As a longtime resident of Florida and an avid kayaker, I’ve had the privilege of sharing our waters with some of the most gentle and fascinating creatures – manatees. From the magical springs of Weeki Wachee to the clear waters of Crystal River, and the tropical paradise of the Florida Keys, each encounter with these gentle giants is a moment to cherish. One time, our kayak even flipped over, but luckily, we didn’t lose our phone! It’s these kinds of experiences that make kayaking with manatees in Florida truly magical.
Why Kayak with Manatees?
Kayaking with manatees offers a unique experience that allows you to connect with nature in a profound way. Manatees, often referred to as “sea cows,” are an integral part of Florida’s marine ecosystem. Observing them in their natural habitat not only provides a memorable adventure but also fosters a deeper appreciation for these creatures and the importance of their conservation.
Best Time to Kayak with Manatees
Manatees are most active in Florida’s waters during the cooler months, typically from November through March. This is when they migrate to warmer waters, making it the perfect time for a kayaking adventure. However, remember that these are wild animals, and sightings can never be guaranteed.
Kayaking with Manatees in Florida: 12 Best Spots
Florida is blessed with numerous locations that offer excellent opportunities for kayaking with manatees. Here are our top 12 picks:
Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is one of our personal favorites. The crystal-clear water offers excellent visibility for spotting manatees. The park’s mermaid shows and water park provide fun for the whole family.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a place where fantasy meets reality. The park’s famous mermaid shows are a unique attraction that has been enchanting visitors for decades. The park’s Buccaneer Bay offers a range of water activities, including a sandy beach area, a lazy river, and water slides.
📍 Local Tip: Take a break from kayaking and enjoy a live mermaid show at the park’s mermaid theater.
⭐Kayaking in Weeki Wachee is one of my favorite places, and if you’re looking for a guided tour make sure to check out this Clear Kayak Weeki Wachee tour!
Crystal River is renowned for its clear, shallow waters, making it an ideal habitat for manatees, especially during the winter months. The river is part of a unique aquatic preserve, offering a pristine environment for a variety of wildlife. The Kings Bay area, in particular, is a hot spot for manatee sightings.
In addition to manatees, Crystal River is also home to a variety of bird species, making it a bird watcher’s paradise. The city itself offers a range of amenities, including restaurants, shops, and accommodations, making it a great base for your kayaking adventure.
📍 Local Tip: Try to get on the water early in the morning when it’s quieter and less crowded. You’ll have a better chance of spotting manatees.
⭐If you’re looking for a guided tour, we LOVE this Clear Kayak Tour in Crystal River! How awesome to see the manatees swim under your kayak!
Located in Fort Myers, Manatee Park is a non-captive warm water refuge for manatees. The park’s unique feature is the warm discharge canal of a former power plant, which attracts manatees during the winter months. It offers kayak rentals and has an observation deck for those who prefer to stay on land.
Manatee Park is not just about manatees. It also offers a butterfly garden, picnic areas, and walking trails, making it a great place for a family outing. The park’s educational programs provide valuable insights into the life of manatees and other local wildlife.
📍 Local Tip: Visit the park after a cold front for the best chance to see a large number of manatees.
⭐If you’re looking for a guided kayak tour in Ft Myers, we suggest this LOVERS KEY GUIDED KAYAK TOUR, to see not only manatees but also dolphins!
Manatee Springs State Park, known for its first-magnitude spring, attracts manatees in large numbers during the winter. The park is nestled in a hardwood forest, providing a unique backdrop for your kayaking adventure. The spring’s crystal-clear water offers excellent visibility, making it easier to spot manatees.
In addition to kayaking, Manatee Springs State Park offers a range of recreational activities, including hiking, bird watching, and snorkeling. The park’s campground provides a great option for those who wish to extend their stay and explore the park at their own pace.
📍 Local Tip: After your kayak trip, take a stroll along the park’s boardwalk that winds through a cypress forest.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a haven for manatees. The park’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park features a floating underwater observatory, providing a unique perspective of these gentle creatures. The park is also home to a variety of other wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, and alligators.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is more than just a wildlife park. It’s a place where you can learn about Florida’s natural history and wildlife through interactive educational exhibits. The park’s wildlife encounters program offers a unique opportunity to learn about various species from the park’s knowledgeable staff.
📍 Local Tip: Try visiting during a weekday when it’s less crowded.
Wakulla Springs State Park is home to one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. The park’s riverboat tours offer a wealth of information about the local wildlife and the park’s history. The spring’s crystal-clear water provides excellent visibility for spotting manatees.
Wakulla Springs State Park is steeped in history. The park’s historic lodge offers a glimpse into the past with its beautifully preserved architecture and period furnishings. The park’s nature trails offer a chance to explore the area’s diverse flora and fauna.
📍 Local Tip: Don’t miss the chance to take a dip in the spring’s refreshing waters after your kayak trip.
Longboat Key, located on the west coast of Florida, offers serene waters for kayaking and potential manatee encounters. The area is less crowded than some of the more popular manatee spots, providing a peaceful kayaking experience. The key’s beautiful beaches and luxurious resorts add to its charm.
Longboat Key offers more than just kayaking. The key’s white sandy beaches are perfect for sunbathing, while its clear waters are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The area’s dining scene offers a range of options, from casual beachfront cafes to upscale restaurants.
📍 Local Tip: Keep an eye out for dolphins, which are also commonly spotted in the area.
Blue Springs State Park is a designated manatee refuge. During the manatee season, hundreds of manatees can be seen from the park’s boardwalk. The spring run is closed to all water activities during this time to protect the manatees, but the park offers guided river cruises for a chance to see these creatures.
Blue Springs State Park offers a unique blend of recreational activities. In addition to manatee watching, the park offers swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the spring’s cool waters. The park’s picnic areas and campground provide facilities for a day trip or an extended stay.
📍 Local Tip: Visit the park early in the day for the best chance to see manatees.
⭐This Kayak Tour in Blue Springs is highly recommended, and you can pick either a kayak or paddleboard!
Tarpon Springs is known for its sponge docks, but it’s also a great place to kayak with manatees. The Anclote River, which runs through the city, is a common place to spot manatees, especially near the marinas and the Spring Bayou. The city’s Greek heritage adds a unique cultural flavor to your visit.
Tarpon Springs is a city with a rich history and vibrant culture. The city’s sponge industry, the largest in the United States, offers a unique insight into the area’s past. The city’s Greek community adds a unique flavor to the city, from its architecture to its cuisine.
📍 Local Tip: After your kayak trip, enjoy some authentic Greek cuisine at one of the local restaurants.
⭐Kayak down the Anclote River to see manatees, with this highly-rated Tarpons Springs Kayak Tour!
John Pennekamp State Park (Florida Keys)
The water in the Florida Keys are some of the clearest, most beautiful blue-green you will see and John Pennekamp State Park offers some of the best kayaking in the Florida Keys.
The park features a vast mangrove forest where manatees often seek shelter. The park’s coral reefs and tropical fish add to the beauty of your kayaking adventure.
John Pennekamp State Park is a marine sanctuary that offers a range of water activities. The park’s coral reefs are a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. The park’s visitor center features a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and several educational exhibits.
📍 Local Tip: Don’t miss the chance to snorkel or dive on the park’s beautiful coral reefs.
⭐You won’t want to miss this awesome GUIDED KAYAK TOUR IN THE FLORIDA KEYS to see manatees!
Indian Key Historic State Park (Florida Keys)
Indian Key Historic State Park is a great place to kayak with manatees in the Florida Keys. The park is an island that can only be reached by boat, adding to the adventure. The island’s history as a former shipwreck salvage post adds to its intrigue.
Indian Key Historic State Park offers a unique blend of history and nature. The island’s hiking trails provide a chance to explore its rich history, while its clear waters offer excellent opportunities for snorkeling and swimming.
📍 Local Tip: Take a guided tour of the island to learn about its fascinating history.
⭐Ok, so this isn’t a kayak tour – but this awesome PRIVATE BOAT ECO TOUR of Islamorada was too good to not include!
Cow Key Marina manatees (Florida Keys)
Cow Key Marina is located in Key West and is a known spot for manatee sightings. The marina offers kayak rentals, making it easy to get out on the water. The marina’s location provides easy access to several key kayaking spots.
Cow Key Marina is more than just a marina. It’s a gateway to the unique marine environment of the Florida Keys. The marina’s friendly staff are always ready to provide tips and advice to make your kayaking adventure a memorable one.
📍 Local Tip: After your kayak trip, enjoy a sunset cruise for a perfect end to your day.
⭐We love that this Key West Kayak Eco Tour not only has an awesome kayak guided tour, but you also get to spend time at a sandbar, and drinks are included!
Safety Tips and Guidelines
When kayaking with manatees, it’s important to remember a few safety tips and guidelines for not only you but also the manatees. Follow these guidelines:
- 🚫 Do Not Disturb: Never chase, harass, or feed manatees. They are protected by state and federal laws.
- 📏 Keep Your Distance: Always observe manatees from a distance. Do not attempt to touch or ride them.
- 🚣♀️ Paddle Gently: When near manatees, paddle gently to avoid disturbing them. Sudden splashes can scare them away.
- 🤫 Quiet Please: Keep noise to a minimum. Loud noises can stress manatees and disrupt their natural behavior.
- 📷 Capture Memories, Not Manatees: Take pictures and videos to remember your encounter, but never try to capture or restrain a manatee.
- 🚮 Leave No Trace: Keep the waterways clean. Dispose of all trash properly and avoid leaving any food or other items in the water.
- 🚤 Slow Down: If you’re in a motorized boat, slow down and look for manatee “footprints” (circular patterns on the water’s surface). Manatees can’t move quickly to avoid boats.
- 🆘 Report Injured Manatees: If you see a manatee that is injured, appears sick, or is in distress, report it to local wildlife authorities.
- 🌐 Support Conservation Efforts: Consider supporting organizations that work to protect manatees and their habitats.
- 📚 Educate Others: Share what you’ve learned about manatees and how to respect them with others. Education is a powerful tool for conservation.
What to Bring on Your Kayaking Adventure
When preparing for your kayaking adventure, there are a few essentials you should bring. Here are some of our suggestions so you don’t forget anything!
- 🛶 Kayak: A sturdy and reliable kayak is essential. Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
- 🦺 Life Jacket: Safety first! Always wear a life jacket when you’re on the water. Inflatable Snorkel Vest
- 🧴 Sunscreen: Protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Neutrogena Sheer Defense Sunblock
- 💧 Water: Stay hydrated during your adventure. Hydro Flask Water Bottle
- 🍫 Snacks: Keep your energy levels up with some healthy snacks. KIND Bars, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt
- 🎒 Waterproof Bag: Keep your belongings dry with a waterproof bag. Earth Pak -Waterproof Dry Bag
- 📱 Waterproof Phone or Camera: Capture the magical moments with the manatees. GoPro HERO8 Black
Conservation Efforts for Manatees
Manatees are a threatened species and are protected under state and federal law. It’s important to respect these gentle creatures and their habitat. You can contribute to their conservation by following the guidelines when kayaking and by supporting organizations that work to protect manatees.
Manatee conservation efforts are multifaceted and involve a combination of research, rehabilitation, public education, and policy-making. Here are some ways these efforts are carried out:
Understanding manatees and their behavior is crucial for their protection. Research efforts include tracking manatee movements, studying their reproductive patterns, and monitoring their health. This information helps scientists and conservationists develop effective strategies to protect manatees and their habitats.
Rehabilitation and Rescue 🚑
Injured, sick, or orphaned manatees are often rescued and rehabilitated by dedicated professionals and volunteers. These manatees are cared for until they are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. Rehabilitation centers also provide valuable data for research and contribute to the overall understanding of manatees.
Public Education 📚
Educating the public about manatees and the threats they face is a key part of conservation efforts. This includes teaching people about the importance of manatees to the ecosystem, how human activities can harm manatees, and what individuals can do to help protect them.
Policy-Making and Advocacy 📜
Conservation organizations often work to influence policies that affect manatees and their habitats. This can include advocating for stricter boat speed limits in manatee habitats, pushing for the protection of critical habitats, and opposing activities that can harm manatees or their environment.
Supporting Conservation Organizations 💰
There are many organizations dedicated to manatee conservation, including the Save the Manatee Club, the Manatee Observation and Education Center, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. These organizations rely on donations and volunteers to carry out their work. Supporting these organizations can be a great way to contribute to manatee conservation.
Recap: best place to kayak with manatees in florida
Kayaking with manatees in Florida is a magical experience that allows you to connect with nature in a unique way. As you plan your adventure, remember to respect these gentle creatures and their habitat. Plan your next kayak with manatees’ Florida adventure!
What time of day are manatees most active?
Manatees are generally most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours. However, their activity levels can vary based on various factors such as water temperature, availability of food, and seasonal migration patterns.
What to wear kayaking in Florida?
When kayaking in Florida, it’s recommended to wear lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing that offers protection from the sun. Consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt and hat with a brim. UV protective clothing and sunglasses can help protect against harmful UV rays. Always apply water-resistant sunscreen and wear water shoes or sandals with a grip. Remember, Florida’s weather can be unpredictable, so bringing a lightweight rain jacket or poncho might also be a good idea.
When are manatees most active?
Similar to the first question, manatees tend to be most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours. However, it’s essential to note that manatees can be spotted at any time of the day, depending on various factors like their feeding patterns and water temperature.