Florida is one of the best places in the world to enjoy some watersports, even if you’re only there because you want to watch as opposed to actively taking part. As a former Florida native myself, I can attest to the fact that there’s really nowhere else in the world quite like it.
In particular, I’d definitely recommend paying the state a visit if you’re into kayaking, because of the combination of the stunning waterways and easy access to necessary equipment. There’s something there for everyone, from absolute beginners to the most experienced kayakers.
The real challenge can actually be narrowing down your potential destinations and deciding on only one place to visit, although you can also combat that by going on a bit of a road trip. You can even go on a river trip, kayaking from one place to another. The key is just to know what’s out there and to make plans before you go.
And so with all of that in mind, we’re here to help you make your dream kayaking vacation a reality. Here are just a few of the top spots for kayaking in Florida.
1. Santa Fe River
The Santa Fe River is one of my favorite spots in Florida for kayaking because it’s close to where I grew up and because there are so many fantastic spots for everything from calm paddling to manic splashing, depending upon how active you like your vacations to be.
Located towards the north of central Florida, the Santa Fe River has everything from clear water to all of the outstanding natural beauty you could hope for, from rare wildlife to fascinating flowers. But of course, what’s most important here is that the Santa Fe River has a reputation as being one of the best Florida rivers to go kayaking along.
2. Suwannee River
The Suwannee River is home to a 170-mile long wilderness trail that starts out in White Springs Florida and paddlers can go kayaking along for days on end. The river itself is bordered by pine and cypress trees and its relatively slow current makes it one of the best Florida rivers for beginners.
This river is also one of our top picks for when you’re looking to turn a little kayaking into a longer vacation because there are a ton of camping spots, both official and unofficial, with other amenities like running water for those who like to make sure they can shower off if they fall in the water.
3. Rainbow Springs
Rainbow Springs is home to the fourth largest spring in the state of Florida in terms of the amount of water that it generates. One of the most interesting things about kayaking around this place is that there’s so much to see, and kayaking takes you through caves and crevices as well as along the springs’ stunning waters.
Better still, Rainbow Springs is a Florida state park and so while you have to pay to enter it, you also get access to the rest of the state park. And, because it’s a state park, there are also outfitters where you can hire a kayak if you don’t have one of your own. It’s a one-stop shop!
4. Wekiva Springs State Park
This state park in central Florida is home to one of Florida’s two designated wild and scenic rivers, and so that tells you a lot about why you might want to visit the place. Located right in the heart of central Florida, it’s also a good pick if you just happen to be passing through.
Wekiva Springs also deserves a shoutout for being so accessible, with kayak rentals and multiple access points all along the water as well as plenty of wildlife to see, from herons and eagles to bears and alligators, although they won’t bother you along the main tourist routes. In fact, because of the widespread prevalence of park staff and tour operators, it’s one of the safest places to visit!
While you're there, consider giving the nearby Ocala National Forest a visit. You can take guided tours through the forest's hiking trails, too!
Withlacoochee is the perfect spot for going kayaking in central Florida. The waters here are a reddy-brown color and the river itself stretches for 157 miles before ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. You could kayak the entire length of it if you had a little time to spare.
This forest is a good option if you like combining kayaking with a little camping because there are a ton of great spots for you to set up camp. There are even facilities to host RVs at some locations along the river, so if you’re a die-hard camping fan then you’ll want to look ahead and see where you can set up camp.
6. The Everglades
What can I say about the Everglades that hasn’t been said already? Arguably the most notable tourist destination in the entire state, it’s a great spot to go kayaking if you want to go off the beaten path and get away from the tourists. It sounds counterintuitive as you might think that being a popular hotspot would ensure that it’s crawling with people, but because it’s just so vast, you can easily find a spot in the Glades that’s all to yourself.
The Glades takes over much of southern Florida and are home to everything from wide, expansive visitors to murky swamps and open lakes. Alternatively, if you want to play it safe, you can also just take a slow meander along the Turner River. It has a dedicated kayaking trail that starts only eight miles east of Everglades City, and because it’s so popular, you can also find yourself a guide if you’re a rookie or you’re worried about having a safety net.
7. Walton County and Blackwater River
Florida’s panhandle is along the area where the state brushes up against Georgia and Alabama, and it makes for a great alternative destination to the more popular central and coastal areas. Better still, there are a ton of rivers for you to go paddling along, and you can explore them all without having to worry about getting lost in the crowds or huge groups of tourists scaring the wildlife away.
In particular, you should consider going kayaking in Walton County. You might not see as many manatees as you can in other Floridian hotspots, but you will go paddling past a bunch of stunning coastal lakes that are only separated from the ocean by beachy sand dunes. Alternatively, if you’ve been looking around for more of a challenge, you can go kayaking in the Blackwater River, though this is definitely one for those who are more ambitious.
8. The Tomoka River
Another Florida paddling spot in one of the state’s many national parks, the Tomoko River is home to a trail that’s particularly well-loved by local kayakers. It’ll take you through the Tomoka Basin as well as a built-up urban area, which is quite unusual for a Florida kayaking trail. It’s pretty unique, at least amongst the paddling routes that I’ve been along, and so if you’re visiting Florida and you want to go on an adventure you’ll never forget, be sure to check out the Tomoka River.
This trail has a couple of different launches to choose from, but I’d personally go for the one at the Tomoka State Park. You can park there and even spend some time wandering the grounds before hopping in your kayaks and heading towards the Halifax River.
9. Arbuckle Creek
I love this place for its name if nothing else. It’s hidden away in Avon Park and is one of the best kayaking spots for outstanding natural beauty, and there’s a simple reason for that. It meanders along a lazy river through the middle of a forest of ancient cypress trees, and while it’s true that you can see cypress trees in other places, there’s something special about discovering them from the water.
Arbuckle Creek is relatively easy to get to and is pretty close to Orlando, but it’s also one of those rare destinations that somehow flies under the radar. Not many people know that it’s there, especially those coming from out of state. If you ask a local though, they’ll sing its praises as though it’s the greatest place on earth. Perhaps it is!
10. Weeki Wachee
This Florida river is home to stunning blue waters and way more than its fair share of wildlife, but it also has one of the best names I’ve ever come across. It’s one of the easiest Florida rivers for new paddlers to navigate, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s a popular tourist destination. There’s not too much to say about this one as the whole route is only 7.5 miles long, but that does at least mean that you can travel the whole length of it in a single day if you want to.
Weeki Wachee is located in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which means there are plenty of fantastic local amenities and good transport links. What it lacks in size and length, it more than makes up for with the fantastic scenery. It’s a good one to go to with kids when you want some family time.
11. Crystal River
This popular Florida tourist destination attracts tens if not hundreds of thousands of people every tourist season because it’s one of the few places where you’re likely to see manatees on pretty much any trip out on the water.
I mean, kayaking and manatees. What more could you want? Just in case for whatever reason you’re not convinced, Crystal River is also known for the stunning clear waters that give it its name, as well as some perfect waterways for paddling along. With that said, they call it the home of the manatees for a reason!
As you can imagine, the paddling trails here are home to crystal clear waters that are unrivaled anywhere else in Florida, from Barrier Island to Key Largo. It's the perfect place to go on kayak adventures and you'll see more wildlife than you'll see anywhere outside of Miami Zoo.
This destination is a little different from the others because instead of being a river, a spring, or a state park, it’s along the coast and is home to a bunch of beaches that are simply to die for. If you prefer paddling to hardcore rowing, you can go for a little splash about along the shoreline before relaxing on the beach and soaking up some sun.
These beaches are home to manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, and other must-see sea creatures, and so you might want to pack your camera (in a waterproof bag). If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even go kayaking across the water to Crab Island!
Whether you’re heading to central Florida or whether you’re swinging by the coast, the sunshine state has a lot to offer to paddlers, kayakers, and other water lovers, and that’s not all that the state is known for. Florida is also home to some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, as well as fantastic restaurants and some pretty awesome sports teams, though I might be a little biassed on that last one.
It's also home to some of the best Airbnbs and accommodation, whether you're sleeping in a hammock on the beach or whether you're in rented accommodation in Fort Myers or Tampa Bay. Honestly, Florida has so much to offer that whether you're in a national wildlife refuge or simply taking a kayak tour through the Florida Keys, you're going to have a fantastic time.
That means that if you’re thinking about visiting Florida to go kayaking or canoeing, you can also combine it with a few other stops to make a Florida vacation that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and for all the right reasons, too. Whether you’re kayaking on the clear water or whether you’re camping in a state park, you’re sure to have a wonderful time.
Florida is a stunning destination to visit year-round, and with its abundance of kayaking trips, snorkeling tours, and paddleboard operators, it's the perfect place to visit. I'd particularly recommend the Santa Fe River, especially for a beginner, but the Suwannee River and Rainbow Springs are both worth a visit too. Have a great vacation!