Most locals in the Florida Keys will tell you that you haven’t really experienced the Keys unless you’ve gotten on the water. If you don’t have a boat and don’t want to shell out hundreds on a boat tour, a cheaper way to get on the water is by kayak. There are plenty of kayak rentals in the Florida Keys and renting is relatively inexpensive. Well, inexpensive for the Florida Keys. As you probably know, they aren’t exactly known for being a budget friendly destination. But ultimately, if you want to go kayaking in the Florida Keys, there are many places and ways to make it happen.
No matter where you are looking to Kayak in the Florida Keys this guide will have you covered. It is organized by location; the upper keys (from approximately Key Largo to Islamorada), the middle keys (Marathon), lower keys (several small towns from approximately mile marker 40 to mile marker 5), and Key West. I use the word kayaking for simplicity, but in most cases it can be used interchangeably with stand up paddle boarding. Most kayak rentals in the Florida keys also have stand up paddle boards for rent and locations mentioned are just as great for paddle boarding as they are for kayaking.
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Kayaking Key Largo, Islamorada, and the Upper Florida Keys
Opportunities for kayaking in the Florida Keys starts almost the second you step foot on the islands. There are a lot of spots to kayak in the Key Largo and Islamorada areas. These are the northernmost keys, with Key Largo being under 70 miles from Miami.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp is most famous for snorkeling and diving and it’s also a good stop for kayaking. You can explore over 50 miles of mangrove trails. On weekends and holidays, it can get really busy with boat traffic. Otherwise, it’s generally a great spot for beginners. You can rent a kayak from John Pennekamp or bring your own.
Blackwater Sound/Florida Bay Outfitters
Located at mile marker 104.5, you’ll find Florida Bay Outfitters and in their backyard is the Blackwater Sound. At Florida Bay Outfitters, you can rent kayaks and explore on your own or join one of their guided paddle tours which are around 3 hours long. If you’re kayaking on your own, you can paddle from the dock at Florida Bay Outfitters along the shore of Blackwater Sound, then make your way into Dusenberry Creek. From there, you will find some mangrove tunnels.
Garden Cove Road
Garden Cove Launch is a popular kayak launch area. The launch is where Garden Cove Road meets the ocean. Once you launch, you can kayak around 1.3 miles out to find a wrecked concrete barge which is a great spot for snorkeling.
Dove Creek is a quiet creek in Tavernier. On the creek, you might see some wildlife and part of the creek does have mangroves. How long you might want to kayak at this location depends partly on whether you’d like to explore Dove Lake or not. To explore Dove Lake, you all go to the left right after you launch. There won’t be too much to see in the lake because flow to the lake was cut off for the Overseas Railroad and subsequently US-1. But you will likely see some upside down jellyfish and birds. At some point, you’ll likely be paddling against the current but if you start at low tide, the incoming tide will help guide you back towards the launch.
Parking for Dove Creek: You can park at Harry Harris Park which will make it a bit of a longer paddle, but it is easy to find the creek from the park. From Harry Harris, you’ll paddle north along the coast; the first inlet on the left is the entrance to the creek; the distance is a little less than two miles. There is also parking at the end of Caribbean Ave; if you drive all the way down until you reach the end, there will be a path on your right. It’s a little hidden but you’ll know you are there when you see the large rocks.
Toilet Seat Cut
This is certainly a unique kayaking experience as you’ll kayak through approximately 250 toilet seats. While you can kayak here, there are times you’ll experience heavy boat traffic so keep that in mind. I actually have not kayaked to Toilet Seat Cut but have been there by motorboat. If you’d like to see video footage, you can check that out on my Florida YouTube channel (and while you’re there, it would mean a lot if you could subscribe, too!)
We learned the story of the toilet seats from some locals. Toilet Seat Cut is a man-made channel that was dredged by a local before there were strict dredging laws in place. He was sick of having to go the long way to dinner with his boat so he created this as a short cut and marked it with homemade posts. After Hurricane Donna in 1960, a toilet seat was found hanging on one of his homemade posts. The locals found humor in this and started adding their own toilet seats. The rest is history and now there are around 250 of them! Some are funny, others mark special moments like anniversaries, but they’re all interesting to see. The toilet seats are always changing as people add more and as tides and currents take old ones away. Technically, they are illegal, but officials know that it would spark outrage among locals to remove them. So, the toilet seats stay.
Toilet Seat Cut is on the bay side and you can launch your kayak next to Tavernier Creek Marina. It can be reached through Tavernier Creek (as always, just be mindful of motorboat traffic). When you exit Tavernier Creek, head south and you’ll find Toilet Seat Cut parallel to Cowpens Cut (a larger boating channel). You could also launch from Founders Park.
At Robbie’s, there are a few different options for kayak tours. They have a backcountry tour that explores mangroves (duration is 2 hours) and they also have a sunset tour (duration is 2 or 3 hours). You can also rent kayaks here for self-guided exploration. Robbie’s is great for kayaking in Islamorada because it’s close to the three amazing paddle destinations:
Indian Key State Park
Indian Key State Park is around a 20 minute paddle from Robbie’s and it’s a great paddle for all skill levels. Once on the island, you can explore remnants of the old wrecking colony that was destroyed by a surprise Indian attack. There is a self-guided walking tour that you can take and it’s also a good spot for snorkeling.
The Indian Key Boat Ramp is currently closed due to damage sustained by a contractor doing work in the area. But when it’s open, you can also launch from there. I wanted to mention this option in case it happens to reopen while you’re researching for your trip and before I update the article. The ramp is located at mile marker 78.5 on the bay side.
Kayaking the Mangroves from Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada
Just a 5 minute paddle from Robbie’s, you’ll find mangroves. You can explore the mangrove tunnels, look for wildlife, and go fishing.
Lignumviatae Key Botanical State Park
Lignumviatae Key Botanical State Park is another great place to kayak in Islamorada. It will take around 20 minutes from Robbie’s depending on your skill level and how fast you paddle. Lignumviatae Key is home to the Matheson House, which was built in 1919. It was owned by William Matheson, who was a wealthy chemist from Miami. It was complete with windmill for electricity and a cistern for rainwater, both a pretty big deal back then. Today, that home serves as the visitor’s center.
A visit to this island helps you to explore how island people lived in a simpler time. There is a $2.50 per person visitor fee for this park. They used to have ranger guided tours but at the time of this writing, tours are currently unavailable.
Anne’s Beach is on the ocean side around mile marker 73. There are no kayak rentals here, so you’ll need to bring your own but you can launch and enjoy the open water or follow the coast down. It can also be fun to kayak down to the bridge, which is under a mile one way.
Something to keep in mind is that there is limited parking at Anne’s Beach. We have never had a problem finding parking early in the morning, but it might be challenging if you don’t get there early. There are two parking lots at Anne’s Beach, one on the north end and one on the south end. They are around a quarter mile apart and it’s worth checking both parking lots if one is full.
Additional Kayak Launches in the Upper Florida Keys
Additional kayak launches in the upper Florida Keys where you can launch a kayak:
Little Black Water Sound Boat Ramp at Mile Marker 110.8. This ramp is on the bayside and has shoulder parking only.
Mile Marker 84 is a bridge with a popular launch. You’ll often see kite boarders here as well.
Additional parking may be available at what is referred to as “The Fills”, an area between Mile Marker 77.6 and Mile Marker 79.6. The area includes lesser known keys such as Tea Table Key Fill, Indian Key Fill, and Lignumvitae Key Fill. You could launch in this area to kayak to the same destinations as you would launching from Robbie’s. In the past, parking here has closed when there is an increase of parking outside of designated areas and/or disrespecting the land, so it’s worth noting that parking may be unavailable on short notice if there are issues like this.
Sunset Point Park Boat Ramp is in Mike Forster Memorial Park located at 20 Sunset Road in Key Largo. Access is on the bayside and intended for small boats like kayaks. It can get busy which can make parking difficult at times. Make sure you’re parking in a designated area because they do issue fines.
Founder’s Park is a public park with an entrance fee for non-residents ($8/adult and $5/kids 3-17 & seniors) and they have a marina, boat ramps, and kayak rentals. There is also an olympic sized pool, dog park, beach, baseball fields, and a skate park. Founder’s Park is located at 87000 Overseas Highway in Islamorada.
Library Beach Park is located at 84 Johnston Road in Islamorada. There are restrooms and outdoor showers at this location which can be nice for rinsing off when you are done.
Where to Rent Kayaks in the Upper Florida Keys
It’s easy to rent kayaks in the Florida Keys and as you can see, there are tons of kayak rental companies in Key Largo, Tavernier, and Islamorada. No matter what you’re looking for, one of these companies will meet your needs. Many offer kayak tours, kayak delivery, and even week-long rentals. There are even more companies not listed here that don’t offer kayak rentals but do kayak guided tours, but for simplicity I only included companies that offer kayak rentals.
Key Largo Kayak Rentals
Aquaholic Adventures is located at 99751 Overseas Highway in Key Largo
Florida Bay Outfitters as mentioned above is located at 104050 Overseas Highway in Key Largo
Pirates Cove Watersports is in the Reefhouse Resort & Marina located at 103800 Overseas Highway in Key Largo
Tavernier Kayak Rentals
Paddle the Florida Keys is located at 90773 Old Highway #1 in Tavernier
Florida Keys Kayak and Paddle Board is located at 90311 Old Hwy Suite C in Tavernier.
Islamorada Kayak Rentals
A1A Watersports and Boat Rentals is located at 85970 Overseas Highway in Islamorada and offers stand up paddle boards (not kayaks).
Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters is located at 82240 Overseas Highway in Islamorada.
Key Aquasports is located in Mr. Lobster at 74580 Overseas Highway in Islamorada.
Kayaking Marathon and the Middle Florida Keys
Some of the best opportunities for kayaking in the Florida Keys are located right in the middle of the stretch of islands. The Middle Keys offer some truly spectacular kayaking options. You can’t go wrong kayaking anywhere in the Florida Keys, but this is my personal favorite area for kayaking. The Middle Keys start around Duck Key (mile marker 61) and go to the 7 mile bridge area (mile marker 47).
Curry Hammock State Park
When it comes to kayaking in the Florida Keys, Curry Hammock State Park is one of my most memorable paddles. We started with the Mangrove Tunnel Loop, a 1.2 mile paddle through the mangrove tunnels. At times, kayaking through mangroves got tricky because of the tight curves and turns, but it’s definitely manageable and gets easier with practice. If you do the Mangrove Tunnel Loop, you’ll want to make sure the tide is high enough because the tide can get too low to get through the mangroves. After exploring the mangroves, we kayaked to one of the two sandbars. The sandbar we kayaked to was located closer towards the launch site and the other sandbar is closer to Deer Key.
Deer Key is another route you can take if launching at Curry Hammock State Park. Some opt to do this route after the Mangrove Tunnel Loop. The Deer Key Loop is 1.3 miles and there is another sandbar a little over a quarter of a mile from Deer Key.
You can rent a kayak from Curry Hammock State Park or bring your own. The office has a map of the routes I mentioned above which we found to be really helpful as we were navigating the waters. The guides at the desk were also helpful in providing information on the tides for that day and giving recommendations on which route we should take.
Long Key State Park
We stumbled on Long Key State Park on accident on one of our visits and felt so lucky to have found it. We thoroughly enjoyed a nature hike through Long Key State Park and kept stopping to admire the breathtaking views. It is underrated in our opinion and a great place to kayak. You can rent a kayak from the park or bring your own.
There is also an area to pull over on the bay side near Long Key State Park at mile marker 66.5. You can drop your kayak in here if you have your own and do not need to rent one.
Cocoa Plum Beach and Sombrero Beach
Cocoa Plum Beach and Sombrero Beach are a little over 7 miles apart. They are nice for simple kayaking off shore if you have your own kayak. You’re not going to be kayaking to any specific place (such as a mangrove tunnel or little island) with either of these beaches, but both have beautiful waters. Cocoa Plum Beach doesn’t have very much parking but there is quite a bit at Sombrero Beach. If you have kids, Sombrero Beach also has a really nice playground.
Where to Rent Kayaks in Marathon & Middle Florida Keys
Curly’s Coffee is a must stop for us every time we are in the lower Florida Keys. I highly recommend their raspberry mocha. But on top of coffee, they are located on a marina and offer kayak and paddle board rentals. They are located at 11601 Overseas Highway in Marathon.
Marathon Kayaking and Paddleboarding is located in the White Sands Inn at 57622 Overseas Highway in Marathon. They have weekly rentals and free delivery. They also have tours if you prefer to explore with a guide.
Keys Kayak is located at 10499 Overseas Highway in Marathon. They’ll meet you at your launch site to deliver your rental
Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key also offers kayak rentals. They are located at 61 Hawks Cay Blvd in Duck Key.
Kayaking the Lower Keys
In this article, I consider the Lower Keys as approximately Big Pine Key right up to Key West. Key West is in the Lower Keys since it is, obviously, the southernmost Key. But Key West deserves its own category; if you’ve been there, you get it. So for the lower keys, I’ll cover the area from approximately mile marker 40 to mile marker 5.
Bahia Honda State Park
Kayaking Bahia Honda is one of the most beautiful experiences and offers some of the best kayaking in the Florida Keys. The park is beautiful and worth visiting so much that I wrote an entire article on visiting Bahia Honda State Park. You can rent a kayak from the park or you can bring your own.
The water here is truly stunning. On your kayak, you can explore the Atlantic coastline where you’ll have a beautiful view of the old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, part of the old Overseas Railroad. Kayak rentals aren’t allowed on the bay side and are mainly for exploring the beach area.
If you bring your own kayak, you can do a little more exploring. Little Bahia Honda Island is a great kayak destination from Bahia Honda, but it’s not a paddle for beginners. If you head out from Loggerhead Beach (the longest stretch of beach in Bahia Honda, towards the south and facing the Atlantic), you will be able to see Little Bahia Honda Island in the distance. The island is very small (approximately 300 feet across) but it is beautiful. You will want to check the tides before your trip because when crossing the Ohio Bahia Honda Channel, you want to paddle in the same direction the tide is running.
No Name Key
To get to No Name Key, you will start off from the Old Wooden Bridge Resort on Big Pine Key. No Name Key has a lot of wildlife and fishing for tarpon is popular here. You may also see some sunken boats along the paddle. You can rent kayaks from Captain Bill with Big Pine Kayak Adventures. Fun fact – he has also written a very informative book called The Florida Keys Paddling Guide. If you have your own kayak, you can also park at the Spanish Harbor Bridge Boat Ramp located at Mile Marker 33.7.
Veteran’s Memorial Park
Veteran’s Memorial Park is a small oceanside park. It is located at Mile Marker 40 just south of the Seven Mile Bridge.
You can launch your kayak at Sugarloaf Marina for a fee or at Sammy Creek Landing at Sugarloaf Creek. Both are good launch sites, the marina is on the north side and Sammy Creek Landing is on the south side. From Sugarloaf Creek, you can explore the Saddlebunch Keys. The Saddlebunch Keys is a peaceful area with shallow, protected waters and you’ll likely see birdlife. From Sugarloaf Marina, you can head to the Great Heron Wildlife Refuge, which is a breeding ground for birds. You technically could paddle to the refuge from Sammy Creek Landing, but it would be a longer paddle.
Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve
There are no kayak launches directly on the preserve, but there are several nearby. If you drive along Long Beach Drive, you will see them.
Where to Rent Kayaks in the Lower Keys
Big Pine Kayak Adventures has short term and long term kayak rentals and also offers tours. They are located at 1791 Bogie Drive in Big Pine Key. Captain Bill is the author of Florida Keys Paddling Guide which is packed with detailed information, including photos, tide information, birding checklists, and more.
Keys Kayak Tours and Rentals has daily rentals as well as weekly rentals. You can also book a tour. They are located at 24326 Overseas Hwy in Summerland Key.
Key Kayak has free delivery from Key Largo to Key West (delivery to Stock Island and Key West requires a $200 minimum order). They have hourly rates throughout the Florida Keys as well as affordable weekly options.
Florida Keys Paddleboards offers launch at their ramp as well as on the oceanside. They also deliver for free. They are located at mile marker 24.3 in Summerland Key.
Legendary Watersports has clear kayak rentals. They also have a clear kayak tour and a night tour. Located at 29740 Overseas Highway in Big Pine Key.
Kayaking in Key West
Key West has a bit (well, a lot) more hustle and bustle compared to the rest of the Florida Keys. Therefore, parking may not be quite as easy if you have your own kayak. To keep it simple, you could always rent one, then you won’t have to deal with parking.
Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor is probably the easiest place to find parking to launch your kayak in Key West. Since it is a state park, you will need to pay a small fee to enter. Fort Zachary Taylor is at the southern edge of the island and you can launch at the beach. The water here is beautiful and within the state park is an old fort that predates the Civil War. I recommend visiting the fort while you’re in the park, but seeing it from the water on your kayak is a unique way to take it all in.
Smathers Beach is the largest beach in Key West at approximately a half a mile long. It is a bit busier than some of the other beaches and is a popular place to be for spring breakers. There is paid parking here and you can bring your own kayak or rent one from Sunset Watersports. If you launch at Smathers Beach, you can kayak along Key West’s southern coast or you could also head east to Cow Channel and explore some mangrove islands.
Pocket Park is a nice little park right around the corner of the Southernmost Point at the south end of Duval Street. There’s a pier here and there’s also a bar if you want to grab a drink before or after your paddle. You can kayak east towards Higgs Beach or in the opposite direction and follow the southwest edge of Key West.
Where to Rent Kayaks in Key West, Florida
Lazy Dog Adventures has kayak rentals in Key West as well as an eco tour. They have a snorkeling tour that was featured on the Discovery Network!
Sunset Watersports was mentioned above at Smathers Beach, but they do have a few different locations throughout the island. They also have tons of options in addition to kayak rentals, such as parasailing, jet ski tours, dinner cruises, snorkeling, and more!
Night Kayak Key West is a really unique way to kayak in Key West. You’ll be in a glass-bottom kayak illuminated with lights. This adventure is an hour and a half tour with a guide. It’s a relaxing paddle and you’ll likely see some marine life on your tour.
Kayak Kings of Key West has both kayak rentals and guided kayak eco tours in the mangroves. Another unique offering they have is kayak fishing!
Blue Moon Kayak Key West also has kayak rentals and guided kayak tours in Key West. I love their tours because not only do they have a mangrove tour, but they also have sunset, full moon, and environmental/water cleanup tours!
Best Products for Kayaking
I thought I’d share some of my favorite items for kayaking in the Florida Keys. Each of these items are ones I use and love when I’m spending time on the water.
Reef safe sunscreen is required in the Florida Keys to protect the beautiful coral reefs. This Manda sunscreen is a good option as well as this Raw Elements sunscreen.
A kayak anchor is really nice to have in the Florida Keys. When we kayaked to the sandbar outside of Curry Hammock, we didn’t have an anchor. If we’d had one, I think we would have stayed at the sandbar longer. Instead, one of us always had to stay with the kayak.
For those launch sites that are a little bit of a trek, a kayak cart will save you a lot of energy. By saving that energy, you can kayak a little longer instead!
You probably don’t need water shoes for every kayak trip you take, but they’re really nice to have in the Keys. This is because the Keys are made of coral, which can create “rocky” (it’s actually coral) shorelines. If you’re going to kayak to one of the islands, they’re nice to have while you walk around and it won’t matter if they get wet.
You absolutely need a safety whistle.
A waterproof dry bag will keep all of your belongings safe and dry. I always make sure to put my phone in here and use a GoPro for picture and video while the kayak is moving.
I hope that you have found this article to be helpful for your trip kayaking in the Florida Keys. There are truly so many places in the Florida Keys to explore by kayak and I’d love to hear if you have a favorite spot that I didn’t mention in the article.
5 thoughts on “Kayaking in the Florida Keys: Best Places to Kayak Key Largo to Key West”
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