South Florida usually refers to the urban three-county area, but the Florida Keys are close to it, and this is easily considered heaven for kayakers.
If you’re tired of the same waterways, the Florida Keys is perfect because it’s an archipelago of more than 1,700 islands.
There are literally hundreds of places to launch a kayak, making the Florida Keys an idyllic and varied playground for paddlers who love exploring.
It’s a limitless source of adventure, if you want to discover something new each time.
Located at the junction of two large bodies of water—the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico—it’s an elegant arc from just outside of Miami, that reaches all the way to Key West.
Short distances between individual keys make them ideal for day trips and back-country tours.
But of course, you need some place to start exploring, and we have a few recommendations for you.
Whether you want to explore the ocean, the shallow waters of Florida Bay, or the many hidden creeks located within the islands, this is the best place for you.
Take your kayak, canoe, or paddle board and take a journey to one of the top kayaking destinations in Florida Keys.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous for its snorkeling, as its name implies.
But beyond that, it offers 2.5 miles of mangrove trails that stretches through the park.
This marked mangrove wilderness is a trail you will want to explore.
Rent a kayak or a canoe from the park’s harbor concession, or bring your own.
However, it may be a better idea to visit the park on a weekday because it gets rather crowded on weekends, especially if it’s a sunny day.
It is a very popular kayaking spot, after all. But it’s perfect for beginners.
The park also has 47 campsites if you want to stay a bit longer.
Spanish Harbor Boat Ramp at the Lower Keys
This wayside park is a popular launch site, especially for small and medium-sized boats.
However, this destination is also pretty popular, and that is why it can be a bit busy, especially during the weekends.
The Spanish Harbor Boat Ramp is located just over the bridge past Bahia Honda State Park, which also has a few excellent launch points, as well as a campground.
The island mostly consists of Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps.
The place gives you access to both the ocean and the bayside, which will take you towards No Name Key and some of the backcountry around Big Pine.
Garden Cove in Key Largo
If you want to stay close to Miami, this is probably the best option to go far.
The Garden Cove in Key Largo is one of the closest-to-Miami paddling destinations in the Keys.
Florida Bay Outfitters
This is another Key Largo mainstay that’s perfect for beginners and experienced kayakers alike.
It rents kayaks and offers backcountry paddle tours, so you don’t even have to bring your own boat.
Some tours last for three hours, but if you really want to get in touch with nature and have an unforgettable experience, there are tours that last up to three days.
You can launch your own boat or paddle board here for a nominal fee.
But it’s worth noting that the fee is often waived if you buy something from the retail store, so keep that in mind.
The staff at Florida Bay Outfitters is friendly and extremely knowledgeable too.
Although it is possible to snorkel here, you probably won’t see much, so kayaking is still the best water activity here.
Indian Key Historic State Park
This is an outstanding kayak destination.
It’s a historic island that’s now a ghost town with ruins overgrown by jungle.
It’s a great snorkeling site too, especially along the rocky shore.
Big Pine Key
Here you can spot the endangered Key Deer, which makes its home in the Big Pine Key.
It’s also very popular among kayakers.
The paddle around the island takes around four hours—plenty of time to take in the view.
However, the winds on the far side of the island can make it difficult to go through.
This destination is recommended for more experienced kayakers.
Although it’s not a huge challenge, it’s still a rougher ride than your usual peaceful rivers.
There are plenty of wildlife to see and appreciate: from birds to sea creatures, Big Pine Key is home to many different animals.
Bahia Honda State Park
The Bahia Honda State Park is a great starting point for kayaks.
If you don’t have one, you can rent a kayak at the park.
Here, paddlers can circumnavigate the whole place and explore nearby islands for an even better experience.
The “saddleback” bridge built by Henry Flagler can also be visited—kayakers can paddle under it.