Best Places in Florida To Kayak With Manatees


Florida has some of the best places in the world for kayaking activities and naturally, thousands of kayaking enthusiasts throng the Florida coastline all over the year. The added attraction of kayaking in Florida is the amazing marine wildlife and natural bounty. You can spot so many types of fish and underwater plants while kayaking in Florida. However, a big attraction for kayakers in Florida is the wild manatees. These gentle sea creatures are huge but they are not menacing to humans. On the contrary, Manatees are known to be friendly marine creatures. 

The charm of Manatee watching in Florida while enjoying water sports and kayaking

The Manatees gorge mostly on seagrass and that is why they are also called sea-cows. These cute and somewhat funny-looking grey hued aquatic mammals are quite intelligent. The scientists have found these animals with leathery wrinkled skin to be receptive to complex associative learning- much like dolphins. These herbivores can weigh as much as 3500 pounds and the length of an adult can be 13 feet. You can find manatees in abundance while kayaking in various parts of Florida.

By nature, the manatees are not afraid of humans. They are seen to come close to kayakers. The Wild manatees in Florida are seen around natural springs a lot as they seek warm water. If you want to watch manatees while kayoing in and around Florida opt for the fall months. You can spot one of the three variants of manatees in Florida- namely the West Indian manatees. It is larger than the two types- African and the Amazonian. The West Indian manatees switch between fresh water and saltwater regions. 

While observing the cute aquatic creatures floating and swimming around the kayak is enticing, kayakers are advised against direct interaction with manatees. 

Where You Can Spot Manatees While Kayaking In Florida

Listed below are the top kayaking hotspots in Florida thronged by the state marine animal:

Manatee Viewing Center

If you do not want to use a kayak to watch the manatees, there is another option. Go straight to the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. The discharged canal of Big Bend Power Station is a haven for the manatees. You can enjoy taking a stroll along the center’s habitat loop trail which is around a mile long. The tall wildlife observation tower at the end is ideal for enjoying picnics. 

Lovers Key State Park

This used to be a secluded island. Now, you can find manatees swimming with abandon in the region. There are some lovely and quiet canals and lagoons to explore. The beach itself is amazing and there are dense mangrove forests. Here too you can rent a paddleboard or kayak for manatee watching. This park is so quiet that you can hear the manatees interacting with each other using squeaks, whistles.

Manatee Observation and Educational Center

At Fort Pierce, there is the Manatee Observation and Educational Center. It is on the Atlantic Coast. Manatees flock here owing to the warm water released by the Henry B. King power plant. It has a two-story observation tower. 

Crystal River, Kings Bay

Along the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Crystal River has a number of freshwater springs. It is said to be the biggest gathering zone for Florida manatees. You can swim and snorkel with the creatures here. The Hunter Springs is ideal if you want to observe the animals without getting wet.


Three Sisters Spring

The wildlife loving kayakers in Florida choose Crystal River for their outings. The Three Sisters Spring is where you can swim with these aquatic animals. You can also avail yourself of swimming tours. You can also rent kayaks and paddleboards here. Here three springs lead to Kings Bay. The scenery of lush overhanging greenery lit by Shafts of sunlight above glittering, crystal clear water is breathtakingly beautiful.


Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is spread over an area of 140,000 acres. It was actually acquitted by NASA. In the Wildlife Refuge, you should head to the Haulover Canal to watch the manatees. It links the Indian River with the mosquito lagoon. The Manatee Observation Deck is there too. There are wildlife species like rattlesnakes, roseate spoonbills, osprey and herons.


Mary McLeod Bethune Park West Side

The Park, located at the pretty New Smyrna Beach is ideal for wildlife and water sports lovers. The public park has a dock for manatee watching. You can hire a kayak as well. 

Manatee Lagoon, West Palm Beach

The Florida Power & Light Eco-Discovery Center is spread over 16,000-square-foot. It is ideal for those who want to know about the manatees. There are hands-on exhibits, quite engaging in nature. The facility has an observation deck.


Homosassa Springs

The Homosassa Springs are just 15 minutes away from the Crystal River. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a manatee watching haven. You can indulge in kayaking. There is a Fishbowl Underwater Observatory for those who do not want to get wet. You get access to the live camera feed. There are many other exciting wildlife species to explore as well.


Blue Springs State Park

Located in Florida’s Orange City, the Blue Springs State Park is ideal for kayaking and canoeing, apart from observing the sea creatures. You cannot swim with the manatees here though. You may rent a kayak or opt for the riverboat cruise. The place is linked with the St. John’s River from where the creatures swim upwards. Here you will spot plenty of birds like the Kingfishers, eagles.


Lee County Manatee Park

If you are keen on swimming with the manatees, this is where you should head to! You get to see and swim with wild manatees in a natural and non-captive environment in the Fort Myers area. You may also rent a kayak to observe them up close. The park also has a massive butterfly garden. There are fishing opportunities and group tour options. The options for picnics attract families. 


Weeki Wachee River

Located in Florida’s Adventure Coast, The Weeki Wachee River is another hotspot for manatee watching. They travel along the river on their way to Weeki Wachee Springs. Take a kayak if you want. The stretch is 5 km long downstream. The paddling is done under a natural canopy made of oak and cypress trees. At the Springs State Park, there are kid-friendly play zones.

Manatee Springs State Park

Located at the west side of Gainesville in Chiefland, this natural spring is haven for manatee watching. Manatee Springs State Park is thronged by water sports lovers. There are readily available campgrounds and you get enough nature trails. There are options for biking, fishing, scuba diving etc. Wildlife loving visitors are going to love this park. There are wildlife species like snakes, alligators, turtles etc.

Lovers Key State Park

Near the Bonita Springs area, this Park has a 2 mile stretch with a secluded barrier island. The canals and lagoons criss-crossing the region is a haven for manatees and other aquatic creatures. The place is perfect for strolling and fishing. 

Wakulla Springs

It is ranked as the deepest and biggest fresh water spring of the world. An ancient, lush cypress swap encircles the waters. What used to be a filming location in the yesteryears is now a functional manatee breeding ground. Some manatees stay in the spring permanently and you can spot some alligators and birds too. You can book a nearby hotel for enjoying a weekend getaway.

Summing it up

No matter which region you choose for observing manatees in Florida, learn about the local norms. Some parks and wildlife refuges allow you to swim with manatees but others have restrictions in place. Not all of them can be accessed all over the year as well. In some such parks and places camping is allowed while the others are good for a daytime trip only. 

Posted by
Arthur G. Moore

Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.