In southeast Florida, waterways are plentiful. It’s surprising, then, to discover how hard it is to find good places to kayak or canoe. Open space is rare here; we’ve paved it, covered it with condos and then filled in any spots left with strip malls.
A few great places survive, though: waterways with interesting, appealing scenery where kayaks are not dodging speed boats.
In South Florida, you can always launch your kayak along the beach, of course. But here are some other alternatives; our list for best kayaking in South Florida. This list focuses on southeast Florida — the Atlantic coast from the Keys through Palm Beach County. It’s easier to find great paddling spots in less-urban southwest Florida, and we’ll put that list together soon.
Palm Beach County
1. I consider the kayak trail on the Loxahatchee River the best in South Florida. Here’s my previous Florida Rambler item on the river. What’s great about the Loxahatchee is that you kayak through one of Florida’s two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. (The other is the Wekiva.) The cypress trees and lush ferns and air plants create a magical and peaceful environment. The three-hour highly scenic trip is a shady, jungly trail along a narrow, twisting river.
2. The kayak trail is at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is a very different ecosystem. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on the refuge. This trail takes you through wet prairies, sawgrass marshes and tree islands. It’s a sunny, open trail where you’re likely to see birds and gators.
3. When you’re kayaking at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach, you’re never far from civilization, but the scenery and bird-life are spectacular. The salt-water marshes offer no shade, so even in winter, bring a hat, sunscreen and lots of water. You can kayak around the lagoon or venture into the broader, choppier Lake Worth. Here’s our trip report on one popular destination in Lake Worth, which is about a one-mile paddle: Munyon Island. It offers sandy beaches, a boardwalk and picnic pavilions. Be very aware of tides, however. During low-tide, the area around Munyon Island becomes a mud flat. While at MacArthur State Park, take time to walk the spectacular beach, which we recommend here.
4. Kayaking to Peanut Island is another destination in the MacArthur Park area. You can put in your kayak at the Riviera Beach Marina, which is also home to a great tiki bar. (More about this in the link.) Peanut Island has a lot to offer — snorkeling, the beaches and the history, which includes the Kennedy Bunker. Here’s a Florida Rambler story about Peanut Island.
5. Broward’s best and most natural kayak trail is Whiskey Creek in Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park (formerly known as John U. Lloyd Beach State Park) in Dania Beach. You can launch your own from the park’s marina, and now, after several years absence, the park has a concessionaire who rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards by the hour or day. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on this kayak outing.
6. I’m lucky to live on the Middle River in Fort Lauderdale, an urban waterway that circles Wilton Manors. The Middle River is one of Fort Lauderdale’s most popular kayak outings. While you’ll find a stretch or two of mangroves and undeveloped land, it’s largely a view of people’s pools and landscaping, with an occasional heron, manatee or iguana sighting. You can rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards at the Richardson Historical Park dock in Wilton Manors from Atlantic Coat Kayak or at Sunrise Paddleboards on Federal Highway. Have your own kayak? There’s a great launch site at Colohatchee Park, 1975 NE 15th Ave., Wilton Manors, with restrooms and picnic tables.
7. Fort Lauderdale’s most historic river is the New River, which runs through the heart of the city. The downtown section is popular with yachts and speed boats and thus not ideal for kayaks. But there are areas that make for better paddling. The canals along Las Olas Boulevard and on the south side of the New River, along Rio Vista and the Tarpon River, offer views of mansions. yachts and lush landscaping. You can put in at Victoria Park, 100 N. Victoria Park Road, Fort Lauderdale, where there are a few parking spaces and some old stone steps leading down to the waterway. Miles away, the western portions of the New River are calmer and make for interesting exploring, too. We’ve put our canoe in the water at a private marina and yachting center at 3201 W. State Rd 84, Fort Lauderdale, and paddled under I-595 and then explored the waterway along Pond Apple Slough.
8. West Lake, a Broward County park, offers extensive, peaceful mangrove areas for paddling. This area attracts lots of bird life because it is the largest remaining mangrove ecosystem in the 85-mile urbanized coast from Miami Beach to West Palm Beach.
You can rent kayaks and canoes here too. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Last boat out at 3:50 p.m.) Kayaks are $14 for one hour, $24 for two hours and $30 for four hours. Phone number (954)357-5186. Here’s a Florida Rambler story about kayaking on West Lake.
Miami Dade County
9. You’ll find a good kayak trail in the middle of the city at Oleta River State Park in North Miami. An outfitter makes it easy for visitors to get on the water. Here’s a Florida Rambler post on this hidden treasure.
10. Like kayaking off the beach, paddling in Biscayne Bay doesn’t require a trail. There are many appealing places to park and launch a kayak along the Rickenbacker Causeway leading to Key Biscayne. We’ve also put our kayak in at a location further south, near the Deering Estate. This kayak trip can involve visiting an active bird rookery or circling Chicken Key. Here are details from a previous Florida Rambler post on Biscayne Bay .
Bonus: The wildest place to kayak is only an hour south of Miami — Everglades National Park. There are several kayak trails in the park. We like Nine Mile Pond, where we spotted a 15-foot crocodile.
Other canoe and kayak trails in Everglades National Park include:
- Bear Lake Canoe Trail: an out-and-back paddle along a straight man-made historic waterway through thick mangroves. We’ve done this one and enjoyed the mangrove tunnels and wildlife.
- Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail: Famously: “Hell to get into and hell to get out of.” Through mangrove creeks and ponds.
- Noble Hammock: a 1.9 mile loop through a maze of mangrove tunnels and small ponds.
That was 10 spots, as promised, but I can’t skip the Keys. South Florida usually refers to the urban three-county area. But nearby are the Keys — kayak heaven. There are unlimited places to put in your kayak and paddle through spectacular scenery in the Keys. Here are four particular favorites:
- Indian Key Historic State Park is an outstanding kayak destination. The historic island is a ghost town with ruins overgrown by jungle and great snorkeling along its rocky shore. Here are details from a Florida Rambler article on Indian Key.
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous for its snorkeling, but it also offers 2.5 miles of mangrove trails through the park. Here’s a Florida Rambler story about Pennekamp.
- Big Pine Key/ No Name Key is home to the endangered Key Deer. It’s also a popular spot to kayak. A good base is the Old Wooden Bridge Cabins. Bill Keogh, a well-known author, nature guide and recent author of “Florida Keys Paddling Guide,” operates guided kayaking tours from here ($50 for three hours) and rents kayaks here and throughout the Lower Keys. (He’ll deliver them to where you are staying.) If you rent kayaks at the Old Wooden Bridge Marina for self-guided tours, you get an excellent map showing specific features and key sites around No Name Key. The paddle around the island takes about four hours, but the winds on the far side of the island can make the going tough. Having circumnavigated No Name Key by kayak, I’d recommend exploring the coastal area facing Big Pine Key instead. Along the way, we saw plenty of birds, Key Deer and any number of creatures in the water, from crabs to rays.
- Bahia Honda State Park is a great starting point for kayaks, which can be rented at the park. Paddlers circumnavigate the park, explore nearby islands and paddle under the historic “saddleback” bridge built by Henry Flagler. Here’s the park website.
Links for South Florida kayaking spots:
Kayaking the Loxahatchee River, Jupiter
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach
Kayaking to Munyon Island at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach
Peanut Island, Riviera Beach
If you have a favorite spot we’ve missed, believe me, we want to hear about it and give it a try! Please leave comments below.