Whether it's kayaking, canoeing, or SUP, one of most popular activities in Northwest Florida is paddling the many bayous and inland waterways found throughout the region.
With many styles available and new lightweight materials making them easier to transport, kayaks and canoes, and now Yolo Boards, the local Stand Up Paddle board brand, have taken over the creeks and rivers, bayous and even the coastal gulf waters of Northwest Florida.
Quick to launch and easy to maneuver, these small personal watercraft make exploring the natural areas of the region a delightful experience. The only motor is you, so getting close to wildlife is easier. Keep in mind that the inland waters in particular are home to alligators, so if you come upon an alligator in the wild, don’t disturb it and above all do not feed it (remember those Tarzan movies).
Paddling in Northwest Florida is a great family activity. Many new models are very stable and can accommodate two people so it's easy to take young children along on an eco-adventure (don’t forget the lifejackets)
Pack a picnic, bring the binoculars and the camera (a watertight box will keep everything dry) and it won’t be long before you’ll see rare birds, dolphins and pristine natural areas. One easy-to-get-to paddling spot is Hogtown Bayou on the Choctawhatchee Bay. Its open waters mean you don't have to do any fancy maneuvering and you're never far from shore if you do happen to tip over.
Even if you don’t own your own paddling craft there are plenty of rentals available. Some like Blackwater Canoe Rental and Adventures Unlimited in Milton are full service outfitters who offer kayaks and canoes at reasonable rates and can supply you with food, lodging and guided paddling tours. The Apalachicola Maritime Museum has kayak rentals as well as classes in rowing, sailing and boat building.
Want to do some ocean paddling? Northwest Florida is home to the first five sections of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,515-mile sea trail that begins at Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola. The trail runs along the entire coast of Florida south to the Keys then up the Atlantic side to finish north of Jacksonville.
For paddling in the gulf you’ll need an ocean kayak. Most of the rentals are a “sit on top” style so that if they tip over, which they may, they won’t sink and you can’t get stuck in them. Wear your swimsuit because you are going to get wet.
And speaking of getting wet, one of the newest ways of paddling around is YOLO Board. YOLO stands for You Only Live Once and is the brainchild of Jeff Archer and Tom Losee who founded this Santa Rosa Beach based company. The sport is a cross between surfing and canoeing and uses a hybrid style stand-up paddle board. It takes a little practice and balance, but you don’t have to shoot the waves to enjoy it.
There are many wonderful places to paddle in Northwest Florida, including several Northwest Florida state parks, but as with any outdoor adventure be sure to have the proper supplies with you. You can cover miles of the rivers, creeks and bayous of the region and not realize how far you've gone. Think safety at all times. Here are a few things to remember to have with you for a day on the water.
Whether you're setting out for an hour's paddle or an all-day trip, always make sure you have the supplies you need.
Food or snacks
Flip flops or water shoes (best for areas with oyster beds or rocky bottoms)
There are many places to go and several paddle clubs you can hook up with for weekend trips. Some destination ideas include Econfina Creek, a pure spring that flows through Washington and Bay Counties, Wakulla Springs in Wakulla County, the Blackwater River in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties, and the Choctawhatchee River. You can also paddle at Morrison Springs, Western Lake and Lake Powell, two of South Walton's coastal dune lakes.
As we paddle our way around the region, we'll bring you more ideas of places to go and the kinds of wildlife you may see there. Birds of all species like to make their nests in the bayou grasses, so look for herons, kingfishers, even bald eagles when you're out.
We'd also like to hear from you. Have you found the perfect Northwest Florida paddling spot? Tell us about it in the comments section below or join us on Facebook and post some pictures. You can also write your story here.
Do you have a favorite paddling spot? Can you hear rare birds calling or see dolphins leaping out of the water? Is there something paddlers should know about this place before they go? Share your story or tip about your favorite place for canoeing or kayaking in Northwest Florida. We want to hear from you.
Click on the links below to read canoeing and kayaking adventures from other Explorers...
Sunday morning October 23, 2011 was just so perfect, and my truck was parked right under the kayak in the car port, so I just had to get on the water. …
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