SUP & Kayaking Adventures

Get close to nature on a watercraft adventure into exotic mangrove tunnels, open waters and city shorelines.

A woman in a clear see-through kayak in the mangroves of St. Pete/Clearwater

Clear kayaks are an amazing way to experience kayaking at Shell Key Preserve.

The Gulf Coast of Florida is home to a diverse, abundant ecosystem of aquatic splendor. Particularly in St. Pete/Clearwater, where warm sunshine, calm winds and plenty of protected nature make a perfect conditions setting for an adventure via paddlecraft. 

Watercraft options and what to bring:

The list of personal, non-motorized watercraft continues to expand year after year. Traditional kayak rentals have long been a preferred means of traversing the mild Gulf waters for decades. For a different view of what lies beneath the waters, stand-up paddleboarding is now a well-established pastime and a great full body workout. If you more interested in getting up close and personal to nature, a pedal kayak is a great alternative and the best for fishing from watercraft.

Fortunately, there are plenty of outfitters that offer all the above and more (more details below!) Just be sure to load up on water, sunscreen, snacks and a bag for items you want to avoid getting wet, such as phones. Also, you might be above the water, but plan on wearing clothes you don’t mind mind getting wet anyways, along with a change of clothes and a towel for after your excursion.

Trails and where to paddle:

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.

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, as 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 once named America's best family beach by Parents magazine. Made up of five separate islands (keys), the 900-acre park is home to a two-mile self-guided trail that takes an hour or two 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 sea life. Manatees are sometimes seen March through November, and dolphins visit the trail almost every day.

More ambitious paddlers can take a 10-mile, three to four-hour paddle 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.

A group of women in yellow kayaks paddling around the St. Pete/Clearwater bay or Gulf of Mexico

Kayaking and paddle boarding is an wonderful way to experience nature.

Two stand-up paddleboarders with the Don CeSar in the background

Many hotels and other accommodations offer kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to rent.

Blueways Guide

For experienced paddlers, the Pinellas County Blueways Guide offers thorough maps and trails that stretch the length of St. Pete/Clearwater, from Anclote Key Preserve State Park in the north to Fort De Soto Park in the south. The scenic waterways snake around Gulf Coast barrier islands along the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, continue inland to Lake Tarpon and wind into Tampa Bay.

To help you plan your paddling excursion, the Pinellas County Blueways are mapped into eight sections. Each section presents a distinctive set of natural and manmade characteristics. For maps and points of interest along all eight sections of the Pinellas County Blueways paddling trails, download the official Guide to Pinellas County Blueways.

More on Outfitters

There are many outfitters throughout St. Pete/Clearwater that will point the way and provide kayak gear. You can rent kayaks on-site without reservations at Fort De Soto Park, the Dunedin Causeway (try Sail Honeymoon) and Honeymoon Island State Park. Or, take a ferry and rent a kayak at Caladesi Island State Park.

Elsewhere, ecomersion offers kayak rentals in Weedon Island Preserve, a bayside park popular with kayak fishermen. Island Marine Rentals in Indian Shores offers kayak rentals along the beaches – launch right from the shop’s docks to paddle amid mangroves, birds and manatees. In the town of Gulfport, Kayak Nature Adventures offers eco-tours around Clam Bayou to groups of four or more. Reserve in advance for these paddles guided by an area conservationist.