The paddle dips into the water and worries evaporate, replaced by tranquility. Ahhhhh. This is the gift of kayaking in Florida in the time of COVID-19 — a prescription to ease the mind and soul during a period of uncertainty and frustration. Admittedly, one doesn’t need a pandemic as an excuse to head out on a kayak to enjoy the state’s marvelous rivers and lakes.
You just need the time and a great destination.
Across the state, there are myriad watery escapes, from clear, spring-fed rivers to brown, tannic-colored streams, to coastal mangrove tunnels to sandy islands that recharge one’s spirit and put the “pause” button on a hectic schedule. There may be overhead flights of swallow-tailed kites and roseate spoonbills or splashing otters and lumbering manatees.
Florida offers year-round paddling opportunities with unforgettable experiences best encountered by canoe or kayak. Here are a few scenic suggestions.
*Note: Contact sites before heading out because some may be closed periodically or have restricted hours due to health or weather issues.
4 Florida Waterways to Explore
1. Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park
Location: St. George Island State Park
Inhale the briny air while paddling along this 22-mile barrier island off Florida’s Forgotten Coast near Apalachicola. The park, located at the eastern tip of the island, offers aquamarine waters and white beaches so fine that the sand squeaks. Rent a canoe or kayak at the park’s ranger station and paddle leisurely along the calmer bayside north of the island. Be on the lookout for varied bird life, schools of fish and rolling dolphin.
2. Wekiwa Springs State Park
Location: Apopka, FL
This is one of the outstanding gems of the state park system and is located just north of Orlando. Get a boat at the concession office and head into the Wekiva River
(Wekiva=river, Wekiwa=spring) for brief or hours-long excursions on this beloved, popular waterway. You are likely to see alligators, turtles and wading birds along the way. Afterward, swim and snorkel in the crystalline spring that feeds the river or hike along miles of upland trails. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the concession, Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures. For information on rentals and fees, see Nature Adventures at canoewekiva.com or call 407-884-4311.
3. Everglades National Park
Location: Homestead, FL
A great way to experience one of the most biodiverse places on the planet is by water. Everglades National Park is a 1.5 million-acre paradise for paddlers, birders, hikers and fishing enthusiasts who flock here from across the globe. Use one of the park-approved tour guides from the park website and enjoy aquatic exploring that might reveal rare American crocodiles, threatened manatees and countless birds. More than
360 species have been observed in the park.
4. Weedon Island Preserve
Location: St. Petersburg, FL
This 3,190-acre natural area on Tampa Bay offers an easy escape from urban chaos into a wonderland of salt marshes and wildlife. The park concessionaire offers rentals, but you can bring your own to explore 4 miles of shaded mangrove tunnels (be sure it’s high tide) and bay views. Back on shore, enjoy the preserve’s cultural and natural history center with exhibits about the local ecosystem and native people that lived here for thousands of years.