Last updated on January 9th, 2017 at 08:47 am

Shell Creek: Beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda
Shell Creek: Beautiful kayak trip near Punta Gorda

Where are you going kayaking this winter?

Florida has lots of choices, and the best time to explore Florida by kayak and canoe is during our glorious cooler, dryer season. So many choices; so few weekends!

To help you kick off your planning for fun Florida kayak trips, I’ve selected four of my favorite kayak trips to places that aren’t very well-known but deserve to be.

Since I started cataloguing my travels for Florida Rambler five years ago, I’ve been delighted to discover several off-the-beaten-path kayaking trails.

Arbuckle Creek: Unexpected beauty at a bombing range.

Late afternoon on Arbuckle Creek near Avon Park.
Late afternoon on Arbuckle Creek near Avon Park, one of my favorite Florida kayak trips.

Located in the hilly Lake Wales Ridge area about 90 minutes due south of Orlando, Arbuckle Creek barely gets mentioned in kayak and canoe guides.

Yet, it’s a gorgeous wild river through an ancient cypress forest that is convenient to both South and Central Florida population centers. It is full of wildlife and magnificent scenery.

It’s far from homes and development — bordering a bombing range guarantees that. We took a leisurely four-hour paddle on the creek, but the trip can easily be extended.

The other big advantage to Arbuckle Creek is that this is located in an area with excellent hiking and camping too.

Here’s the full report on kayaking Arbuckle Creek.


Mound Key: Take the Calusa Blueway to an archaeological island

Calusa blue marker mound ke Four Florida kayak trips that aren’t famous but should be
Paddling to Mound Key, a kayak trip near Fort Myers Beach

I have a thing about islands. Just the idea of a place that is isolated and separate appeals to my love of exploration.

This kayak trip crosses the clear blue saltwater of Estero Bay between Fort Myers Beach and Estero to take you to an island that was once the center of civilization in this region.

It’s hard to believe that Mound Key, now wild and uninhabited, was a ceremonial site for the Calusa Indians, who built a temple atop a mound created from shells and fish bones.

Then, when the Spanish came, Mound Key was the site of the first Jesuit mission in this part of the New World.

Today, it is improbably home to penned up goats (yes) and is thick with native trees and plants.

We kayaked from Koreshan State Historic Park, but hear it’s a nicer kayak trip from the west, where you leave from Lovers Key State Park. Either way, it’s an easy three or four hour trip (with lots of time to picnic and explore the island.)

Here’s the full report on a kayaking trip to Mound Key.


Imperial River: Through Old Bonita Springs with manatees

anna erin ficus tree 400 Four Florida kayak trips that aren’t famous but should be
Imperial River kayak trip, Bonita Springs

I can’t guarantee you’ll get to paddle with manatees, as we did, but I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this pretty little trip near Naples.

This isn’t the wildest river. Most of the way, you’ll pass houses and cabins, though they’re widely spaced and surrounded by live oaks, pines and cypress trees.

The prettiest section is the eastern stretch, where cypress trees and their knobby knees dominate the landscape. The trail gets twisty with a bit of a current. It’s not enough to be any problem and makes the return trip easy.

Manatees frequent this river in the winter and the tea-colored water is clear enough to let you see them well.

If you paddle the Imperial during the day, I recommend you then drive 10 minutes west to one of the most beautiful beaches in America (according to that professor who goes by the name Dr. Beach): Barefoot Beach. It’s a great place to take a walk at sunset.

Here’s the full report on kayaking the Imperial River.  (Here’s a brief story about combining the Imperial River with a visit to Barefoot Beach.)


Shell Creek: The prettiest kayak trip you’ve never heard of

Shell Creek: Beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda
Shell Creek: Beautiful kayak trip near Punta Gorda

Shell Creek is about five miles east of Punta Gorda and it deserves to be a destination for kayakers from well beyond its area. You will have to travel several hours to kayak anywhere more beautiful.

This river offers undisturbed natural beauty: Live oaks decorated with Spanish moss arching over the creek, gnarly cypress trees, turtles sunning on fallen logs, shy alligators plus birds galore. There are only a few houses as this river is the source of drinking water for Punta Gorda.

You can paddle for a few hours or all day: there are 13 miles of river good for paddling. We came across a few fishermen in motor boats, but for 90 percent of the time, it was just us and nature.

Here’s a full report on kayaking Shell Creek.

More kayaking trips

There are scads of other great spots to kayak, so let me offer up a few more recommendations:

This one’s exquisite: The Silver River starting at Silver Springs in Ocala.

Another island I adore: the historic Indian Key near Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

A kayak trip that can be combined with a nice little hike: Turkey Creek in Palm Bay near Melbourne.

There are even more kayak trips included in the kayak channel of


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