~ There are literally hundreds of places to launch a kayak, a canoe or a paddle board in the Florida Keys, whether your intend to explore the ocean, the shallow waters of Florida Bay or the many hidden creeks and channels unique to these islands.
On many stretches of the Overseas Highway (US 1), you can just pull off to the side of the road.
There is no way I could cover them all, but I have selected a few that will meet or exceed your expectations.
For maps and directions, click on the highlighted Mile Markers
Card Sound Road Bridge — North Key Largo. There is room on both sides of the bridge to pull over and launch your kayak for access to Card Sound, its creeks and backcountry bays. Another option is Alabama Jack’s, a funky restaurant and bar on the north side of the bridge, where you should first ask the dockmaster for permission to launch. Read more about Alabama Jack’s.
Florida Bay Outfitters (MM 104.5) — This Key Largo mainstay rents kayaks and offers backcountry paddle tours, ranging from three hours to three days. You can launch your own boat or paddleboard here for a nominal fee, although the fee is often waived if you buy something in their well-stocked retail store.
We’ve rented kayaks here and have found the staff to be very friendly and extremely knowledgable. When wind and weather weren’t right for an outing we had long planned, the folks at Florida Bay Outfitters strongly discouraged us, putting safety before revenue. Staff never hyped or over-sold (“sure you can snorkel there, but you won’t see much,” we were told of our route.)
We kayaked the recommended half-day paddle from their dock along the shore of Blackwater Sound into Dusenberry Creek and then branching off into lovely, serene mangrove tunnels. We were warned that Dusenbury Creek is power-boat-infested (and it was.) It’s a nice intro to Keys kayaking, though for us it was a long paddle along windy open waters to get to the good part. Next time I’d try their Garden Cove trip (on the Atlantic in an area north of John Pennekamp State Park.)
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (MM 102.5) — Popularly known for snorkeling, this state park offers 2.5 miles of marked mangrove wilderness trails that you can explore. You can rent kayaks and canoes from the park’s harbor concession, or bring your own. Be warned: The waterways attract crowds of kayakers on sunny weekends. There are also 47 campsites with full hookups for RVs and tents, although I don’t recommend tent camping here, especially in summer. Read more about John Pennekamp State Park.
Harry Harris County Park (MM 93.6) — Keys kayak guide Capt. Bill Keogh recommends this hidden park in his Florida Keys Paddling Guide for exploring oceanside islands of Rodriguez Key, Tavernier Key and Dove Creek. There is a $5 entrance fee if you don’t live in Monroe County (it’s free if you do). Finding this park is half the challenge. Coming from Key Largo, turn left at the Circle K just past Mile Marker 94 and continue onto Burton Road. Follow the signs to the park.
Indian Key/Lignumvitae Key (MM 77) — On the long causeway linking Upper Matecumbe Key to Lower Matecumbe in Islamorada, there are dozens of places to pull off the road and launch to island destinations. The island on the oceanside is historic Indian Key. Indian Key was colony of wreckers, who combed nearby reefs to salvage goods from wrecked ships. Many ruins remain, making it a fun island to explore. Pull over to the ocean side of the Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 77, where you’ll find a small park that is ideal for launching your boat for the paddle out to Indian Key. (Here’s a Florida Rambler story on kayaking to Indian Key.) On the bay side is Lignumvitae Key, home to a virgin tropical hardwood hammock, once common in the Keys. If you need to rent a kayak, try Robbie’s Marina.
Long Key State Park (MM 65) — You can enter the park and launch from the beach, or try the park’s interior paddle trail. Rent kayaks or canoes at the Ranger Station. If you want to save a few bucks on admission to the park, there’s a pull-off with easy access on the bay side about a mile south of the park entrance. You can’t miss it. There’s a gate from the park campground across the highway. The ocean waters at the beach are shallow, but you can paddle out to deeper waters for a swim or to fish. Bring a tent or your RV. This park has the best campground in the Keys. Read more about Long Key State Park.
Be especially wary of thunderstorms when paddling the Florida Keys in summer, lest you get fried to a crisp by lighting.
Curry Hammock State Park (MM 56) — The beach in the park’s day-use area is an excellent launch area that will allow you to paddle miles of shoreline or explore the mangrove paddle trail. You’ll also find a few cool inlets and coves with low-key motels and private homes. Motorboats are not permitted in the park “zone,” so no worries about getting run over if you stay near shore. Curry Hammock also has an excellent campground, and it’s close to Marathon. Read more about Curry Hammock State Park.
Sombrero Beach (MM 50) — At MM 50, go south at the traffic light onto Sombrero Beach Road (between the Publix and Kmart) to the end (about two miles). From here, you can paddle out to a sandbar in the ocean, or back into Sister Creek to explore backcountry trails that snake into largely uninhabited Boot Key. Or paddle into busy Boot Key Harbor, a sheltered cove speckled with sailboat moorings. (Yes, people live on those sailboats.) Sombrero is in the heart of Marathon, so you’ll find plenty to see and do along the harbor waterfront.
Spanish Harbor Boat Ramp (MM 34) — This wayside park is a popular launch site for small and medium-size boats and is often busy. It’s just over the bridge, past Bahia Honda State Park, which also has some excellent launch points and a campground. This island mostly consists of Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps. Otherwise, it’s quite barren. You have access to both the ocean and bayside, which will take you back towards No Name Key and some of the backcountry around Big Pine.
No Name Key (Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key) — This is Bill Keogh’s home territory, and you’ll often find him at his Big Pine Kayak Adventures base at the Old Wooden Bridge Cottages and Marina. You can launch there for a small fee, and get some sage advice about the local paddle experience. You can also rent kayaks here or join a tour into the backcountry. Cross the bridge onto No Name Key keep going straight until the end. You can launch here. The big trick is finding your way. At the only traffic light on Big Pine, take Key Deer Boulevard, angling to the left away from the WinnDixie plaza. Keep going to Watson Boulevard and turn right. Follow Watson past the No Name Pub, and you’re there. Read more: Classic Keys cabins are good kayaking base.
Summerland Key (MM 25) — Just past The Wharf Bar & Grill, make your first right (bayside) onto Horace Street. Take your second right onto Northside Drive, then an immediate left onto Niles Road. Take Niles Road to the end, about 1.5 miles, and park. The launch is ideal for kayaks, and you can park right there. The water in the surrounding backcountry bays and islands is 2 to 3 feet, and the islands are really cool destinations. I’m told the fishing here is excellent, if you can find the right holes. This is a special place. Read more in this article: Paradise Found: Things to do in the Lower Keys.
Geiger Key (MM 10.5) – At the Circle K, turn onto Boca Chica Road (oceanside) and go about 1.3 miles until you see a sign for the Geiger Key Marina. The launch is just past the marina, surrounded by a chain-link fence, and offers access to Saddlebunch Harbor and the ocean. There’s a really cool little tiki bar at the marina and a small RV park. Next to the tiki bar is a narrow kayak launch, but ask permission before you use it. If you continue along Boca Chica Road, past the turnoff for the Geiger Key Marina, you’ll find yourself riding parallel to the beach. There are several launch spots here for ocean kayaking behind the Naval Air Station on Boca Chica Key.
And there’s more!
A more comprehensive guide to kayaking in the Keys can be found in Florida Keys Paddling Guide: From Key Largo to Key West, which lists 70 tested launch sites by renowned Keys guide and naturalist Captain Bill Keogh. (Keogh was a source for some of the launch points in this article.)
Another good option is the Florida Keys Paddling Atlas by Bill and Mary Burnham.
View our Florida Keys index page for more things to do in the Keys