When you plan a kayaking trip to the Florida Keys, get ready to enjoy kayak heaven. Whether you prefer to explore by kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board, there are plenty of excellent kayaking spots for paddlers of every skill level.
Seeing the colorful fish through crystal clear water and searching for stingrays, turtles, and alligators is a great way to spend an afternoon. If this is your first trip to the Florida Keys, plan to head your kayak in the direction of the impressive mangrove islands to see nature at its best.
Let’s take a look at the top nine paddling destinations in the Florida Keys.
1) Key Largo
Head south on US Highway 1 from Miami, and the first island of the Florida Keys you’ll hit is Key Largo. Towards the Atlantic Ocean side of Key Largo lies the colorful coral at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Most people head to this area to snorkel among the tropical fish living on the reef. However, there are plenty of fantastic places to launch a kayak and enjoy the beauty of the Florida Keys on both the ocean and the bayside.
Excellent launch points for kayaks in Key Largo are available at:
Florida Bay Outfitters
The boat ramp on Shoreland Drive
Sunset Point Park Boat Ramp
Pennekamp State Park
Kayak rentals are available at many places in town. First-time visitors would benefit from taking a guided kayak tour for their first trip out. Local guides leading backcountry paddle tours take their guests to places you might otherwise miss.
Wildlife in the area includes stingrays, sharks, birds, and turtles.
2) Bahia Honda State Park In The Florida Keys
Bahia Honda is a special place for kayaking the Florida Keys with stunning views, gorgeous beaches, and the scenic Bahia Honda rail bridge. This 524-acre park has public restrooms, fishing, picnicking, hiking trails, biking, and a restaurant. Kayaks and snorkel gear are available for rent, and a boat tour is available to the reef for snorkeling.
You can launch from both the Atlantic Ocean side and the Gulf of Mexico side. A great starting point is from the Loggerhead parking lot to paddle the ocean side and the boat ramp at the marina to paddle the gulf side. On a particularly windy day, launch from the gulf side of Bahia Honda State Park, which provides some shelter from the wind.
If you are staying in Key Largo, you are only 1.5 hours from Bahia Honda, and Key West is only an hour away.
3) Indian Key Historic State Park
This historic state park is the hidden gem of kayaking in the Florida Keys. It’s located just offshore from Islamorada, about 20 to 30 minutes by kayak.
At one time, Indian Key was a thriving island and the Miami Dade County seat. The key was occupied with houses, a hotel, a post office, stores, and warehouses. A business flourished here, salvaging cargo from shipwrecks in the Florida Keys. In 1935, a massive hurricane wiped out the island, and it ceased being used or inhabited. The State of Florida bought the key in 1971 and designated it a historic state park.
You can only access the key by boat. Launch your kayak from Islamorada, where rentals are available. Kayak landing is available on the south side of Indian Key. Look for kayak landing signs in the water.
4) Curry Hammock State Park In The Florida Keys
Curry Hammock takes the prize for the easiest place for kayaking the Florida Keys. If you have kids or teenagers, this may be your best spot. The park occupies over 1,000 acres of undeveloped land on Marathon Key. Amenities include a campground, nature trail, sandy beach, and public restrooms.
There are two options for paddling the kayak trail. The shorter option is a 1.5-mile paddle around nearby Little Crawl Key, which takes about an hour to navigate. The longer option is a 5-mile path which includes paddling through the mangroves and sandbars. Plan about four hours to take the longer route. It’s best to head out during high tide, so it will be easier to pass through the mangrove tunnels.
On peaceful days the park is quiet and secluded, and paddling in the calm waters almost feels like a private hideaway. On high-wind days, the park is busy with high-energy kiteboarders.
Kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent at the park.
5) Geiger Key Of The Florida Keys
Kayaking Geiger Key makes for a great kayaking trip from Key West, with just a 20-minute drive. Through the clear shallow water, it is possible to see barracudas, conch, jellyfish, rays, or nurse sharks.
Bring your own kayak and launch from the boat ramp near the fish camp. You can paddle through the mangrove trails, creeks, and flats surrounding Geiger. Without a kayak, you will need to take one of the scheduled guided tours.
Geiger doesn’t have much available by way of amenities that are open to the public. There is a small RV park with 36 sites, and an open-air restaurant with an old Key West feel to it. Kayak or not, this is a good spot to avoid the crowds at Mallory Square and enjoy a plate of fish tacos while you watch a stunning Key West sunset.
6) Big Pine Key Florida Keys
If you are looking for backcountry adventure in the Florida Keys, then Big Pine Key just might be the best Florida keys kayaking for you. Big Pine gets its name from the pine forests that cover the island. The trees provide shelter for the island’s most famous native resident, the key deer. These tiny deer are about the size of a dog, with the largest population here on Big Pine.
This area is teeming with plenty of animal life. Be on the lookout for alligators, turtles, iguanas, fish, and plenty of birds. Kayaking in the area is in the shallow waters of the mangroves. Consider taking a guided kayak tour to the Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge, which is only available by water.
Back on land, take some time to visit the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge to see the adorable key deer and learn more about their habitat. Pine Key is also home to the Blue Hole, originally a sinkhole in the limestone that was made bigger when quarried years ago. The Blue Hole is now a small freshwater lake that supplies water for the wildlife of the key.
7) Long Key State Park In The Florida Keys
Long Key was formerly the Long Key Fishing Camp, a playground for the rich and famous. Celebrities, US presidents, and famous author Zan Grey all vacationed here, until the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed the resort and it was never rebuilt.
The state park is now an excellent area for families with kids looking for a shorter trail to paddle. There is a marked 1.5-mile paddling trail within a protected lagoon that is great for beginners.
The state park is 965 acres with hiking trails, camping, bonefishing, swimming, snorkeling, and paddling. It’s 15 miles north of Marathon in the middle keys. Look for mile marker 67.5 on the Overseas Highway. Kayak launching for the kayak trail is available near the ranger station. Another launch site is located at the beach to head into the ocean.
Kayak rentals are available at the beach launch.
8) John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Florida Keys
John Pennekamp is one of the most popular spots in the Florida Keys for snorkeling. It might surprise you to hear that it’s an excellent place for kayaking as well. There are 2.5 miles of mangrove trails meandering through the length of the park for paddlers to enjoy.
Novice paddlers will enjoy the natural beauty of the marked mangrove trails, and experienced kayakers looking for a bit more excitement can venture out to the crystal clear water at the open reef. Kayaking out to the reef is about four to five miles each way. Weekends are generally jam-packed with snorkelers and kayakers. If you can visit midweek, you can avoid the crowd.
Canoes, stand-up paddle boards, and kayak rentals are available within the park. Snorkel rentals are also available, so go ahead and enjoy the park from above and below the water.
9) Night Kayaking In The Keys
Try something new and take an amazing night kayak tour in Key West. You’ll head out in a glass-bottom kayak illuminated with lights with a knowledgeable local guide leading the way.
Night kayaking is an unforgettable opportunity to see marine life as they come out to explore at night. Your guide is on the lookout for nocturnal marine life and will stop and provide opportunities to touch and feel some of the interesting critters that are lurking at night. You’ll feel like you’re kayaking in a large aquarium under the stars. On a lucky night, it is even possible to see a sea turtle swimming past the window of the kayak.
If you are planning to go kayaking in the keys, then don’t miss the best adventure of all! Book this exciting Night Kayak Tour!