12 Stunning Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in the Tampa Bay Area
By Natalie Ringel
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Updated August 2, 2021
The white sand beaches and crystal blue waters of Tampa make it one of the most stunning places to go canoeing and kayaking in Florida. From paddle boarding to kayaking, there are tons of outdoor recreational activities for you to enjoy on the water. Both visitors and locals will love exploring the diverse ecosystems and waterways of the Tampa Bay Area.
Whether you are looking for an epic outdoor adventure or a relaxing paddle trip, going canoeing and kayaking in Tampa is a wonderful way to explore the city’s natural beauty. While paddling, kayakers can explore coastlines and sea caves (and even paddle among dolphins)! With so many amazing places to go paddling, it can be bit overwhelming to know where to start. Below, we have created a complete guide to the most beautiful places to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa.
Originally built as a fort to defend Tampa Bay during the Spanish-American War, Fort DeSoto Park is now one of the most popular places to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa. With 7 miles of pristine shoreline, Fort DeSoto is the perfect destination for novice and expert paddlers to enjoy the outdoors.
Spanning over 1,100 acres, Fort DeSoto has a wide range of paddle routes so all ability levels can get in on the action. If you are a novice paddler, we recommend the 2.25 mile-long marked water trail that goes around Mullet Key Bayou. This easy paddle follows scenic mangrove-lined shores and eventually opens to a lagoon. Sheltered from the wind, beginners will love testing out their skills on this water route.
If you are a more experienced paddler, Fort DeSoto offers tons of different areas to try out. For a challenge, we recommend paddling around Egmont Key or paddling the full 10 miles around Mullet Key Bayou. Both of these routes are less sheltered from the wind and tide, so take proper precautions before getting out on the water.
Along with exploring 5 different keys, mangrove forests and tide pools, visitors also enjoy Fort DeSoto’s bike paths and nationally ranked beaches. While walking around the park, visitors can even see remnants of the old fort.
This beautiful water trail is an amazing place for all types of paddlers to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa. From historic landmarks to white sand beaches, visitors can spend up to a whole day exploring the wonders of Fort DeSoto Park. If you have your own boat, you can launch your kayak in the park. Or, you can rent kayak gear inside Fort DeSoto Park.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Fort DeSoto Park is to drive. If you are driving, start on I-275 S. Then, continue on State Hwy 679 toward Pinellas Bayway to reach the park.
One of the many treasures of Tampa Bay, Weedon Island Preserve is a haven for outdoor recreational activities. From nature hikes to canoeing, Weedon Island Preserve is a wonderful place to go kayaking in Tampa and learn more about Florida’s cultural history.
With over 3,000 acres of coastal land, Weedon Island Preserve is dedicated to educating the public about Tampa Bay’s diverse ecosystems and history. One of the best ways to experience all the preserve has to offer is by paddling the South Paddling Trail. This 4 mile-long paddle trail meanders through mangrove forests, seagrass flats and around many small islands. While paddling, visitors can spot birds wading through the waters and other marine animals.
Weedon Island Preserve’s waterways are accessible to all ability levels, especially young children and families. This flat water experience offers stunning views of Tampa’s natural scenery without having to leave the metro Tampa area. Best of all, the preserve’s archeology center recently discovered a prehistoric canoe buried beneath the island’s shoreline! The canoe, which is estimated to be 1,100 years old, is now on display with other cool artifacts at the preserve’s education center.
Whether you are looking for a relaxing paddle through beautiful mangrove forests or want to expand your knowledge on Tampa Bay’s history, Weedon Island Preserve is a great place to start exploring on the water. If you have your own kayak, you can launch your boat on the island near the fishing center. Or, you can rent kayak gear and book guided tours through Sweetwater Kayaks.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Weedon Island Preserve is to drive. If you are driving, start on Tampa St. and head toward St. Petersburg. Then, continue on US-92 W to Weedon Dr. NE to get to the preserve.
Skip the ferry ride and try kayaking to Caladesi Island! Only a mile from Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island is a hidden gem for going canoeing and kayaking in Tampa Bay.
Whether you decide to drive or kayak to Caladesi Island, once you are there you will not want to leave. If you are a novice paddler or want to kayak alongside dolphins, we recommend paddling around the northern tip of the island. There, shallow pools of turquoise water reveal tons of marine wildlife, sea shells and gorgeous panoramic views.
If you are looking for a more challenging paddle, there is a 3 mile-long water trail that flows through Caladesi Island’s mangrove forests. This water trail is not too difficult either, and is a great route for exploring in and around the island. Along with this trail, visitors also enjoy kayaking around St. Joseph’s Sound and nearby Honeymoon Island.
Loved by locals and visitors, Caladesi Island is great place to experience the beauty of untouched nature. With miles of turquoise waters, mangrove forests and beaches, it is no wonder why famous homesteader Myrtle Scharrer Betz refers to Caladesi Island as “paradise.” If you have your own boat, you can launch your kayak off of the island or from Clearwater Beach. Otherwise, you can rent kayak gear from Sail Honeymoon Inc.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Caladesi Island is to drive. If you are driving, start on FL-60 W toward Clearwater. Then, continue on Mandalay Ave to the island.
If you are looking for a a low-key place to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa, Fred Howard Park is the perfect place to explore Florida’s natural beauty. Although small in size, Fred Howard Park has all of the amenities of a top-notch beach.
Known for its beautiful water trails and biking paths, Fred Howard Park is home to some of the most stunning views of Tampa Bay. White sand beaches and the playground welcome families from all over to come enjoy a day on the water.
At the park, there are two main water routes. The first route is a mile-long paddle through breathtaking mangrove forests. This serene paddle route is accessible to all ability levels and is full of rugged beauty. The other water route is a 2 mile-long paddle around Lake Avoca. Since Fred Howard Park is not as well known as other destinations on this list, both water routes have the much-needed peace and quiet for your outdoor adventures.
Fred Howard Park is especially loved by locals with families. With a small beach, playground and and stunning lake views, it is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in nature. Best of all, it is close to the village of Tarpon Springs which has tons shops and restaurants to explore after a day at the beach.
This small park has tons of potential to become your new go-to spot for canoeing and kayaking in Tampa Bay. If you have your own boat, you can launch your kayak in the park. Or, you can rent kayak gear from Wheel Fun Rentals.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Fred Howard Park is to drive. If you are driving, start on FL-60 W toward Clearwater. Then, continue on Tampa Rd. to Sunset Dr. to reach the park.
The Hillsborough River is one of the most thrilling places to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa. With Class II rapids and flat water stretches, all ability levels will love this wild river.
Known to be one of the most green rivers in Florida, Hillsborough River is surrounded by lush greenery on all sides. In the flat water sections of the river, many paddlers stop to take photos of the river’s reflection because it looks more green than blue!
Whether you are looking for a relaxing paddle down a meandering stream or the wild nature of Class II rapids, Hillsborough River has it all. It is important to note that alligators tend to hang out near the banks, so make sure to keep an eye out while paddling. Besides alligators, Hillsborough River is home to tons of wildlife including wild turkeys and hogs. While paddling, you can explore this diverse landscape with stunning foliage as a backdrop.
If you are interested in kayaking down the Hillsborough River, we recommend that you rent gear or book a tour with Canoe Escape. Only 15 minutes from downtown Tampa, Canoe Escape is a great resource for people looking to go kayaking near Tampa Bay. They offer self-guided tours and other expeditions that will help you navigate through this stunning waterway.
From cypress swamps to tree-lined shores, Hillsborough River is a wonderful place for intermediate paddlers to explore Tampa’s rugged beauty. If you have your own kayak, you can launch your boat at any of the ramps along the river. Otherwise, you can rent gear and book tours withCanoe Escape here.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Hillsborough River is to drive. If you are driving, start on I-275 N toward Temple Terrace. Then. continue on N Glen Arven Ave to reach the water.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway, Silver Springs State Park has gorgeous waterways, camping and exhibits for all visitors to enjoy. Silver River’s calm waters offer an excellent way to for visitors to explore the park’s attractions.
Inside the park, visitors can paddle down Silver River’s 5 miles of crystal clear waters. Eventually, the Silver River empties into the Ocklawaha River, both of which are beautifully maintained by Silver Springs State Park. While paddling, visitors can steer through dense mangrove forests and spot alligators, manatees and even wild monkeys on land. Silver Springs State Park is also the set for many Hollywood movies, including Tarzan.
Besides the beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife, Silver Springs State Park also has miles of hiking trails and is well-known for Cracker Village. This 19th century replica of a pioneer settlement showcases houses, a church and a schoolhouse for visitors to see what life during this time looked like. This attraction, along with the immense beauty of the park, makes Silver Springs State Park a common destination for outdoor lovers.
Paddling along Silver River’s clear and calm waters, visitors can reconnect with nature in one of the most beautiful settings for kayaking in Tampa. If you have your own boat, you can launch your kayak in the park. Or, you can rent kayaks from Silver Springs State Park and test out their new glass bottom kayaks.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Silver Springs State Park is to drive. If you are driving, start on FL-40 E toward Silver Springs Blvd. Then, continue on that road until you reach the park.
As Florida’s first designated wild and scenic river, kayaking down Myakka River is a true backcountry adventure. Flowing through 58 miles of untouched land, those looking for a rugged outdoor adventure should add Myakka River to their list.
This tea-stained river boasts many diverse ecosystems and landscapes. Called the “birdwatcher’s paradise”, Myakka River is home to over 100 species of birds. While paddling, visitors can navigate through wetlands, pinelands and prairies while ospreys fly overhead. Winding through miles of backcountry land, this scenic route is the perfect place for an epic day trip on the water.
With smooth waters and a gentle current, Myakka River is accessible to all types of paddlers. However, it is important to note that some parts of Myakka River can have Class I and II rapids, so this river is best suited for paddlers with some experience.
If you are feeling adventurous, check out Adventure Kayak’s new alligator kayaking tour. You are guaranteed to be kayaking right alongside these impressive creatures and see how they live in the wild. Or if you would rather have a more relaxing paddle trip, you can rent kayak gear from Myakka Outpost which is located inside Myakka River State Park.
How to Get There: The best way to reach Myakka River is to drive. If you are driving, start on I-75 S. Then, continue on FL-72 E to Myakka River State Park Rd. to reach the park.
The tourist-friendly town of Dunnellon and Rainbow River are the perfect destinations for outdoor enthusiasts to see some of Florida’s history and nature come together as one. Developed around Rainbow River in the 1800s, the historic town of Dunnellon is a wonderful place to explore after a day on the river’s crystal-clear spring waters.
Rainbow River is a beautiful place to go tubing, paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking in Tampa. These slow-moving waters are great for novice paddlers and children to explore nature. While paddling, visitors can see Spanish Moss among Cypress Knees and even paddle through sandy sea caves.
This aquatic preserve is truly a work of art; Rainbow River’s crystal clear waters reflect the equally beautiful landscapes surrounding the water. After an afternoon spent paddling or swimming, many visitors enjoy walking around historic Dunnellon.
To maintain this natural beauty, Rainbow River prohibits the use of plastic bags, alcohol and coolers while in the park. Although this may be an inconvenience, preserving this stunning habitat is of the upmost importance. Once you are there, you will be in awe of Rainbow River’s scenery.
If you have your own kayak, paddle board or tube, you can launch your device at any of the ramps in the park. Or, you can rent kayak gear from Rainbow River Kayak. Although Rainbow River is not far from Tampa Bay, this unique paddle destination is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Rainbow River is to drive. If you are driving, start on I-75 N toward Dunnellon. Then, continue on SW Hwy 484 to reach the water.
An underrated place to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa Bay, Terra Ceia Preserve offers miles of coastline for paddlers to explore. From wetlands to saltwater pools, Terra Ceia Preserve boasts stretches of untouched beauty and is home to many marine animals.
Paddling alongside dolphins and manatees, visitors can get an up-close look at marine wildlife in their natural habitat at Terra Ceia Preserve. With freshwater and saltwater areas, Terra Ceia Preserve is a beautiful mixture of different landscapes.
If you are interested in kayaking at Terra Ceia Preserve, we recommend that you paddle through the park’s mangrove forests. This section of the waterway is calm enough for all ability levels to enjoy the sights and scenes of the Tampa Bay area.
Spanning over 2,000 acres, there is no shortage of places to explore at Terra Ceia Preserve. Many paddlers enjoy Frog Creek. This small creek runs through Terra Ceia Preserve and is a beautiful place for novices to try kayaking in Tampa.
Staying true to its mission of restoration, most of Terra Ceia Preserve is backcountry nature. Therefore, it is best if you have some experience navigating waterways if you want to go kayaking here.
If you have your own kayak, you can launch your boat at Bishop Harbor. Or, you can rent kayak gear from Frog Creek Kayaking. Whether you want to paddle through saltwater pools to spot marine life or go for a quick paddle down Frog Creek, Terra Ceia Preserve provides a wonderful setting for reconnecting with nature.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Terra Ceia Preserve is to drive. If you are driving, start on I-75 S toward Naples. Then, continue on Moccassin Wallow Rd. to reach Bishop Harbor.
Robinson Preserve is a family-friendly place to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa Bay. With a rich history and beautiful views, Robinson Preserve is a favorite among locals and visitors.
With over 600 acres of coastal shoreline, Robinson Preserve is a saltwater waterway where dolphins and manatees love to hang out. While paddling among this amazing wildlife, visitors can also navigate through mangrove and cypress forests.
Channels of interconnected waterway will take paddlers all throughout Robinson Preserve. This network of streams, lakes and lagoons is accessible to all ability levels. If you are looking for a more challenging paddle, the Robinson Preserve opens up into the Perico Bayou and Perico Preserve which contains wide-open waters.
After exploring this area on water, many visitors enjoy climbing the 53-foot tall tower which provides stunning panoramic views of Tampa Bay. This tower and the park’s visitor center are both historic landmarks and add a charming element to this otherwise grand preserve.
If you have your own kayak, you can launch your boat in the park. Or, you can rent kayak gear from Kayak Jack’s Paddle Sports. Overall, Robinson Preserve is a wonderful place for friends and family to gather and seek out Florida’s natural beauty.
How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Robinson Preserve is to drive. If you are driving, start on US-19 S toward Palmetto. Then, continue on FL-64 W to reach the preserve.
Located just outside of Tampa Bay, Lettuce Lake Park is a quaint and peaceful place to go canoeing and kayaking in Tampa. Nestled in the northern tip of the Hillsborough River, Lettuce Lake Park offers a quiet place for paddlers to enjoy the river’s wildlife and scenery.
While paddling along the tree-lined shores, paddlers can spot alligators and turtles basking in the sun. Although it is not recommended to get too close to the alligators of Lettuce Lake Park, it is still amazing to observe these animals in their natural habitat.
A favorite among nature photographers, Lettuce Lake Park is a low-key spot for outdoor lovers to connect with nature. This swamp-like portion of the Hillsborough River gives visitors a look into Florida’s true landscape.
After spending the afternoon on the water, may visitors enjoy climbing the observation deck to see gorgeous panoramic views of Tampa Bay. Lettuce Lake Park is truly a hidden gem for sight seeing and kayaking in Tampa.
If you have your own boat, you can launch your kayak at Lettuce Lake Park. Or, you can rent kayak gear from Lettuce Lake Park in Hillsborough County. At $2 per vehicle, visiting Lettuce Lake Park is one of the most affordable outdoor activities in Tampa Bay.
How to Get There: The best way to reach Lettuce Lake Park is to drive. If you are driving, take I-4 E toward Orlando. Then, continue on Lettuce Lake Pkwy to Osprey Dr. to get to the park.
Sitting right next to the beautiful Sarasota Bay, Lido Key is a wonderful water trail for novices and families to go canoeing and kayaking near Tampa. This protected waterway flows through scenic mangrove forests and saltwater lagoons.
Along the way, paddlers may get a visit from friendly dolphins or manatees in the area- they love meeting new paddlers! Known for its vast system of mangrove forests, Lido Key is a serene place to paddle beneath the treetops.
With sandy shorelines and sparkling waters, Lido Key is an amazing place for a relaxing beach day. Since it is so close to Lido Beach and and Ted Sperling Park, many visitors will paddle to Lido Key and then return to one of these parks to relax.
If you have your own kayak, you can launch your boat from Ted Sperling Park near the public Lido Beach. Or, you can rent kayak gear and book tours through Kayaking SRQ. Lido Key is a unique paddle destination that will not disappoint novice and expert paddlers.
How to Get There: The easiest way to reach Lido Key is to drive. If you are driving, take I-75 S toward Naples. Then, continue on FL-780 W to John Ringling Causeway to reach the park.
The crystal clear waters of Tarpon Springs is one of the best places to spot wildlife while kayaking in Tampa. Home to a large manatee population, Tarpon Spring’s pristine waters are perfect for paddle sports and meeting manatees.
The Tarpon Springs Bayou is a wonderful resource for outdoor activities. From paddle boarding to kayaking, miles of open water provide a great setting for these activities. These waters are usually calm enough for all ability levels, but is is best to stay with a paddle-buddy while out on the water.
Visitors and locals love the open and friendly environment of Tarpon Springs. Whether you are looking to solo-paddle around the bayou or want a guided tour of the area, Tarpon Springs has got you covered. If you are interested in a tour, we recommend the clear kayak manatee tour.
Tarpon Springs offers many wonderful tours of the area. If you want to book a guided tour or need to rent kayak gear, you can do so through Tarpon Springs. Otherwise, you are free to launch your own boat into these pristine waters and cruise along the gentle waves.
How to Get There: The best way to get to Tarpon Springs is to drive. If you are driving, take FL-60 W toward Clearwater. Then, continue on Tampa Rd. to Pinellas Ave to reach the park.
What to Pack for Kayaking in Tampa
Swimsuit: Wearing a swimsuit is essential for being out on the water! When canoeing and kayaking, chances are you are going to get wet, so best to be prepared! Click here to compare men’s and women’s styles and prices for our favorite swimsuits.
Sunglasses: Being out on the water is beautiful, but the water can really reflect light! Make sure to bring a pair ofsunglassesand croakies to keep them from falling off.
Hat: It’s best to keep the sun off of your head to keep you cool. Whether you prefer a nice bucket hat or a vintage baseball cap, keeping cool will ensure an awesome trip.
Water Bottle: Keeping hydrated is no joke! Paddling is a great way to exercise and relax, but that means it takes a lot of energy too! Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your trip withthese cool water bottles.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray: Don’t let the elements stop you from having an amazing paddle! I recommend bringingsunscreen and bug spray in the boat with you to ward off any pests and sunburns.
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