While the many miles of sandy beaches on the Paradise Coast tend to grab much of the outdoor attention, there are natural gems waiting to be explored a little farther inland as well. Kayaking is a great way to experience the unmatched beauty of Florida’s wildlife, from mangrove swamps to manatees, dolphins, alligators and birds of numerous species.
Of course, just getting out into the fresh air and sunlight will do the body some good, but kayaking is also an effective, low-impact workout for your core and upper body. After mastering the basic strokes, you can choose a leisurely meditative paddle or a more rigorous excursion. Here are a handful of local places that offer kayak rentals and a wide variety of guided tours.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Naples
Aside from its nature center and other educational programs, the Conservancy (239-262-0304) is a great spot for an outdoor adventure. Both single and tandem kayak rentals are available Mondays through Saturdays. Take a self-guided, two-hour paddle through the Allyn Family Lagoon and up to the Gordon River. If you are more comfortable with a guide by your side, the Conservancy’s website refers guests to the 90-minute morning tour offered directly through Naples Kayak Company (239-963-7070).
Up a Creek Kayak Tours, Naples
Up a Creek Kayak Tours (239-293-6232) offers a half-dozen guided tours, ranging from the Twelve Island tour beginning in Goodland to the Sunset Bird Fly-In tour offered in spring and winter. The kayaking excursions are two to four hours, depending on the tour.
Estero River Outfitters, Estero
A little farther north, you can kayak down the Estero River for a few hours or pursue the more challenging open waters of Estero Bay to explore numerous coves and islands, including Mound Key Archaeological State Park. Estero River Outfitters (239-992-4050), open seven days a week, offers several different kayak types along with paddling gear and accessories. The company offers guided tours upon request, with about a week’s notice.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Marco Island
Amid 110,000 acres of meandering rivers and mangrove forests in Rookery Bay (239-530-5940), a naturalist guide hosts a leisurely two-hour kayak tour. Or bring your own kayak to take advantage of the many boat ramps throughout the reserve and paddle on your own. Dolphin and a variety of birds, including osprey and elegant herons, are commonly spotted on this tour. There are also small boat tours that can accompany up to six passengers.
Everglades Area Tours, Chokoloskee (Everglades National Park)
With locations in Marco Island and Chokoloskee (near Everglades City), Everglades Area Tours (239-695-3633) offers 13 different kayaking eco-tours throughout Everglades National Park, ranging from two to seven hours long. The Boat Assisted Kayak Eco-Tour, a popular attraction for naturalists of all ages and experience levels, combines a boat, kayak and walking tour. Other kayaking options include sunset or moonlight tours, birding tours and mangrove tunnel tours.
For the newbie kayaker, we’re offering up some insights in making the most out of the paddle.
– What you wear can weigh you down. Avoid cotton, it can be heavy when wet and it takes forever to dry. Instead, opt for clothing made from synthetic fabrics such as Lycra and polyester that dry quickly and keep you comfortable. Of course, you want to make sure you’ve loaded up on sunscreen—and remember a hat and sunglasses!
– Consider the seasonal habits of wildlife. The time of year matters when it comes to what you can expect to see from the kayak. Captain Charles Wright of Everglades Area Tours says during winter’s drier months, it’s not uncommon to spot alligators taking in the Florida sun on dry land. In the warmer waters during the summer, you’re more likely to spot manatees since they are sensitive to temperature changes.
– Watch the weather beyond the sun or rain. Obviously, it is important to check weather forecasts before heading anywhere outdoors, but also check the wind speed and tidal currents that can affect your kayaking. Paddling against strong incoming or outgoing tides can be exhausting, and possibly a recipe for trouble.