Kayak Florida Keys: A Quick Guide
Few things are better than a kayaking adventure in the Florida Keys. You’ll find yourself getting lost in tranquility as you paddle the calm glassy waters. Going through the stunning mangrove tunnels immediately makes you forget all the craziness of modern day-to-day life.
On top of that, you’ll have lots of beautiful sea creatures, including dolphins, stingrays, and manatees keeping you company. The Keys are home to tons of bird species so you’ll have company above too!
Sounds like a fantastic experience, doesn’t it? But where do you even start and how do you find the best paddling spots?
The Best Places to Kayak in the Florida Keys
If you’re looking to have a thrilling Florida Keys kayaking adventure, here are some amazing places to go.
1. Key Largo
At the top of the list is Key Largo in the upper keys. The best thing about this area is that you’ll get a remote paddling experience without wandering too far from the mainland.
One of the most popular kayaking areas here is Dusenbury Creek. Kayakers launch from Florida Bay Outfitters. They offer kayak rentals and kayak eco-tours in case you need help navigating the area.
They’ll also allow you to launch your own kayak at a small fee.
Before you get to the little mangrove tunnel that is perfect for kayaks, you may have to encounter annoying boat traffic. Try to avoid the motorboats as much as possible. Once you finally get away from them you’ll see that the experience is worth it.
Dusenberry Creek is one of the best mangrove canopied creeks in the area. You’ll also see some more mangrove tunnels around there for you to check out. The wildlife is diverse, in and out of the water. Manatees are regularly spotted and you may see bottlenose dolphins too if you’re lucky.
This is a long trip so you should plan accordingly if you want to have enough time to explore.
While in Key Largo, you should also consider visiting John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Paddle on crystal clear calm waters through more mangrove tunnels and enjoy a view of the reef.
The Everglades National Park is close by too. You can kayak peacefully, away from crowds and boats. This is a great place to go paddling if you want to explore nature and see different kinds of wildlife native to Florida.
2. North Nest Key
The Nest Keys aren’t far from Key Largo and they are part of the Everglades National Park.
If you’d like to access Nort Nest Key by kayak, it’s recommended that you launch from Key Largo to avoid paddling a long distance over the open ocean, which can be a safety issue.
This island guarantees a good time and the experience of a lifetime. Every kayaker dreams of paddling shallow glassy waters, surrounded by nature. Bird migration is a key attraction in this area, particularly during the winter months. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise with different species including the bald eagle, ospreys, pelicans, spoonbills, among others.
In the water, you might see manatees, small sharks, stingrays, and crabs. If you’re an angler, you’ll want to bring some fishing gear and try to catch tarpon, redfish, seatrout, and snook. They are in plenty.
You should consider staying the night on the island because the sunrises and sunsets are nothing short of magical.
There’s a kayak launch site on the island, as well as restrooms. It should be noted, however, that the paddle trail isn’t suitable for beginners. Therefor, if you’re new to paddle boarding, it might be best to give this one a miss.
3. Indian Key Historic State Park
How about stepping back in time into the 1800s at Indian State Key? If you love a good history lesson, you’ll enjoy learning how the people here earned their living salvaging stuff from shipwrecks. It was quite a lucrative business back then.
The Indian Key island is accessible by kayak or canoe. You can gently paddle over seagrass flats with a kayak and watch the abundant wildlife in the ocean below. There are sting rays, sharks, manatees, dolphins, and more.
Fishing is allowed and kayak anglers will love it! You can fish bonefish, snook, snapper, and mackerel.
Take some time on the island to check out the ruins of the ancient village. Maybe have your lunch under the shade of one of the trees and just let your mind wander for a minute.
There’s an observation tower that offers a picturesque view of the entire island and the ocean, so be sure to check that one out too (and, of course, take some photos).
4. Curry Hammock State Park
The Curry Hammock State Park starts at mile marker 56.2 on U.S 1. This huge unspoiled piece of land is the best place to go kayaking for a nice quiet paddling experience.
One great thing about paddling the Curry Hammock State Park is that you have options when it comes to kayak trails.
There’s a short and easy one that goes all around the Little Crawl Key. This trail may be short but it’s thrilling, taking you through a mangrove canopied tunnel, the open water, and a lagoon. There are sandbars along the way too.
Alternatively, you can opt for a longer trail which is perfect for anglers and those who want to spend more time exploring in the water. The longer trail will take you through mangroves and around Deer Key.
The waters in Curry Hammock are shallow with weak currents, making it one of the best places to go on adventures as a family. Keep your eyes peeled for iguanas and other wildlife as they are plenty in the area.
There are multiple launch sites in the park as well as kayak rentals so you don’t have to bring your own.
By the way, Curry Hammock has 28 campsites, all of them at the oceanfront. You can plan a multiple-day kayaking trip if you prefer.
5. The Seven Mile Bridge
The historic Seven Mile Bridge connects the middle keys, from Marathon, to the lower keys.
The original Seven Mile Bridge was built back in the early 1900s. There are now two bridges, this older one and a modern one. The old Seven Mile Bridge, known just as the Old Seven, was closed in 2016. It was recently reopened to cyclists and pedestrians in January 2022.
As you can imagine, the two bridges, which are parallel to each other, are a sight to behold. They are among the longest bridges in the world and are captivating in many ways, from the length to their design.
If you’re planning to explore the Florida Keys on a kayak, the Seven Mile Bridge is a must-visit. Observing this fascinating wonder from a kayak is an experience you can’t forget easily. It’s a perfect spot for fishing and taking some epic photos.
You may also want to go up to Pigeon Key, a tiny beautiful island off the bridge. It was significant during the construction of the structure and the history has been well preserved. The bunkhouses that the workers slept in are still there today.
Pigeon Key is like a small slice of paradise, with its century-old cottages, surrounding turquoise waters, and views that you won’t find elsewhere.
6. Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda Key is part of the lower keys and it is absolutely worth visiting.
It’s one of the best islands to visit for the fun, relaxed, tropical vibe that the Florida Keys are known for. Pristine beaches, palm trees, and clear blue-green waters are just some of the features that will have you feeling like you’re in a tropical dream. And don’t forget the century-old Bahia Honda Bridge which completes this island.
Other than kayaking while surrounded by wildlife, some popular activities here include stargazing and snorkeling. For the perfect Bahia Honda Key experience, make sure you stay the night–there are camping sites.
As the sun gloriously bows out, it gives the stars an opportunity to showcase their beauty–and boy are they breathtaking; you’ll find it hard to look away! Bahia Honda Key is the darkest area in the Florida Keys (meaning that it’s the most free from light pollution), so you can only imagine what the sky looks like at night.
7. No Name Key
No Name Key is a small island, just a few miles off the bigger Big Pine Key, so you can launch from there for a simple family-friendly kayak trip.
You won’t have to paddle too far out to start spotting different bird species such as kingfishers, pelicans, and herons.
This remote island is one of the hidden gems of the Florida Keys. It’s nice if you’re looking for a relaxed paddling experience. You’ll enjoy some peace as you listen to the sound of your paddle splashing water, birds singing, and other creatures playing in the ocean below.
Bill Keogh of Big Pine Adventures offers kayak group tours to No Name Key and the rest of the lower Florida Keys. He’ll guide you through some really narrow mangrove tunnels and show you all the cool spots. The team launches from the Old Wooden Bridge Marina.
8. Key West
Lastly, there’s Key West, which sits at the end of this remarkable chain of islands. This is truly a kayaker’s paradise.
There are tons of launch sites all around the island so you’ll be spoilt for choice.
The beaches here are picturesque, the nightlife bubbly, and the history rich. While the island itself is lively, you can escape on your kayak to the remote backcountry for some solitude.
You have the option of renting a kayak from the many rental shops on the island and setting out on your own. This will allow you to take your time and explore as much as you’d like. Alternatively, book a guided eco-tour–even better if it’s a night tour.
Be prepared to see lots of wildlife, including dolphins if you’re lucky.
Multi-Day Florida Keys Kayaking
Each of the islands on this archipelago has something unique and special, but you can’t explore them all in one day.
A multi-day kayaking trip through the islands would make an amazing adventure, whether you’re paddling solo or with family. There are many different great places to paddle, from the upper keys to the lower keys.
Taking several days allows you enough time to explore the mangrove islands, see all kinds of wildlife, camp by the ocean side, and enjoy the beautiful scenery without a hurry.
Be sure to adhere to all safety precautions, make use of the information on state parks’ websites, and go out with other folks whenever you can.
The Florida Keys kayaking experience is one of a kind and knowing where to start can help you have even more fun. From Key Largo to Key West, the places discussed above are some of the best for kayakers of all skill levels. None of these spots is like the other, and you’re guaranteed to see something fascinating at each one of them.
If you’ve always wanted to kayak the Florida Keys, don’t hesitate. You’ll love it!