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West Lake Park kayaking: A little bit of nature hiding in Broward

West Lake is a rarity in urban central Broward: It’s wild.

Fortunately, environmentalists in the 1970s managed to prevent it from becoming yet another enclave for the wealthy. For decades, plans had advanced to develop it with seawalls and houses instead of wetlands and wildlife. But, led by the late County Commissioner Anne Kolb, after whom the West Lake nature center is named, West Lake was forever preserved.

West Lake in Broward County
West Lake Park kayaking: The boardwalk and mangroves as seen from Anne Kolb Nature Center. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Today that makes it one of the most accessible natural places to kayak for 2 million people who live within 45 minutes of it. West Lake Park kayaking is a great for a beginner to try out kayaking or canoeing, with reasonably priced rentals seven days a week.

It had been awhile since I kayaked West Lake and it was great to discover there are now three well-marked kayak trails winding through the mangroves. (Be sure to get a brochure when you pay your $3 admission to the park.)

Kayaks and canoes launch from West Lake Park, 122 Sheridan St., Hollywood, which is across Sheridan Street from the nature center. From there, the White Trail (.9 miles) takes you through thick mangrove vegetation out to the lake.

West Lake Park kayaking: Mangrove tunnel. Photo: Bonnie Gross

The more intimate, narrower portions of the White Trail are recommended only during high tide. Take heed. Two hours before high tide, we took the northern leg of the White Trail and I ended up standing in oozing mud up to my ankles to let our boat float over the shallowest spot.

Across the lake from the White Trail, there’s the .9-mile-long Green Trail. Paddle north under Sheridan Street toward the Anne Kolb Nature Center and you come to the 1.2-mile-long Red Trail.

Boardwalk along West Lake near nature center
Boardwalk along West Lake Park near nature center (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

All three trails are attractive, with narrow, mangrove-lined channels. (The Red Trail might be the most scenic, but only slightly.) Along the way, we saw osprey, herons, ibis, a kingfisher, vultures, armies of crabs and a couple of raccoons – not bad for a park in the middle of an urban area. At various times, folks have seen scarlet ibis and roseate spoonbills too.

You never quite forget where you are, of course. Noise of go-fast boats on the Intracoastal and motorcycles on A1A is always with you, even when all you see around you is thick mangrove forest.

Kayak and canoe rentals at West Lake in Hollywood
West Lake Park kayaking: Kayak and canoe rentals (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

If you paddle over to Anne Kolb Nature Center (it’s probably close to two miles from the start) you can beach your kayak and get out to stretch your legs on boardwalk trails or visit the nature center. We combined all three trails and a walk at Anne Kolb center for a full day.

Be warned: West Lake is big enough that you can pick up a good headwind. If you’re new to kayaking, pace yourself. If you end up fighting a tide on the return, it can take longer.

Bridge over canal at West Lake in Hollywood
West Lake Park kayaking: Several bridges cross the Green Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

How West Lake Park was saved

Joe Young and Hollywood Inc. — the original developer of the city of  Hollywood – bought the land around West Lake in the 1920s and began to develop it. Canals were dredged; roads were built.  People from across the United States, bitten by Florida land fever, purchased lots here. But the 1926 hurricane and the Great Depression killed that plan and West Lake sat dormant for decades.

By the early 1970s, however, land fever was back. Hollywood Inc. moved forward to build on West Lake during a time when thousands of homes were being built across Florida.

The environmentalists of the 1970s, however, recognized that West Lake was the last undeveloped land left in eastern Broward County, a final vestige of the vast mangroves that once lined the Atlantic coast,  and rallied around saving it. Anne Kolb, the first woman elected to the Broward County Commission, led the charge.

After an 11-year battle, environmentalists won and Broward County used money from bonds and the State of Florida to buy the land.

When it opened, it was such a victory that County Commissioner Howard Forman called it “one of the finest days in Broward’s 70-year history.”

west lake park kayaking anne kolb West Lake Park kayaking: A little bit of nature hiding in Broward
Anne Kolb: The county commissioner who fought to save West Lake.

West Lake has always been a special place for me. I was a young reporter in the late ‘70s when Anne Kolb was a county commissioner taking on well-funded land developers. She was a feisty former reporter  and when she was diagnosed with cancer, I proposed I write a profile of her for my newspaper, the Sun Sentinel.

She wasn’t the easiest person to interview. I remember her as prickly and hard to get to know. But I visited her home, met her family and spent several hours with her. Only later did she tell me that all along she thought I was just researching her obituary.

She died of cancer in 1981, with the battle for West Lake largely won. Broward County took title to West Lake in 1985.

It’s nice to go to West Lake, soak up its little bit of wildness, and think about how some determined people saved it.

West Lake Park

1200 Sheridan St., Hollywood

Kayak rentals: Hours to rent kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Marina hours seem to be curtailed in winter 2022, now being limited to weekends and Mondays, so check before your drive here. Phone number (954)357-5186.

Holland Park
801 Johnson Street
If you have your own kayak, you can launch from this lovely little park, located where West Lake meets the Intracoastal. There is a floating dock that makes launching here easy and there is free parking in the lot nearest the Intracoastal. (Parking for vehicles with boat trailers in the marina is metered.) The park has pavilions, a boardwalk overlooking the Intracoastal, a short nature trail, restrooms and a waterfront observation tower. If you launch from here, paddle toward the Intracoastal and you’ll immediately come to an entrance into the maze of mangrove-lined canals. If you paddle way from the Intracoastal, you reach West Lake where, a short distance north, is the entrance to the green kayak trail.

Anne Kolb Nature Center751 Sheridan St.

Things to do near Hollywood: 

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Ralph McKay

Wednesday 24th of August 2022

Thankfully those like Ann Kolb and John U. Lloyd fought to keep developers from building on every speck of land in eastern Broward County. West Lake Park is one of my favorite places to kayak. It's easy to get lost in those mangroves and forget how close you are to civilization. You may have clarified something that had me puzzled. Awhile back using my Alltrail app I did an afternoon hike on the West Lake South Trail. It begins at the Nature Center crosses under Sheridan Street bridge and puts you on a trail between the lake and the green kayak trail. What had me wondering was why this road which was concrete and three small bridges was even here. I'm guessing this was part of the development you mentioned that Joe Young was trying to put together. Thank you for your great articles I always check your website to read up before heading out on my next adventure.

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 24th of August 2022

@Ralph McKay, I have always been fascinated by the vestiges of development you spot around West Lake Park. Another interesting sign of development halted by the purchase of the West Lake land are all those little unoccupied streets between A1A and the beach north of North Beach Park. (Douglas Street, Cody, Greene, Charleston Street, etc.) Obviously the roads had been built awaiting construction of homes that, happily, never were built.

Michelle Lecca Silva

Monday 29th of November 2021

How much does it cost to rent a kayak?

Bonnie Gross

Monday 29th of November 2021

As of 11/2021, the Broward County Parks website says: Single kayak or stand-up paddleboard - $14.15 per hour; $23.59 per two hours; $33.02 per four hours Double kayak or canoe - $18.87 per one hour; $28.30 per two hours; $42.45 per four hours Security deposit - $15 per boat (returned if rental equipment is in the condition received at the time of rental)


Sunday 16th of August 2020

Thanks for the great inspiration! Drove down from Delray today to check out these trails at West Lake Park. Definitely go during high tide. Pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t much of a crowd either. There was no place to grab a map (not sure if the building was closed due to COVID or just because it was so early on a Sunday), so we missed the Red Trail but still had fun checking out the other two and finding new trails of our own. Peaceful even with the sounds of airplanes and traffic.

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