Florida is a paddler’s paradise. Dipping a paddle in the water is one of the best ways to experience the watery wonders of our state. Florida boasts more than 1,000 freshwater springs; 7,700 lakes greater than 10 acres; 11 million acres of wetlands; and 27,561 linear miles of rivers and streams. Add to that more than 820 miles of sandy beach; 1,200 miles of coastline; and 4,500 square miles of estuaries and bays. You could spend a lifetime and never experience it all – but what a fun goal!
With a kayak, stand-up paddleboard (SUP), a few surfboards, and an outrigger canoe, I’ve spent my fair share of time paddling Florida waters. Here are five of my favorite spots:
Near Live Oak, Florida
Craft recommendation: kayak or canoe
Starting in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia, the Suwannee River winds nearly 250 miles southwest where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Branford in Suwanee County. With a bright white sand bottom and tea-colored water, it makes for a striking color contrast. Thrill seekers may find strategically placed rope swings along with high-banked bluff areas near Live Oak or test their paddling skills on Class III rapids in Big Shoals State Park.
Nature Coast, Citrus County
Craft recommendation: kayak
Nestled along the Nature Coast in Citrus County, what the “Chazz” lacks in length – it’s only 5 miles – it makes up for in wildness. Myriad birds roost in its trees, manatees seek refuge during the cooler months, and river otters can be seen snaking along the banks. For those in the know, or with some guidance from locals, you can find and dip into deep spring-fed holes and “cracks.”
Craft recommendation: kayak or SUP
At 3,190 acres, Weedon Island Preserve is the second largest preserve within Pinellas County, Florida’s most densely populated county. Ditches were cut through its low-lying mangroves in the mid 20th century for mosquito control, permanently altering water flow and allowing non-native invasive species like Brazilian pepper plants to take hold. Fortunately, managers took advantage of some of the channels, creating a four-mile paddling trail that winds through the mangroves and into Tampa Bay. Check the tides as some areas are very shallow at low tide. You can take a virtual visit to the upland portions of this preserve with me on YouTube!
Near Moore Haven, Florida
Craft recommendation: canoe
The only remaining free-flowing river into Lake Okechobee, it is the second largest natural source for the lake. Lined with oak, palms, cypress and pines, paddling the river feels like stepping back in time. It is home to abundant fish and wildlife. And as tempting as it is to jump in during the sweltering summer months, swimmers beware: I’ve never seen more alligators up-close-and-personal than along its muddy banks.
Craft recommendation: surfboard or sea kayak
As our nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine is a historical gem and home to spectacular beaches. Anastasia State Park and nearby coastal areas are critical for sea turtles, birds, beach mice, and other beach-nesting species. When storms bring waves on the east coast, I’m loading up my surfboards, rash guards, and wax and heading to St. Augustine Pier and other nearby spots for some fun in the surf.
Florida’s waters not only supply critical drinking water resources, but also provide fun and enriching recreation opportunities. That’s why so many people around the world love and cherish Florida. To protect our economy and quality of life here in the Sunshine State, we must prioritize our water. Can you help us advocate for water conservation and protection at the State Capitol? Add your name to this petition and let your lawmakers know that you want them to protect our water!