A good friend of mine once said that her favorite sound was, “Paddles dipping quietly into the water on a moonlit night.” I would add that, among my favorite sounds, is the soundlessness between two companions who glide across the ocean’s azure surface, delighted beyond speech with the harmony and beauty of the movement embosoming them.
Lucky for us that South Florida offers some of the sweetest paddling trips around. In fact, Florida’s state park system was voted America’s Best in 2000. And while canoeing or kayaking opportunities exist statewide, I’ll focus on a few nearby options.
The first is off the waters Coconut Grove, at the Dinner Key Marina. The marina claims to be Florida’s largest marine facilities. But be aware of derelict boats in the area; I have not been back recently, but at one time there were problems with homeless people living aboard and anchoring junkyard crafts.
Crossing the Rickenbacker Causeway to Virginia and Key Biscayne, you’ll typically see windsurfers and kayakers around Hobie Sound. Also, from the Key Biscayne marina, launch and paddle around Key Biscayne to peek at its golf course, or check out the small cay near Bear Cut. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center also offers snorkel-paddle trips to the Half Moon shipwreck, which lies 12 feet underwater. For more information, call the center at 305-361-6767.
One weekend, a fly-fishing friend was gracious enough to share with me a canoe and paddle through the Everglades. We drove down the turnpike to the Everglades National Park exit, past the “Robert is Here!” fruit stand, and across assorted open fields.Once inside the park (the $20 annual pass redeems itself after two uses), we took off from Coot Bay, paddling through Mud and Bear Lakes. The fishing wasn’t great (or was it my handicapped paddling?), so we ended the 6.8-mile, Flamingo-area round-trip with Bear Lake. See http://www.florida-outdoors.com/8canoe-f.htm for more details.
My housemate and I made a trip off southern Islamorada, leaving from near Robbie’s Marina, at mile marker 77.5. We went to Indian Key, location of Dade County’s first government and where the Henry Perrine family, pioneers of Old Florida, was attacked. There are also remnants of an old hotel and cisterns on the island.
Biscayne National Park in Homestead, about 25 minutes south on the turnpike, also offers great outdoor activities. One morning, a ranger and I followed manatees around the bay. We spotted a mother and her calf some yards away and tried to paddle to them. But by then two other pairs surfaced where we’d just come from, and silently slip underneath after a teasing exhalation.
Oleta River State Recreational Area, at 3400 N.E. 163rd St. in North Miami, is also a good choice. Though about an hour drive from campus, this park is well worth the trip. There are small beaches, picnicking areas, bike and kayaking trails, and South Florida’s last free-flowing river. In the winter, specially, there are endless opportunities for animal sightings.
Another worthy mention is Collier-Seminole State Park, 17 miles south of Naples. Though I haven’t yet explored it, one may camp, hike, bike, fish, go boating, and possibly see a Florida panther or black bear. A boat ramp is accessible for canoes/kayaks. For more information, call 941-394-3397.
Rentals are available at most places, but always check the weather, tide and local currents with news reports, and even nearby fishermen or bait shops. Bring the usual gear of bug spray, rain poncho, first-aid kit, and water.
For more info, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/parks/.