Kayak & Canoe / Northeast Florida

Exploring New Smyrna waterways by kayak or SUP: Wildlife, mangroves & sandbars

New Smyrna waterways

New Smyrna waterways: At low tide, sandbars beckon for exploration. (Photo: Richard Barrett)

Just a mile east of the tourist-packed beaches and shark-stuffed shores of New Smyrna Beach is a network of canals and natural waterways that are enough to keep any true waterman or waterwoman busy for weeks.

Recently, a buddy and I made the trip through some of our favorite sections so here’s a quick review to get you introduced to the area.

Our trip consisted of two distinct areas. Because we caught the tide going out this day (flowing from south to north), we decided to start at Edgewater boat ramp and work our way north following the current.

We’ll call the first section of our trip Zone 1 and the second section Zone 2.


new-smyrna-kayak-map

Richard Barrett maps out the two “zones” he recommends for exploring by kayak or SUP.

Paddling along the open Intracoastal
(Zone 1)

Logistics

The easiest access point to paddle this section of Intracoastal is the Edgewater boat ramp, right across from city hall and designated on the map with the “1” arrow.

Parking is free but can fill up quick on weekends. The park, George R. Kennedy Memorial Park,  103 N Riverside Dr, Edgewater, has restrooms, a fishing pier, pavilions and picnic tables too.

New Smyrna waterways

Puttering around the sandbars and waterways of the New Smyrna waterways is an enchanting way to explore Florida waterways. (Photo: Richard Barrett)

Best conditions for paddling

Seeing as this is large open water, wind is going to be one of the biggest factors to consider. I’d recommend early morning paddles as you’re much more likely to get calmer conditions at this time.

Another important consideration is the tide. If you want to launch and return to the same spot, I’d recommend catching it around a slack tide (tides are usually one or two hours delayed depending where you are in the Intracoastal, so keep this in mind).

New Smyrna waterways

Oyster beds along the New Smyrna waterways. (Photo: Richard Barrett)

Outgoing tides move north, incoming tides move south here. Use them to your advantage. For this section in particular, I’d recommend low tide. Numerous sand bar islands pop up all over the place creating tons of little areas to explore.

Flora and fauna

You’re more likely to see the big marine mammals in open Intracoastal. I’d almost guarantee dolphin sightings and manatees pass through this area quite often.

The shoreline is mostly mangroves so fairly inaccessible; however, many of the permanent islands have a variety of access points where you can hike up into the little forests to explore and get out of the sun, so keep an eye out for them.

There are sharks here, but in general they tend to be smaller and younger than the ocean dwellers and any serious interactions are rare.

Other considerations

New Smyrna waterways

New Smyrna waterways. (Photo: Richard Barrett)

This is an active Intracoastal waterway with boats frequently passing through.

Keep your eyes up and make sure you’re aware of any traveling vessels, especially when crossing the open waterway.

Make sure you adhere to the local and state guidelines as well.

 


Paddling along mangrove forest and canals
(Zone 2)

Logistics

This is the section we paddle most often and there is a very convenient launch point in Callalisa Park (Arrow 2 on the map) for those looking to dive straight into the mangroves and canals. You can drive right up to the waters edge, drop all of your gear on the sandy bank, and park for free under a shady tree while you go out to play all day. Callista Park, 598 S Peninsula Ave, New Smyrna Beach, has a boat launch and picnic tables but no restrooms.

Best conditions for paddling

Most of the waterways in this area are narrower than the open Intracoastal so wind won’t be as big of an issue, although it may become somewhat of a nuisance on the more open areas of Callalisa creek.

Tides however, are extremely important to consider when paddling this area. Many of the canals dry up almost completely during very low tides. This makes for some really unique settings to explore but can definitely get you in trouble as it would be easy to find yourself short on water deep in the mangrove canals and stuck waiting until the tide comes back in. Some areas you would be able to wade back out of, but many have deep muck or razor sharp oyster beds lining the bottom so always stay aware of your way out and what the tides are doing.

Things to bring

Sun protection. Sun exposure is a real issue here, especially in the summer. Although I often refer to this area as a forest, red mangroves offer little, to no canopy cover so expect to be in direct sun almost the whole time. I would recommend whatever method of sun protection you prefer. For me, that’s a big straw hat, rash guard, and sunscreen.

Foot protection. There are numerous oyster beds all over this area and believe me when I say they are razor sharp. If you decide to wade around at all, one foul step, and a stray oyster will happily unzip the bottom of your foot.

Water and food. We always bring enough for a full day just incase we get stuck deep in the mangroves waiting for the tide to roll back in. We often strap a small cooler to one of the boards.

Smartphone. You should have plenty of cell service in this particular area and having an app such as google maps is a huge help! Google maps has the canals designated on their maps although there are certain sections that are missing. We typically use the satellite map to scout out new regions to check out and see where certain canals or creeks will end up.

Flora and fauna

I’d expect fewer big marine mammals in this area. Dolphins and manatees do traverse Callalisa Creek but I’ve never seen any in the canal region and wouldn’t expect any in such shallow water.

The canals hold a variety of fish species though and we have seen many mullet, red fish and schools of bait fish. If you want to fish, I wouldn’t recommend the canals, but we’ve seen plenty of game fish in the deeper natural waterways in this area.

By far the locals of this area are the oysters though. At low tide, many of the vast oyster beds are exposed and are a pretty cool site to see and very carefully paddle around.

As far as plant life, its mangrove, mangroves, and more mangroves! The area is made up almost entirely of red mangroves, which leaves you with almost no access to dry land throughout most of the paddle. Patches of raised dry earth, more common around the canals, do lead to some areas where larger trees have taken hold and these scattered gems actually make a great place to rest or picnic. They tend to pop up out of nowhere as you explore about but you can also spot some of them on satellite maps.

Other considerations

New Smyrna waterways (Photo: Richard Barrett)

New Smyrna waterways: thousands of people drive by it everyday on their way to the popular New Smyrna beaches without ever realizing what a unique environment lies just outside their car window. (Photo: Richard Barrett)

I really prefer the stand up paddleboards to kayaks in this area. The water in the canals can get super shallow so the smaller draft of the boards is a plus. Also, it’s also nice to have that heightened vantage point when picking your way through tricky sections or looking around for dry land.

We’ve done this paddle in multiple conditions. Both tides offer very different experiences and while a high tide trip makes access to all the areas much easier, I very much enjoyed our recent low tide trip, as there were so many interesting features to explore. For some sections, we actually just pulled the boards up onto the sand and walked around the canals exploring all the little streams that popped up as the last of the procrastinating puddles made a run for the main waterway.

That said, this is really a very tiny portion of a huge network of waterways that extends all the way down to Mosquito Lagoon. Much of the advice here extends to many of the areas south of here. I’ve chosen to cover this portion because it’s easily accessible and thousands of people drive by it everyday on their way to the popular New Smyrna beaches without ever realizing what a unique environment lies just outside their car window.

I know many people who live in this area have extensively explored many of the other areas farther south so I’d love to hear some stories and maybe get some good leads for cool places to explore next in the comments section below!

Resources for paddling New Smyrna Beach

Two good put-in sites:

  • George R. Kennedy Memorial Park,  103 N Riverside Dr, Edgewater, has restrooms, a fishing pier, pavilions and picnic tables. (Good for open-water paddling.)
  • Callista Park, 598 S Peninsula Ave, New Smyrna Beach, has a boat launch and picnic tables but no restrooms. (Good for mangrove and backwater paddling.)

Things to do near New Smyrna Beach:


Guest blogger Richard Barrett.

Guest blogger Richard Barrett.

Richard Barrett: I am a 26 year old Florida native. I was born and raised in north Orlando and spent most of my outdoor time playing in the Ocala National Forest and surfing around New Smyrna area. I spent six years at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where I was a part of the collegiate sailing team and an active research diver for the university. I also managed to get a B.A. in biology and a M.Sc. in Biology Neuroscience in between surfing, spearfishing, and mountain biking time. I currently work as a Graduate Research Assistant at the UCF College of Medicine and am finishing up a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. Outdoor adventures are the perfect way to recharge after endless hours in the lab.


Loading
Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit
598 S Peninsula Ave
George R. Kennedy Memorial Park
Tags: , ,

Share your thoughts!

%d bloggers like this: