ Greenway County Park
2–10 Miles Roundtrip
Another Orlando-area paddle is the Little Econ Greenway, which starts at Blanchard Park, east of Orlando. It runs about 7 miles. Sabal palms line the banks of the Little Econ, which provides beautiful vistas of the natural Florida wetland habitat. There are several outfitters in the area that provide kayak rentals and shuttles.
6. Ichetucknee Springs In North Florida State Park
This is another beautiful paddle in a North Florida state park. The Ichetucknee River is best known for tubing, but kayakers can weave their way around the tubers to enjoy the pristine waters of the spring. The river is fed by eight springs upstream and flows for 6 miles. The upper springs area is very shallow and environmentally protected, so the put-in point is a few miles downstream.
This is a short paddle or tube ride, but it flows through some of Florida’s most scenic landscapes. Watch for wildlife along the banks of the river. Beavers and otters are fairly common. Kayak and tube rentals are available in the state park or outside outfitters.
7. The Caladesi Island Mangrove Tunnel
1 Or 3 Miles
This is a relatively short paddle. You launch your kayak from the Dunedin Causeway and paddle across the channel to Caladesi Island State Park. When you paddle into the marina, make a left, and you will see the entrance to the mangrove trail. This trail weaves around in the mangroves and brings you out into the open waters behind the island. The trail is twisting and tight in spots, but not difficult to paddle. There are 1- and 3-mile options. This trial is not recommended at low tide.
8. Loxahatchee River, A Paddle With History
This is a 7-mile paddle through a wild and scenic river in south-central Florida. Most of the river is within Jonathan Dickenson State Park. You start the paddle in a river lined with towering cypress trees and end in mangroves that line the northern part of the river. A highlight of the paddle is to stop at the Trapper Nelson homestead, former home of “The Wild Man of the Loxahatchee.” The buildings of the homestead are now part of the state park system, and there are tours led by park rangers. The area along the river was the scene of some of the deadliest fighting during the Seminole War in 1838.
The upper stretches of the river have a steady current that flows into the tidal basin at the state park. Note that there currently isn’t an outfitter or shuttle service from the park.
9. Get Spoiled On The Suwanee River Wilderness Trail
North Florida has many beautiful rivers for paddling. The longest is the Suwannee River, which originates in Georgia and runs over 200 miles to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. The highlight of the river is the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, part of the Florida State Parks system. If you like to be spoiled while roughing it, this is a trip for you. There are five camping areas along the trail, each with screened campsites with electric and ceiling fans. The trail starts in Mayo, Florida, and there are outfitters for kayak rentals and shuttles.
10. Florida Keys: Paddle In Paradise
1–2 Miles (Can Be More)
There is great kayaking all along the Florida Keys, but the best is in the lower Keys, north of Key West. The waters around Big Pine Key and Summerland Key are perfect for paddling. The water here is calm, fairly shallow, and easy to navigate. I recommend a sit-on-top kayak so it’s easier to pop into the water to cool off, and easy to get back in. If you like to fish out of your kayak, there are snook and other game fish in these waters.
11. Dry Tortugas And Historic Fort Jefferson
For most people, this is a trip of a lifetime, a real bucket list item. Dry Tortugas National Park is located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 70 miles west of Key West. The only way to get there is by boat or seaplane. Most people get there by taking the Yankee Freedom ferry out of Key West. It takes you to the park in the morning and brings you back in the afternoon. If you’re really an adventurist, you can camp out overnight at Garden Key, the site of Fort Jefferson.
Kayaks can be taken on the ferry for an extra fee, and there are size restrictions. Plan ahead. If you are making a day trip, you have enough time to paddle around the Garden Key or Long Key area. If you camp out overnight, you can set off in the morning and paddle to Loggerhead Key. That’s an open water 3-mile paddle, so check the weather.
12. Everglades Wilderness Waterway
I won’t dwell on this because very few people are into paddling this arduous. This is a 9-day, 100-mile paddle through the Everglades Wilderness Waterway mangrove trail and Florida Bay. There are chickees (camp platforms) strategically placed along the trail for overnight camping. Most people put in at Everglades City and follow the trail east to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. The trail is marked, but you better have a good GPS to make this trip.
13. Follow The CT Trail Around Florida
1,500 Miles (Yikes!)
If you can’t get enough paddling and have time on your hands, then the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddle Trail may be just for you. It’s called the CT and is not for the faint of heart. It runs over 1,500 miles from Pensacola, along the coast, around the Everglades, through the Keys, and up the east coast to the Georgia border. Much like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, not many people do it all at once. The trail is divided into 26 sections, and you can knock them off one at a time if you like.
For more on kayaking and canoeing in Florida’s rivers, lakes, and shores, visit the Florida Paddling Trails Association.