If it’s your first time out in a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, you might want to just get used to paddling around off a nearby beach or shoreline park. However, once you get the hang of your watercraft, we recommend exploring these locations:
Kayaking Caladesi Island State Park
If you are looking for a secluded kayaking excursion, Caladesi Island State Park is a great place to start. One of the few pristine barrier islands along Florida's Gulf Coast, this award-winning beach is accessible only by private boat or public ferry. The island features abundant wildlife and 3.5 miles of kayak trails leading paddlers through lush mangrove canals and seagrass flats along the bay side of the island. In many places the mangroves totally enclose the trail forming tunnels teeming with small fish, crabs, birds and other wildlife.
To help with navigation the trail is marked at strategic intersections with numbered white plastic poles. At one mile (marker 8), the canoe trail exits the mangroves offering a view of St. Joseph Sound and the Intercoastal waterway.
A great bonus: The Caladesi Cafe serves up a great burger after a long day out in the wild. Paddling here makes for a great day trip; consider dedicating at least half a day if not a whole day to the outing.
Weedon Island Preserve's Kayaking Trails
Weedon Island Preserve, an expansive 1,046-acre park on Tampa Bay comprising mostly marine habitats, is also a kayakers' delight. The history of Weedon Island goes back 5,000 years when early peoples such as the Manasotas made this their coastal home. Paddlers visiting Weedon Island Preserve can enjoy natural Florida by leisurely floating along the shores of Riviera Bay or on the South Paddling Trail.
The South Trail, however, is the signature one and by far the most intriguing. Featuring several long, dark and narrow corridors of thick mangrove canopies, the trail periodically leads into open saltwater ponds where sunlight penetrates the water's surface, revealing lush seagrass beds. The mangrove swamps and seagrasses are the prime habitats for dozens of marine species and provide roosting and feeding areas for wading birds.
Endangered birds seen by kayakers at Weedon Island include wood stork and bald eagle. The preserve is also home to a year-round population of West Indian manatees which are sometimes spotted by paddlers.
It's best to make the trip at high tide and carefully follow the trail markers as you paddle--the mangrove tunnels can seem like a labyrinth.
Paddling at Fort De Soto Park
Another popular destination for kayakers is Fort De Soto Park, and award-winning park that was recently named America's best family beach by Parents magazine. Made up of five separate islands (keys), the 900-acre park is home to a 2-1/4-mile self-guided trail that takes about two hours to paddle, taking you through mangrove communities, sea grass beds and oyster bars.
Be sure to follow the guidebook, it tells about the rich history of this area, the vegetation, the wildlife and sealife. Manatees are seen March through November, and dolphins visit the trail almost every day.
More ambitious paddlers can take a 10-mile, 3-4-hours-long trip around Mullet Key; put in at the Mullet Key boat ramp.
If you are looking to get off the trails and explore on your own, boat ramps to launch your kayak or canoe are available all over the St. Pete/Clearwater area. Maximo Park, located by Maximo Marina in south St. Petersburg, puts you right at the mouth of Frenchman's Creek as it opens up into Tampa Bay.
To access the intracoastal waterways, try the Park Boulevard boat ramp and beach access park, located mid-peninsula just south of Park Boulevard on Gulf Boulevard. These are just two of the many boat launches available in the area.