An aerial of mangrove islands surrounded by calm water. Two men paddle through tall aquatic grass. A great egret wades in shallow water through thick vegetation. An airboat glides over still water in the Everglades. Two people watch a half-submerged alligator slowly moving through calm water.

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8 Great Kayak Trips on Florida’s Paradise Coast

By Eric Snider

Florida’s Paradise Coast is a true paddler’s paradise

Whether it’s a leisurely paddle around a sunny lagoon or a long trek through backwaters and mazes of mangroves, Florida’s Paradise Coast offers everything a kayaker could desire. Thanks to a wide array of launch spots, you can quickly access some of the most breathtaking waterways imaginable.

Hardcore kayakers will find plenty of challenges in Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, while newbies can easily rent a craft and take a lesson or a guided tour.

Here’s an overview of eight must-paddle kayaking experiences.

Caxambas Park: Gateway to Ten Thousand Islands

On the southern end of Marco Island, Caxambas Park is a convenient launch point to Ten Thousand Islands, a vast network of mangrove islets that offers endless exploration through some of Southwest Florida’s most beautiful, unspoiled waterways. Plentiful sandbars provide the chance to leave your craft for a soak or swim. Keep an eye out for dolphins and manatees. You can also take a shorter jaunt through the channels around Caxambas and Barfield Bay, or head west for a quick paddle to the Gulf and along Marco Island beach. The four-acre park has a small shop with bait, snacks and drinks for sale.

Tigertail Beach Park: Marco Island’s Natural Oasis

A simple, leisurely paddle awaits at Tigertail Beach Park, with its calm lagoon adjacent to a gorgeous white-sand beach on the northwest corner of Marco Island. The 79-acre park is one of the few preserved areas remaining on the island. If you’re feeling more energetic, head north to Rookery Bay and Keewaydin Island (home to some of the best shelling on the Paradise Coast). Be sure to make time to lounge on Tigertail Beach: take a walk, swim in the Gulf and check out the birdwatching tower that overlooks the lagoon.

Turner River Paddling Trail: A Hidden Gem in the Everglades

Many kayakers consider this the best paddling excursion in the Everglades. The Turner River in the Big Cypress National Preserve has the distinction of running through three different ecosystems: cypress swamp, mangroves and sawgrass. The total length of the trail is 11 miles, so consider out-and-back a five- to eight-hour excursion. (Of course, you can always opt for shorter trips.) You’ll pass through long, often narrow, mangrove tunnels (where hardly any sun gets through and the temperature noticeably cools), go by majestic cypress trees and behold the wide-open “sea of grass.” This is the most in-the-wild kayaking experience on this list. The Turner River may be impassable if water levels are too high or too low, so it’s best to check before embarking.

Gordon River: Paddle in the Heart of Naples

For a very convenient paddle, try this route that runs through Naples. You’ll put in at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, three miles north of downtown and just south of the Naples Zoo. From there you can paddle the Gordon River, making your way through the Gordon River Greenway. More adventurous types can continue to the Golden Gate Canal, which flows into Naples Bay, then seven miles downstream to Gordon Pass and on into the Gulf of Mexico. Parking is free and there are restrooms close to the launch.

Clam Pass Park: Calm & Natural

This 35-acre preserve, six miles north of downtown Naples, provides a small launch ramp next to a large parking lot. Clam Pass is right next to a beautiful Gulf beach. A twisty lagoon leads into Outer Clam Bay, with its flat expanse of water that’s ideal for new kayakers. If you’re feeling adventurous, continue north through Clam Pass and out into the Gulf. Bonus: Clam Pass offers a ringside seat to our striking sunsets.

Isle of Capri Paddlecraft Park: Natural Beauty Restored

Once a trash site hidden amid mangroves, Isle of Capri Paddlecraft Park was developed by the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Center in 2012 specifically for non-motorized watercraft. The park provides safe and easy access to one of the most intricate and pristine mangrove tunnel systems in 110,000-acre Rookery Bay. Also, there are many shallow “mud flat” areas that are habitats for sea stars, urchins and marine snails that can grow to more than two feet in length. The park, 15 miles south of downtown Naples, includes a ramp, picnic pavilions, restrooms and a kayak wash rack.

Go Bird-Spotting in Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park

Think of this 166-acre barrier island as a paradise within our Paradise. The park is so pristine that it feels like wilderness, even though it’s only 12 miles north of downtown Naples. From the inland boat ramp, kayakers can take a casual cruise around Turkey Bay or venture into the winding Cocohatchee River and surrounding backwaters. A bonus: Our feathered friends love it here. Delnor-Wiggins is prized for its birdwatching.

Renting a Kayak in Naples, Marco Island & the Everglades.

Florida’s Paradise Coast has a slew of vendors that rent kayaks and gear, some offering lessons and tours. Most will deliver the crafts, paddles etc. to where you’re staying and pick them up—at no extra cost. Here’s a list with links:


Marco Island