What I found through canoeing in Florida cannot be bought with money. It’s usually considered cliche to say “I was looking for something in life“, but as a lover of the outdoors, I really was. I was looking for a vehicle for experiencing the things in nature that made me happy. I was looking for a figurative interpretation of this vehicle, although a literal example is what I found, and I found it through canoeing.
As a Texas native, I grew up being outside constantly, and had a love for the outdoors instilled in me from an early age. When I moved my family to Florida on almost a whim in my early 30s, it was obvious that the possibilities for me in the world of outdoor recreation were even more plentiful; with its warm temperatures year round and namesake abundance of sunshine, Florida is a state made for enjoying the world outside our houses and offices.
Later on as an adult and freelance photographer, I spent the years enjoying my new state happily hiking and exploring the state parks and local trails on foot, and documenting the beautiful and diverse scenes that Florida is composed of. Everywhere I went it seems, I was reminded that there was a better way to see the state, and that was in a canoe.
Home Is Where You Launch Your Canoe
In my area of Sarasota, directly on the west coast of the state, there were canoe launches dotting the landscape, rental companies advertising their guided tours, and outdoor lifestyles stores almost everywhere, selling everything from paddles and wet shoes to life jackets and every other piece of gear imaginable.
And it all started with a simple rental and a tour; finally, after years of saying to my wife, “We really should give this whole canoeing thing a try”, we booked a short two-hour guided tour of a local hot spot. To say we were hooked would be an understatement. For two hours, we paddled our boats in blissful silence, listening to the guide verse us on the basics of canoeing in Florida, and gliding in and out of the beautiful coastal mangrove tunnels our area is known for.
I saw all of the wildlife that I loved and hoped to have seen, and my fears of water (yes, even as a lover of the ocean, I have a rooted fear of it) were proven unfounded, as fear was the last thing on my mind as our group paddled.
We knew before we even guided our boats back into the launch that we would be buying our own before long, because we knew we wanted to be out there again, very soon, and my mind had already started calculating the recurring rental fees.
Next thing you know, we’ve done a couple more guided tours, rented canoes to take out on our own with friends, and eventually bought our own, along with all the wonderful gear that makes the experience that much better.
And what about you? What will you get out of this experience? There are a myriad of benefits from canoeing in the outdoors, all of which can improve your life greatly, so let’s touch on the most important benefits of canoeing in Florida.
Health Benefits Of Canoeing In Florida
Canoeing is a great form of exercise, as moving the paddle through the water requires a fairly sizable effort to move the boat through the water. This elevates your heart rate, and keeps it up as you continue to propel the canoe forward. In addition, paddling strengthens the arms, shoulders, and even the grip of your hands. Your lower body also benefits from paddling, as the constant pushback and pressure of your feet against the boat as you move provides continual resistance.
Between your upper body, lower body, and core, practically every section of your body is being utilized while paddling, and will benefit greatly from it.
Experiencing Sun And The Outdoors
This is the reason most of us canoe in the first place; to experience nature and the great outdoors. You have the entire world to explore, as canoeing in Florida can be done almost anywhere. For me, my greatest pleasure in paddling a canoe is being out in the world to observe the flora and fauna around me. You also get a good dose of vitamin D from the sun while you’re out there, and nothing feels better than to end the day with a happy, tired feeling after being in the sun and the outdoors doing something you love.
Canoeing in Florida For Stress Relief
Adding to our last point, this experience of nature, wildlife and the sun provide a key benefit to our physical health, and that’s stress relief. Whether you’re canoeing in Florida alone, or with friends, the time spent on the water can reset your mind with a meditative effect.
The methodical movement involved with paddling can be beneficial for your mind and spirit, as can the experience of physically being on the water. All of this comes together to take you away from the usual stresses of life, and allows you to focus your thoughts on something pure and pleasant.
Social Interaction And That Paddle Life
Depending on your personality type, this may or may not be a benefit, but for some people, canoeing gives you another opportunity to develop and strengthen bonds of camaraderie and friendship with others. Although you can (and may sometimes prefer to) canoe alone, experiencing the sport with a group of friends can create some lasting memories, and further improve your social skills.
Canoeing in Florida with friends can bring out a little sense of healthy competition in you, and even help you overcome fears of social interaction and introversion by introducing a positive and fun social experience.
So that brings us back to you…why aren’t you out here yet? Maybe you’re just searching for more information on the sport. Maybe you have a few fears of your own, or perhaps you’re like me, and have to basically create a project report on the subject before you make any decisions. These are all understandable reasons, and let me be the first the tell you, in the end, all of the research and thought will pay off and soon you’ll be having the time of your life with a paddle in your hand and your butt in the seat of a canoe.
To put your mind at ease, let’s go through a few common concerns that you may have about getting started with canoeing in Florida.
If You Think You’re Not Comfortable In The Water:
There are many of us (this writer included) who love the ocean, but have a fear of water, or even specifically, deeper water. You may be able to swim, and at least tread water or keep yourself afloat, but that doesn’t mean that you can swim 200 yards through rough waters and keep your wits about you.
Fortunately, this isn’t important when it comes to canoeing in Florida. There are different forms of canoeing, as well as types of canoes, and each type comes with a set of skills that are important to it in particular. There are ocean canoes, which are generally longer and narrower, and mean to glide at a higher speed along the coast. If this is the type of canoeing you want to pursue, then you’ll need a higher proficiency in swimming and staying afloat than if you prefer to canoe inland lakes or rivers. If you love nature and wildlife, but aren’t keen on being out in the open ocean, then a recreational canoe might be more your speed, along with leisurely paddles along coastal inlets and lakes or other freshwater areas. Canoeing is a sport that has something to offer people of every skill level.
The majority of canoeing in Florida takes place in calm, shallow waters, generally less than 10 feet deep. The most important skills to have in these instances are how to board and disembark a canoe, as well as what to do if your canoe capsizes, and how to get back into the canoe safely, and calmly.
In addition, US Coast Guard regulations require each canoe to have a PFD (personal floatation device, or life jacket) onboard, although it is up to you whether you actually wear it while canoeing. A good PFD will give you peace of mind if you’re not a strong swimmer, as it will keep you afloat while you right your canoe in the case of capsizing, and lets you concentrate on getting back in your boat while the PFD does the hard work.
The bottom line is, you shouldn’t let your fears or worries keep you from a very enjoyable and rewarding sport!
Can You Afford Canoeing In Florida?
You absolutely can afford canoeing, it’s a simple matter of determining what your budget is, and the most cost-efficient way to get the time in that you want with the sport. There are several things to consider, such as whether you’d like to rent the boat just when you need to use it, or actually purchase a canoe. The type of canoeing in Florida you’d like to do will determine what type of boat you need, and therefore how much it will cost.
Renting versus buying is actually the biggest consideration you’ll need to make, and will determine what costs you’ll need to budget for.
Outdoor companies usually have canoes for rent at most watersports-friendly destinations, such as popular lakes, rivers, state parks, as well as beaches and other coastal locations. There are many advantages to renting (at least initially), especially for beginner canoe enthusiasts.
Renting your canoes means that all up-front purchases of equipment and gear are not something you’re responsible for. The rental company provides you with a canoe, a PFD, and a paddle for a set rate, usually either hourly, or for a day or half-day. If this is part of a guided tour, the company will even get you set up in your boat, and help you get in the canoe and out in the water. When your paddling time is over, the renter will help bring you ashore, and take care of all of the gear for you; you can literally take off your PFD and walk to your car.
The disadvantage of this setup is that obviously you are limited to canoeing in certain locations, and are at the mercy of the rental company regarding dates, times, and equipment type.
The other option is to purchase the equipment yourself. This will involve much more up front cost, since you’ll need to purchase a canoe, a paddle, and a PFD. But you’ll also need to consider how you’ll store your canoe at home, and how you’ll transport it to the body of water you plan to paddle in.
But with this option, of course, you have the ability to canoe anywhere you’d like, anytime you like. If you want to go to a secluded inlet that isn’t popular enough to have a canoe rental station, you can load up your gear at 6am and head out, no questions asked and no fees needed.
Many people enjoy the freedom of owning their own canoe, and thankfully it’s not difficult for us to realize that freedom due to the variety of boats available, and the competitive pricing that comes with that diversity. Considering a canoe rental can cost anywhere from $40 to $60 for a few hours, investing in your own equipment and gear can be highly cost-effective, especially in the long run.
Will I be able to learn everything I need to know about canoeing?
Of course you will! Learning how to canoe is just like learning anything else, all you need is some time, and repetition.
Canoeing isn’t a difficult sport to learn to begin with. I highly recommend going on an introductory tour, as it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the sport, with minimal cost. If it’s not for you, you’ll know right away. In addition, you could browse the internet for helpful websites. Many online forums have articles and discussion groups that can help you along, and YouTube is a great resource with thousands of videos giving you tips and advice to guide you as you learn.
Are You Strong Enough To Control A Canoe?
Absolutely you are; canoeing in Florida isn’t a sport that requires great strength or endurance, it just requires that you start slow, and work your way up to greater times and distances. While strength certainly aids in the process of paddling, canoes are built to be streamlined and efficient in the water, allowing for speed to be built up even with slow, methodical paddling.
As you spend more time in the canoe, and your muscles memorize the movements required and improve their own efficiency, paddling will become easier, and you’ll be able to focus more on the enjoyment of being on the water, rather than the process required to move the boat.
Canoeing in Florida
Canoeing in Florida is an outright pleasure, I can tell you from personal experience. Although you can paddle almost anywhere, Florida has several geographic and environmental advantages that provide us with one of the most perfect places to enjoy the sport.
Florida has an average annual temperature of about 67 degrees Fahrenheit, with many days of sunny conditions, giving it the nickname of “The Sunshine State”. Since winter in Florida is the mildest of any location in the continental US, canoeing season run for practically the entire year.
What are some of my favorite places to canoe in Florida? Living on the central West coast, I’m lucky enough to experience some of the best boating the state has to offer.
My Three Favorite Spots For Canoeing In Florida:
1. Oscar Scherer State Park – Osprey, Florida
Over the years, Oscar Scherer State Park has become my absolute favorite outdoor spot, period. With several miles of hiking trails, beautiful palmetto habitats, and unique wildlife such as the increasingly rare Florida Scrub Jay, there’s something for everyone here.
Canoeing here is perfect for beginners, as South Creek, the winding waterway that snakes its way through the park, is protected from coastal winds and offers calm waters. A huge variety of wildlife is viewable from the freshwater creek, including herons, turtle, and alligator. The creek features two launches to choose from, and traffic in the park is light, giving you the chance to paddle in peace through a beautiful environment.
2. Phillippi Creek – Sarasota, Florida
Another great place to paddle for beginners, Phillippi Creek is a brackish waterway that begins in the intracoastal waterway in Sarasota near Siesta Key and winds its way through the city for more than six miles.
The perfectly calm waters allow you to sit back and enjoy watching the local wildlife, including otters and large manatee that cruise the canals. Paddle along and observe the beautiful homes situated along the creek, and stop for lunch at the locally-famous Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar, conveniently located right on the water, just tie up your canoe and walk in for some incredible food!
3. Lido Key – Sarasota, Florida
This is my favorite, I have to admit. Lido Key is a beautiful small island just off the coast of Sarasota featuring world-class beaches (that rival Siesta Key just down the road), great shopping and dining, and for us outdoorsmen, some of the best canoeing in the state.
At the south end of the island is Ted Sperling park, featuring a launch and the opportunity to rent canoes if you don’t own one yourself. The waters are calm, and the biggest draw are the mangrove tunnels engineered decades ago to help control mosquito swarms in the area. These tunnels provide shallow, calm waterways to navigate through, surrounding you with three types of mangrove trees, and giving you a surreal sense of peace and tranquility. This is what canoeing in Florida is meant to be.
In closing, I hope I’ve given you a little information to help you make informed decisions about canoeing in Florida, and alleviate any fears you might have had. The sport of canoeing is addictive and beneficial to us on so many levels, and Florida is virtual playground for paddle lovers. So get out there and soak up that Florida sun. We’ll see you on the water!
Written By: Tim Gilbreath, Sarasota, Florida