13 Incredible Paddling Trips to Experience in Florida
Florida is an aquatic 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 everywhere. For those who enjoy kayaking or canoeing, Florida obviously has a lot to offer. Here is a list of the best paddle tours 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 paddling trip in Florida. You paddle downstream with the current. There aren’t many bends and turns in the river channel, so you don’t have to deal with rough currents. Much of this river is surrounded by trees giving you a cool shade canopy. In winter, these trees are filled with birds.
You have two options for this trip. First, you can launch kayaks at Ray’s Wayside Park and take a long paddle to the Ocklawaha River Outpost; about 12 miles, a day trip. Many paddlers choose to paddle halfway and camp overnight at Gore’s Landing, a county park. Your second option is to start your journey from Gore’s Landing and paddle about 5 miles downstream to the outpost. It’s a half day paddle. The outpost can handle kayak rentals and shuttles.
2. Silver River Monkey Paddle
10 miles round trip
You also initiate this journey from Ray’s Wayside Park. Instead of heading north on the Ocklawaha, you turn right and head up the Silver River. You paddle against the current going up towards Silver Springs State Park, about 5 miles. The river actually starts at the springs, with gin-clear water. If you have a sit-on-top kayak, you can roll in the water and go swimming. Just make sure you know how to get back into the boat in deep water.
The downstream paddle is, obviously, less strenuous. A point of interest on the trip is the wild rhesus macaque monkeys. Keep an eye on the south side of the river. Legend says the monkeys are descendants of apes that were released into the wild after a Tarzan movie was filmed along the river in the 1930s. Beware: State health officials say monkeys carry hepatitis B. If you get too close, they may try to jump into your kayak, thinking you have food.
3. Wekiwa Springs and river near Orlando
1 to 10 miles
The Wekiwa is one of Florida’s most beautiful and endangered rivers. It is designated as an aquatic reserve to protect it from development in booming central Florida. Located north of Orlando, it’s 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 take this half-day trip and paddle a short distance downstream before turning back. A full day paddle takes you to where the Wekiwa empties into the Saint John River.
4. Rock Springs Run, also near Orlando
It is actually a tributary of the Wekiwa River. The springs are at Kelly Park, Apopka. The race stretches for about 9 miles before merging with the Wekiwa. This paddle is all the way downhill and goes through a beautiful forest. There is a primitive campsite about halfway through. During the warmer months the river can become clogged with hydrilla which can make paddling difficult.
You can rent kayaks or canoes at the king’s landing. Just note that this paddle trip is quite crowded on weekends.
5. Little Econ Greenway County Park
2 to 10 miles round trip
Another paddle from the Orlando area is the Small Econ greenway, which begins in Blanchard Park, east of Orlando. It runs about 7 miles. Sabal palms line the shores of the Little Econ, which offers beautiful views of Florida’s natural wetland habitat. There are many outfitters in the area that offer kayak rentals and shuttles.
6. Ichetucknee Springs in North Florida State Park
This is another great paddle in a North Florida state park. The Ichetucknee River is best known for its tubing, but kayakers can wind their way around the tubers to enjoy the crystal clear spring waters. The river is fed by eight upstream springs and flows for 6 miles. The upper springs area is very shallow and environmentally protected, so the entry point is a few miles downstream.
It’s a short paddle or tube ride, but it passes through some of Florida’s most scenic scenery. Watch for wildlife along the river banks. Beavers and otters are quite common. Kayak and tube rentals are available in the state park or outside the outfitters.
7. Caladesi Island Mangrove Tunnel
1 or 3 miles
It is a relatively short paddle. You launch your kayak from the Dunedin causeway and paddle down the canal to Caladesi Island State Park. As you paddle into the marina, turn left and you will see the entrance to the mangrove trail. This trail weaves through the mangroves and takes you into the open waters behind the island. The trail is winding and tight in places, but not difficult to paddle. There are 1 and 3 mile options. This test is not recommended at low tide.
8. The Loxahatchee River, a paddle steeped in history
This is a 7 mile paddle through a wild and scenic river in south central Florida. Most of the river is inside Jonathan Dickenson State Park. You start the paddle in a river lined with towering cypresses and end in the mangroves that line the northern part of the river. A highlight of the paddle is stopping at Trapper Nelson Farm, former home of “The Wild Man of the Loxahatchee.” The farm buildings are now part of the state park system and tours are conducted by park rangers. The area along the river saw some of the deadliest fighting in the Seminole War in 1838.
The upper reaches of the river have a steady current flowing into the state park tidal pool. Note that there is currently no outfitter or shuttle service from the park.
9. Get spoiled on the Suwanee River Wilderness Trail
5 to 20 miles
North Florida has many beautiful rivers to paddle. The longest is the Suwannee River, which originates in Georgia and stretches over 200 miles to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. The highest point of the river is the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, which is part of the Florida State Park System. If you like to be spoiled while being roughed up, this trip is for you. There are five camping areas along the trail, each with shielded campsites with electric and ceiling fans. The trail begins in Mayo, Florida, and there are outfitters for kayak rentals and shuttles.
10. Florida Keys: Paddling in Paradise
1–2 miles (maybe more)
There’s plenty of kayaking throughout 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 to make it easier to get in the water to cool off and get back in easily. If you like to fish out of your kayak, there are snook and other fishing fish in these waters.
11. Dry Tortugas and Historic Fort Jefferson
2 to 6 miles
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. He takes you to the park in the morning and brings you back in the afternoon. If you’re really an adventurer, you can camp overnight at Garden Key, the site of Fort Jefferson.
Kayaks can be taken on the ferry for an additional fee, and there are size restrictions. Plan ahead. If you are doing a day trip, you have plenty of time to paddle around the Garden Key or Long Key area. If you are camping overnight, you can leave in the morning and paddle out to Loggerhead Key. It’s a 3 mile open water paddle so check the weather.
12. Wild Everglades Waterway
I won’t dwell on that because very few people enjoy paddling that hard. This is a 9 day, 100 mile paddle across the Wild Everglades Waterway mangrove trail and Florida bay. There are chicks (camp platforms) strategically placed along the trail for overnight camping. Most people base themselves in Everglades City and follow the trail east to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. The trail is marked, but it is better to have a good GPS to make this route.
13. Follow the CT Trail around Florida
1,500 miles (yeah!)
If you can’t row enough and you have free time, then the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddle Trail may be right for you. It’s called the CT and is not for the faint of heart. It stretches over 1,500 miles from Pensacola, along the coast, around the Everglades, across the Keys and up the east coast to the Georgian border. Much like hiking the Appalachian Trail, not many people do it at once. The trail is divided into 26 sections and you can remove them one by one if you wish.
To learn more about kayaking and canoeing Florida’s rivers, lakes and shores, visit the Florida Paddle Trail Association.