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7 Best Rivers to Paddle a Kayak in Florida

You can kayak all year long in the warm weather of the state of Florida. It has many rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Also lots of good fishing.

Known for its turquoise waters rushing in from the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is a kayaking paradise. With some of the most travelled rivers, reservoirs, rapids, and waterways in the country, it’s easy to see why so many kayaking enthusiasts travel to the state every year.

Yet, you don’t have to be an advanced kayaker to enjoy what the sunshine state has to offer. Kayaking is a great physical activity for all ages and is a reliable way to stay in shape. As a bonus, it also takes you to some of the most beautiful locations in the American countryside.

Finding the right locations to visit can be difficult for any kayaker, with so many hidden gems throughout the country, it can be easy to feel lost trying to choose your next adventure. If you are travelling from out-of-state, it can also be a bother to know what specific state laws might apply before paddle down the river.

The Best Kayaking Locations in the Sunshine State

The countryside of Florida is one of the most sought-after landscapes in the world, with a mixture of unmistakable lush vistas, and mesmerizingly clear water, it’s no surprise that Florida is one of the most travelled kayaking states in the country.

Hidden among the cypress trees, and dripping with Spanish moss, the most sought-after kayaking trails in Florida are:

Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail

Found in southern Florida, the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail is a paradise for kayakers of all levels. Surrounded by a secluded beach, mangrove trees, and tiny islands for you to discover, this trail has enough to keep you exploring for the entire day.

The trail is over 190 miles long, but you do not need to travel the entire length of it to enjoy what the trail has to offer. Many areas are large open areas of water, ideal for beginners to take their first steps.

However, for more advanced kayakers, the trail can keep you paying attention with its class 2 rapids and a few narrow turns here and there.

Indian Key Historic State Park

The Florida Keys have many hidden places for kayakers to enjoy, and the best example of this would be the famous Indian Key. Only a 20-minute paddle from the shoreline, the secluded island is a paradise for those looking to enjoy a quiet sunbathe and stress-free kayaking.

As well as kayaking, the island also has a range of hiking trails and areas to explore. For those looking to strictly stay on the water though, they will be met with dolphin and whale sightings just off the shoreline.

Whilst not recommended for people looking for a more heart pumping kayak experience, the Indian Key is an unbeatable relaxing way to spend a day.

Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee is a 7.4-mile spring-fed river in central Florida. The location is quite popular for families looking to enjoy a day on the water, as the river has a natural current that guides kayaks safely around.

There are no rapids, tight turns, or sudden drops on Weeki Wachee. Just an abundance of native wildlife, and breathtaking views as you travel around the springs. The area is also quite flat, meaning it is easy to keep an eye on your children, if they are joining you in the water.

No matter if you choose to kayak with your family or let them run off to enjoy the springs whilst you enjoy a paddle, Weeki Wachee is a safe bet to enjoy a fun day on the water.

Suwannee River Paddling Trail

The Suwannee River in northern Florida is without a doubt the most well-known river in the state. Even people who have not travelled to the state have likely heard about the beautiful Suwannee River, which is directly mentioned in the state’s national song.

Expanding over 171 miles, the river starts at the White Springs and ends at the Gulf of Mexico. For those looking to paddle the river, you will be able to select a range of routes depending on how difficult you want the experience to be.

Many parts of Suwannee River are calm, safe, and teeming with wildlife. A great spot for beginner kayakers and families. Many parts, however, are specifically suggested for advanced kayakers.

With class 4 rapids, and an onslaught of sudden drops and tight turns, the Suwanne River has enough to make you feel the beat of your heart in your ears. Always make sure to research the area of the Suwannee River you wish to paddle before packing up the gear and heading out.

Blackwater River

A gem of the northwest, the Blackwater River is a stunning trail of white sand beaches, and beautiful murky water. Surrounded by lush cypress trees on all sides, the river is a popular place for local tubers and those looking for a quick swim.

For kayaking, however, the river is a 56-mile-long delight. Sitting at a nice middle ground of difficulty, the Blackwater River is a great for intermediate paddlers. With class 2 rapids that whisk you away into the Blackwater State Forest, it is easy to spend a day soaking it all in.

The State park has kayaking trips you can book yourself, and even equipment you can rent on site. Making it an easy option for those maybe thinking of giving kayaking a try.

Coastal Dune Lakes

Hidden away in northwest Florida, Walton County is home to one of the most unique kayaking locations in the world. The county is home to naturally occurring dune lakes, bodies of freshwater that co-exist alongside the saltwater ocean.

Walton County has released a guide on the 15 best dune lakes in the area. The largest of the dune lakes can be found in Camp Helen State Park.

If you’ve been around the country before, and would like to see something truly unique, head on over to Walton County and explore the natural wonders of dune lakes.

Destin Beach

When people talk about the amazing waters of Florida, they are most likely talking about Destin beach. Situated on the Emerald Coast, Destin beach is a marvel of clear turquoise water and wildlife watching.

One popular route is to travel up the beach to Destin Harbor, where a variety of restaurants and cafes are located. From there, after lunch, you can continue to paddle out to Crab Island and enjoy the view.

Beware! Destin beach is one of the most popular locations for kayaking in the state, so if you’re looking for a quiet get away, it would be wise to avoid this one.

Miami Beach

This hotspot on the ocean is always a good choice. Bring a pole and do some fishing too.

Little Talbot Island State Park

Teeming with salt marshes and tidal creeks, the Little Talbot trail is a peaceful little secret of northeast Florida. With a scattering of small, easy to reach islands for you to discover, the park is a great way to spend a relaxing morning or afternoon.

The river is suitable for kayakers of all levels and has no dangerous rapids or sudden drops to speak of. There is, however, a large population of wildlife in the area. So always be vigilant of your surroundings.

The state park also has a great range of activities, such as trails to explore, and kayaking trips to discover. Rentals are even available through Kayak Amelia, situated on the Simpson Creek.

Bioluminescence – A Sight to See

If you are looking to experience something new and exciting, perhaps a night-time kayaking trip is in order. Many of the rivers and waterways around the Sunshine state have very specific algae growing in them.

These algae will naturally begin to glow as the sun goes down, creating an incredible experience for those daring enough to explore the water at night. People have described the effects as a kind of blue electric lightshow below your kayak.

It is as if you stepped into a magical wonderland, the feeling of seeing this phenomenon is an incredible experience, and one that anyone should try to see at least once. These algae are mostly found in the Indian River Lagoon, in southern Florida.

Some Helpful Reminders Before You Embark

When travelling to Florida from out of state or setting out on your first kayaking trip as a local, it’s important to remember that there are many state laws around the activity. Whilst you will rarely encounter a naval patrol on the water, many of these laws have been crafted to promote safer behaviours.

The most important areas to consider before you set off are:

Registering Your Kayak – Is it Needed?

For most traditional canoes and kayaks, you will not be required to register your craft. This is if they are under 16 inches in length, which is a standard size for most kayaks and canoes.

There is one exception however, and that is if your craft is fitted with a motor of any kind. Then you will be required to have it registered and have a license to use it. You will always also be required to carry an ID on you when operating a craft with a motor.

Florida Life Jacket Rules

For any kayaking adventure, Florida requires you to always wear a life jacket. All vessels should have a USCG-approved flotation device, one available for each person on board. The life jackets should:

  • Be the correct size for the user using them.
  • Easy to access on the craft.
  • Is in a good condition, and not outside of the manufacture’s expiry.
  • Has reflective strips somewhere on the jacket.

For children under 6, if they are accompanying you, they will always be required to wear a flotation device. This applies to all craft that are 26 inches or below. For larger vessels over 26 inches, a throwable type IV flotation device must be on board as well.

Kayaking in the Dark – Come Prepared

When it comes to paddling at night, there are some important laws to remember. If you are on a traditional kayak, below 16 inches in length, then you will always be required to carry a portable light source on you.

For larger craft, and for anybody looking to do a prolonged night-time paddle, it is recommended that you have a white light fitted to the front of your craft. Navigational lights, characterised as green and red, are also required if your craft is over 26 inches.

These lights should be used:

  • Between sunset and sunrise.
  • When visibility is limited.
  • When spotting another craft on the water, to signal your presence.

Florida DUI Laws

Can you receive a DUI on the water in Florida? The quick answer is yes. If you are over 21 years of age, and your blood alcohol must be under 0.8%. For people under the age of 21, your blood alcohol must be under 0.2%.

This only applies to the person operating the craft and can carry some hefty fines if you are caught. This is one of the most common infractions people receive on the water, so drink responsibly and be safe!

Make Florida Your Next Adventure!

Florida is an unbeatable destination to explore the wonders of the American countryside and see some of the greatest beauties it has to offer. With a wide range of beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails to keep you occupied, there is something for everyone.

Always remember to follow the state’s laws when it comes to kayaking. Have plenty of life jackets, fit a light to your kayak if you plan to sneak out to see the glowing algae, and always make sure any child accompanying you on the water is fitted with a lifejacket.

Are you thinking of planning your next trip in Florida? Let us know about it in the comment section down below!

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