Where to go? Central Florida Kayaking Destinations

River View, Ichetucknee Springs State Park Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Ichetucknee has a lot going for it, in terms of kayak destinations, but it's got a few things going against it as well. Briefly, it's close, cheap, and calm. The water is clear and cool, and in the warmer months, it's refreshing to tie off the kayak and go for a swim. There is a parking lot near the put-in and the take-out, so you never have to paddle up river. But, and this is a big but, they allow tubing throughout the year (it is busiest during the summer). On a busy day, you can't even see the water through the swarm of tubes and limbs. Field trips add another drawback - kayaking loses its charm when you are surrounded by a pack of showboating middle schoolers. In the offseason (winter), there is some good kayaking to be found here. Surely, the water isn't as tempting for a swim when the air is chilly, but the scenery is worth it. Entrance to the park is only a few dollars, and the springs are only an hour and a half northwest of Gainesville.

The Santa Fe River through vegetationSanta Fe River

Santa Fe is slow-moving and relaxing. The water is clear, the wildlife is plentiful and there are plenty of places to get in and out with a kayak. They rent on-site, if you aren't bringing your own, and it'll cost you between $20-$40 per kayak, depending on the length of your trip. Also, they rent camping equipment, if you want to turn your excursion into an overnight affair. But here's the best part - once a month, they host a full moon paddle down the river. Night paddling, particularly on a river, is a lot of fun. The three-hour trip ends with a bonfire and a ride back to your car. It's a great way to meet other kayakers and see the local environment in a new way.

Observation deck at Lake WauburgLake Wauburg

Lake Wauburg is big and calm, and it's the best place around to learn how to kayak. Go out and enjoy a lazy afternoon on the lake or bring some food and a football and make a day out of it. There is a caveat, though - you must have a valid Gator ID card (issued by the University of Florida), or be with someone who has one. Up to four people can enter the park accompanied by a single ID. If you live in or around Gainesville, chances are you have, or know someone who has, an ID. And here's the best part - once you're in, rentals are free. This is bargain kayaking at its best.

Paddling through the mangroves at WeedonWeedon Island

This is a little farther away, but it's still feasable for a day trip. A little-known gem in St. Petersburg (about 2 hours south of Gainesville), Weedon Island Preserve has several miles of great kayaking trails. The preserve itself is mostly mangroves, but thanks to a botched attempt to rid the land of summertime mosquitos, the preserve has miles of channels criss-crossing its land. The preserve keeps some of the channels passable by kayak (and only kayak), allowing adventurers to paddle through miles of mangrove tunnels. The tunnels open up into lagoons, where rays and fish swim the very shallow waters, protected from predators and fisherman. Runoff from the nearby power plant (as far as power plants go, this one isn't very invasive, and that's a good thing) warms the overall temperature of the water, and manatees congregate to enjoy it. They only rent on-site during the weekends, and even then its through a private company. Otherwise, there are no charges to enjoy the park. If you've got a kayak, it's worth an early morning trip any day of the week. Don't forget to check tides before you go - it's not passable at low tide.

Sunset at Cedar Key Cedar Key

Cedar Key is only an hour west of Gainesville, but is home to some great kayaking and fishing. Launch straight from the beach and explore the hundreds of small islands that suround Cedar Key. This offers a good opportunity to practice some sea kayaking in relatively calm waters. For the fishermen among us, there are lots of nice shallows and long piers. Of course, if you plan to fish, make sure you know the limits and restrictions. Like most good kayaking locales, there are plenty of places to rent if you aren't traveling with your equipment.

Kayak channel through Moses Creek Conservation AreaMoses Creek Conservation Area

The Moses Creek Conservation Area is unlike a lot of the other locations in the area. First, it's a little trickier to get to. Kayaking is permitted, but there are no boat ramps in the protected area - and that's where you want to go. However, on the west side of the highway 206 bridge that links the Moses Creek area with St. Augustine, there is a dirt area where a kayak can be slid into the water. On the opposite side of the brigde, there is a tackle shop that has water access. Once you are in the water, though, head north until you see the enterance to Moses Creek on your left. There is no signage, so be on the lookout. The creek offers a few good miles of kayaking, and plenty of good nature viewing. The area is a reminder of how Florida used to be - before the condominiums and interstates and Disney World. Paddling the creek is easy, but if you are looking for more of a challenge, head back out to open water and kayak up and down St. Augustine. Moses Creek is a little more than an hour from Gainesville and make sure to check tides before you leave. The creek is much more enjoyable when the water is high.

Low tide at Big Shoals State ParkBig Shoals State Park

Big Shoals State Park is an hour north of Gainesville, and boasts the state's largest whitewater rapids. In truth, it's really the only place in the state with any real, kayak-able rapids. As with most white water rivers, water levels make all the difference. Call the park before leaving if you want the best possible experience. Here's the deal, briefly: If the water is below 51' above mean sea level, you'll have to get out and walk around the rapids (in this case, the rocks). If it's between 59' and 61' above MSL, you are in for some class III whitewater rapids - not ideal for a first time kayaker, but good for someone ready to take their kayaking to the next level. IMPORTANT WARNING: Do not attempt to kayak whitewater for the first time without consulting an expert. This site is encouraging you to explore kayaking, but don't be stupid. Stop in and talk to an instructor before heading out. And never, ever set out without a PFD and a helmet.

Crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee SpringsWeeki Wachee Springs

You won't find water any clearer in the state than at Weeki Wachee Springs, 2 hours south of Gainesville. There are miles and miles of crystal clear waters to cruise. There is also a somewhat strange collection of other things happening at the park - mermaid shows, a spring-fed water park, riverboat tours. It can make for a fun, albeit touristy, family trip, but the real draw here is the kayaking. They have rentals available, but you can save a good chunck of money if you bring your own. They'll still charge you a $5 ramp fee and a $10 fee if you want them to transport your kayak back to where you launched. It's worth it, though.

Leaves changing colors along Ocklawaha RiverOcklawaha River

This river is big and calm. The water moves at a steady clip, and kayakers can enjoy a nice liesurely trip down the river. The ocklawaha is one of the wider rivers in the area. There is also some interesting wildlife along the river. Along with a healthy population of alligators, there is a sizable troop of wild rhesus monkeys living near the river. Kayakers have reported seeing them in the trees, and in the water - they can swim. If you are going out to Ocklawaha, we recommend bringing two cars, leaving one at the take-out and driving the other to the put-in. There is no shuttle back in forth, and kayaking back up the river is hard work and time consuming.

Storm rolling in over Paynes PrairiePrairie Creek into Paynes Prairie

If you are looking for a nice little creek paddle without leaving Gainesville, head to prairie creek, which links Newmans Lake with Paynes Prairie. You can't launch directly into the creek, so we recommend launching at the boat ramp at Earl P. Powers Park, off Hawthorn Road, and kayaking the short distance to the creek entrance. There is no guarantee that this creek will be passable - it's not kept up for kayaking purposes - but what's life without a little adventure? Enjoy the creek, and explore the marshy Paynes Prairie if you get that far. There are alligators, wild horses and buffalo roaming the prairie, so be on the lookout. There is no where to take out inside the prairie, so remember that every foot you paddle down that creek is another foot you must paddle back.