At a loss of where to kayak in the Sunshine State? Look no farther than the following map and listing, which highlight the best places in Florida to float your kayak. In 1979, the Florida Recreation Act established a network of recreational trails across the Sunshine State as a way for people to explore Florida. Included in the designation are 38 kayak trails–publicly owned waterways often flowing through private property–covering more than 1,000 miles of scenic waterways. So grab your kayak and go–and don’t forget the sunscreen.
1. Perdido River
Forming the border between Florida and Alabama, the Perdido River curves past woodlands of pine, cypress and juniper. Several small ponds or sloughs hidden along the banks provide additional paddling opportunities.
2. Coldwater Creek
This Panhandle river features crystal clear water and white sand bottoms. Dotted along the banks are sandbars perfect for camping or picnicking. Like other western Florida streams, its current is faster than other peninsular Florida rivers.
3. Sweetwater/Juniper Creeks
Sweetwater Creek is narrow and swift with winding curves, but after it joins Juniper Creek, the curves become gentler and the creek widens. Note: the water level fluctuates rapidly after heavy rains.
4. Blackwater River
The dark, tannin-stained waters of the Blackwater contrast with the pure white sandbars found along its bends. Flowing through the Western Highlands, the trail is lined with cedar, maple and cypress. This fast-flowing river trail ends at Blackwater River State Park.
5. Yellow River
The upper portion of the Yellow River is a fast-flowing stream draining the Western Highlands and Florida’s highest elevation. Hardwood forests and high sandy banks frame the river. As you move downstream, the river deepens and slows as it passes through cypress and gum swamps.
6. Shoal River
A nature lover’s dream, the Shoal River threads through northwest Florida wilderness, passing high sandy hills and broad sandbars. The surrounding forest is a mixture of maple, birch, oak, gum and cypress, providing a welcome escape from civilization.
7. Holmes Creek
In contrast with other streams of west Florida, Holmes Creek slowly winds past high sandy banks and through lush swamp lands. Many low hanging branches and sharp, twisting bends add challenge to the trip.
8. Econfina Creek
Experienced paddlers will find this unspoiled stream a technical challenge. It flows through scenic river swamp, hammocks and woods. The springs feeding it have cut deep canyons in the limestone.
9. Chipola River
Beginning at Florida Caverns State Park, this trail passes through 50 miles of river swamps and hardwood forests. High limestone bluffs and caves are accessible from the river. Some rapids, including “Look and Tremble Falls,” challenge even experts. Inexperienced paddlers should begin at SR 167 access.
10. Ochlockonee River (North)
Beginning near the Georgia line, the narrow upper portion of the Ochlockonee twists around cypress knees and downed trees toward Lake Talquin. Low water will require some portaging and pullovers.
11. Ochlockonee River (Lower)
More than 50 miles of this trail wind through the Apalachicola National Forest, past high pine bluffs and dense hardwoods. Near its end at Ochlockonee River State Park, the river widens and motor boats are more common. Releases form Jackson Bluff Dam vary the river level.
12. Sopchoppy River
This dark-colored river twists its way around cypress trees as it swiftly courses through the Apalachicola National Forest. At low water, the trip requires pullovers and some wading.
13. Wakulla River
The four-mile trail on this cypress-lined river makes an unhurried half-day trip. The slow current makes a round-trip easy so you don’t have to shuttle. Wildlife is abundant.
14. Wacissa River
The waters of the narrow, swift Wacissa twist and turn through the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area. The entrance to the lower section is obscured by aquatic plants and overhanging willows. Watch for it on the far right.
15. Aucilla River
This coffee-colored river is recommended for experienced paddlers. Rapids and man-made dams can be a challenge, becoming more numerous and hazardous during low water.
16. Historic Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail
Numerous species of aquatic plant and animal life are present on this 91.5-mile paddling trail. The trail traces the Big Bend Aquatic Preserve and passes by several quaint fishing communities. Pay attention to weather and tide forecasts when planning your trip.
17. Withlacoochee River (North)
Flowing through swamp lands and past sandy beaches and limestone outcrops, the trail contains several shoals areas and ends at Suwannee River State Park.
18. Suwannee River (Upper)
The Suwannee river flows through pristine river swamp and along wide sandy banks. Numerous access points offer a choice of one-day excursions. Even experienced paddlers are recommended to portage “Big Shoals” rapids. The Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center is accessible from the trail, and the Suwannee River State Park marks the trail’s end.
19. Suwannee River (Lower)
Continuing from Suwannee River State Park, the lower section of the Suwannee also contains numerous shoals during low water. Portaging may be necessary. Abundant wildlife and scenery make this a very popular trail.
20.St. Marys River
The numerous snow white sandbars along this river make camping easy and enjoyable. Forming the state border, the St. Marys gently curves though the wilderness of north Florida and south Georgia.
21.Santa Fe River
This trail begins just below River Rise State Preserve where the Santa Fe returns to the surface after a three-mile-long underground journey. The lazy current and gentle curves make it a good beginner’s paddling trail. There are some small shoals during low water, but they are generally passable.
This four-mile trail winds through tidal marsh. The current is slow enough that you can paddle upstream to make a round trip if you don’t want to shuttle. The trail ends at Faver-Dykes State Park.
The Bulow Creek Trail loops upstream from Bulow Plantation Ruins State Historic Site, then returns to the trail head before continuing on to the Intracoastal Waterway where it ends. The creek flows through grassy coastal marshes characteristic of the Atlantic coast.
This 13-mile trail loops upstream from the trailhead where the river threads among cypress trees. Moving downstream, the river widens as it flows through the open coastal marsh and then into Tomoka State Park.
This east-central Florida trail threads through a variety of habitats, including dense hardwood forest and coastal saltwater marsh. The trail is a 16-mile round trip which begins and ends at Spruce Creek Park on Strickland Bay.
26. Wekiva River/Rock Springs Run
Rock Springs Run forms the border between Wekiwa Springs State Park and Rock Springs Run State Preserve. The run meets the Wekiva River at the park. The tannin-stained waters of the Wekiva River twist though pine and hardwood uplands and dense swamplands and passes through the Lower Wekiva River State Preserve before flowing into the St. Johns River.
27. Econlockhatchee River
Generally untouched by development, the “Econ” winds past white sandy beaches and through oak-palm hammocks. The beginning is narrow, shallow, and cypress-lined. Downstream, the river broadens and deepens, and the curves become gentler.
28. Withlacoochee River (South)
Flowing out of the Green Swamp in west-central Florida, the Withlacoochee twists through lush cypress swamps, hardwood and pine forests, and scattered residential areas. Birds and other wildlife abound along the 83-mile trail.
29. Pithlachascotee River
This short trail is recommended for paddlers with some experience. The Pithlachascotee has tight curves in the narrow upper segment which demand technical paddling skills. It widens to longer straight stretches on the lower section.
30. Hillsborough River
From its beginnings in the Green Swamp, this trail flows southwest through pristine surroundings offering opportunities to immerse yourself into native Florida without getting too far from the comforts of nearby urban areas (see story, page 138).
31. Alafia River
Within an hour’s drive of Tampa, the Alafia bends and twists under a spreading canopy of pine, cypress and cedar trees. The river flows swiftly over a limestone bed which exposes shoals in low water.
32. Little Manatee River
This short trail meanders through a variety of habitats including sand and pine scrub, willow marsh and hardwood forests on its way to the take out at Little Manatee River State Recreation Area. It makes a good half-day trip.
33. Manatee River (Upper)
Subtropical vegetation lines the banks of this gently winding trail. It is an easy half-day trip; you can paddle both ways, making only one car necessary. Water levels vary with releases from Lake Manatee Dam.
34. Peace River
As the name implies, this paddling trail offers a peaceful, meandering trip away from civilization. The river originates in the Green Swamp and is alternately bordered by sand bluffs, grassy areas and dense forests. Birding is abundant.
35. Loxahatchee River
The only river in Florida designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, this eight-mile trail meanders through a cypress swamp lush with ferns and orchids. Within Jonathan Dickinson State Park, the River winds through mangrove swamps. A variety of wildlife make their homes near the coffee-colored waters.
36. Hickey Creek
Hickey Creek kayak Trail is an easy half-day trip which flows through subtropical hammocks. The creek is accessible only from the Caloosahatchee River.
37. Estero River
This trail offers an easy, one-day adventure from Koreshan State Historic Site among mangrove islands and coves. When the trail opens into Estero Bay, select your route to explore the mangrove islands before returning upstream. Don’t attempt to cross the bay if more than light chop is expected.
38. Blackwater River/Royal Palm Hammock
This 13-mile loop trail through Collier-Seminole State Park is a good trail for beginners. The tidal creeks and mangrove wilderness areas are quiet and pristine. File a trip plan at the state park ranger station before putting in.
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.