With 11,000 miles of waterways, Florida is packed with paddling opportunities, and many of them are easily accessible. Paddling these waterways provides an eco-friendly opportunity to explore these natural resources with minimum impact to the environment. Follow the river rules. Use non-disposables on your paddle adventures and as always, “don’t trash where you splash.”
Here are 7 family friendly rivers for Florida paddling adventures:
Weeki Wachee River
- Home to the Florida Mermaid, the head springs are located in the Weeki Wachee State Park. This turquoise-colored run can take you all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico and is known for manatee sightings- and crowds! Forgo the busy weekends and choose a quieter weekday. Bring your own kayak or rent one on site. Or be eco-friendly and just opt for the in-park boat tour to check out the flora and fauna along this river. State Park prices are on the pricier side at $13 for adults and $8 for children, but they include a Mermaid Show, boat ride, and swimming area.
- Once past the boat basin at the campground, the Chassahowitzka River is a surprisingly shallow river. This 5.6-mile river runs through the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and out to the Gulf of Mexico. You can check out the popular springs near the campground, or paddle downriver to explore the various side creeks. Manatees have often been sighted in this area.
- A favorite tubing river in North Central Florida, this river can get pretty crowded during the weekends and summer tubing season. Opt for quieter weekday explorations and go early to beat the heat and witness the river otters, water fowl and other wildlife this 6-mile river has to offer.
- You don’t have to go far to explore the jungle. Take the 5.4 mile run from the canoe launch point at Silver Springs State Park to Ray Wayside Park. Though there is no swimming on this river, there is a halfway point rest area- with a porta-potty, where you can stretch your legs, eat some lunch and get psyched up for the rest of your journey. An array of bird and wildlife can be viewed along the twists and turns on this historic waterway. Take your own canoe or kayak, rent one, or join a local tour to find out more about the history, flora, and fauna along this river.
- This challenging 7-mile one-way intermediate paddle trail takes hairpin twists and turns, going under trees, around islands and through the canopy of the Ocala National Forest. Not for beginners, Juniper Run is known for its sandy bottom run, sunning turtles, occasional gator, and rapids. Take your own kayak/canoe or rent one on-site and catch the Juniper Springs Recreation Area shuttle back to the park. It can get very busy on weekends and holidays. Go early and on a weekday to avoid crowds.
- This 6-mile river begins at the head springs, a named National Natural Landmark, located in Ichetucknee Springs State Park. A favorite tuber destination, the wild birds, and river life- is best spotted early in the mornings. In an effort to maintain this natural ecosystem, there is a strictly enforced river limit during the Memorial Day to Labor Day, so arrive early. Rent a kayak/canoe/SUP from the local outfitter or bring your own.
- This tannin-stained 75-mile river flows from Lake Santa Fe, through the town of High Springs and eventually ends as it merges with the Suwannee River. But the friendliest parts of this river center in and around High Springs. Paddlers can hit the rapids near Poe Springs County Park, or check out the clear runs of Blue Springs and Ginnie Springs Parks. Launch from Rum Island with a local outfitter or take your own canoe. kayak or SUP to explore this piece of wild Florida.
By all means, have fun on your family paddle adventures, but take back what you take with you. Help keep these Florida waterways clean for future generations to enjoy.
More Adventures You May Enjoy:
- Paddling Resource Page
- Hiking Adventures for Families
- Family Friendly City Guides to Destinations in the Southeast