Orlando might be best known for its amusement parks and bustling urban scene, but outdoor enthusiasts have many opportunities to slip away and enjoy nature.
Many waterways near central Florida offer everything from family-friendly and beginner paddling trips to more intense aquatic experiences.
Being near so many exciting places makes Orlando a top destination for paddlers.
Kayaking near Orlando allows you to view exotic wildlife you might not see anywhere else in the United States, and you’ll love knowing that you are close to your hotel or restaurant when it is time to hit dry land.
Planning a fulfilling trip to Orlando is easy when you use these locations to find the best launch spots and routes to take off on a fantastic journey.
Silver Springs was once a separate commercial attraction, but it was purchased in 2013 by the state. Now, it is a part of the Silver River State Park, which makes it possible to enjoy a safe trip with amenities nearby, such as campgrounds and cabins, in case you plan to stay awhile.
Silver Springs is located outside Ocala, Florida, about an hour and a half drive from Orlando, but well worth the trip.
The biggest highlight of this trip is the wildlife; you can even look forward to seeing the famous rhesus monkeys hanging out in the trees that line the shore.
With around 200 monkeys in the area, three is a good chance you will see one if you look around long enough.
Otters, turtles, and other aquatic wildlife are also here in abundance. We saw tons of fish, birds, and not so many humans, which was great. It felt like we had the place to ourselves.
There are plenty of alligators at Silver Springs, so be on the lookout. They are not scary as long as you keep your distance.
You are also likely to see a few manatees during the winter months near the spring. We got lucky on this April day and saw four manatees!
You have two main options for paddling trips here, and you can pick from them to enjoy anywhere from a one to four-hour adventure.
For the shorter trip, you’ll want to take the 1.1-mile Fort King Paddling Trail that loops around Ross Allen. This one launch and exits at the main entrance, and you can complete it in one to two hours, depending upon your paddling speed.
Put in at the main entrance’s kayak launch if you want a longer adventure. Then, continue the trail until you get to the boat launch at Ray Wayside Park.
This is a 5-mile trip that requires you to have separate transportation at the end of the route to complete your trip. There’s also the option of doing a complete round-trip. This might be challenging on days with a strong current.
As you paddle, remember to yield to glass-bottom boats because it’s harder for them to make sudden stops or sharp turns. Watch out for motorboats, even though it’s a no-wake area!
Rainbow River is formed by the Rainbow Springs, the fourth largest spring in Florida. The river flows for about six miles with a comfortable current until you reach the Withlacoochee River.
This river’s claim to fame is crystal clear water to the point that you can often see your boat’s shadow reflecting from the sandy bottom.
People love visiting this river in the fall and winter due to its warmth and the opportunity to enjoy even greater clarity.
Several launch sites along the river, including Rainbow Springs State Park. Here, you can launch at the headsprings and enjoy swimming and paddling.
Or, you can visit the K.P. Hole, County Park. Remember that this park can lock the gates when the parking area gets full and when they close at night.
So, making sure you get back before the park closes ensures that you’ll easily be able to access your ride home.
Winter Park Chain of Lakes
Six lakes make up this lovely chain of paddling fun, and a canal connects each one you can use to travel along the water system.
The canals offer some of the gentlest currents you’ll enjoy on your trip, and you will find that the lakes are fairly calm most of the time.
The two main public launches with parking are located at Dinky Dock on Lake Virginia and Fort Maitland Park. Occasionally, you’ll find smaller ramps in the surrounding neighborhoods along the lake, but none offer public parking.
Dinky Dock offers public restrooms, picnic tables, and grills to round out your paddling adventure.
As you go through the canals, remember to watch for tour boats so that you can make sure to stop near a wider part of the path so they can pass.
Here, you can explore what the locals call nature’s greatest theme park. You’ll launch directly at King’s Landing, where you can take several routes to create your own adventure.
If you choose to travel down the Emerald Cut section along the right side of Rock Springs Run, you’ll enjoy the beauty of the clear, dark green water that carries you upstream to Kelly Park, where you will turn around and enjoy a leisurely downstream trip back to the launch site.
If you choose to take a left after you reach the end of the canal, you can enjoy traveling through a jungle-like landscape filled with lush flora lining the shores.
You’ll know to turn around and head back to the launch site when you see the two buoys that tell you to do exactly that.
With both routes, you’ll want to keep your camera handy. Alligators, black bears, birds, and deer call the Rock Springs area home.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
The state park is only 20 minutes north of Orlando, making this an easy day trip if you stay in the city. As a visitor to the park, you can launch from inside the main grounds.
Or, you can access the park from any launch site along the Wekiwa River or Rock Springs Run. If you come in from outside of the park, you’ll need to plan to pay a small entrance fee.
Before you get too far into your trip, you might want to plan your route based on a few points of interest. Each one listed on the state park’s paddling map provides information about the length of the trip.
For beginners, you might want to start going from Wekiva Springs to Otter Camp, around 3 miles.
Silver Glen Springs
Located in the Ocala National Forest, you’ll find that this hidden gem is less crowded than some of the other kayak spots around Orlando. For those hot days, Silver Glen Springs stays 72 degrees all year.
The entrance to the spring is located off Highway 19, about an hour and a half away from Orlando. You’ll spot the kayak launch just after you walk past the first hill after the spring boil.
After that, it’s smooth sailing as you head toward the left and away from the main swimming area.
Take your time peering into the clear water as you enjoy an experience that is just as good in the winter as it is in the spring.
Keep in mind that the water gets rougher once you reach Lake George. Plan to get out before then, or turn around and head back to the original launch site.
You won’t have to travel far from Disney World if you want to kayak on your family vacation. Shingle Creek is located on US 192 in Kissimmee, the main tourist corridor.
While the traffic on the freeway may be flowing, you’ll find that paddling down Shingle Creek feels like you’ve launched yourself into another world. This serene paddling spot is beautiful and offers you several easy options for access.
Steffee Landing, just off 192, is the most popular launch spot due to its proximity to travelers. No motorboats are allowed at the launch site, which helps calm your nerves if you are a beginner kayaker or plan to paddle with children.
Although you can travel through a cypress swamp if you head south, you’ll want to use caution since it leads through twists and turns along with rapids.
If you prefer a calmer adventure, all you have to do is head north to Babb Landing. This is considered an easy paddling trail, only around two miles round-trip.
The calmer, less deep water here is perfect for fishing and enjoying a leisurely trip as you practice your paddling skills.
While some springs in Florida have suffered due to environmental changes, Juniper Springs is one of the healthiest in the state.
When you’re kayaking near Orlando, this destination is worth including on your list simply because it offers you the chance to see gators in a comfortable atmosphere.
Here, the gators run small and are used to seeing humans traveling through their territory.
The seven-mile run is also just long enough to help you develop your stamina without causing you to wear out too soon.
Remember that only reusable water bottles are allowed on your kayak, which is easy to comply with since keeping trash out of the water helps preserve its pristine beauty.
You’ll love how much space you have to paddle on this 124-acre public lake in Orlando. Launching into the lake is easy, and you’ll find a dock designated for kayaks and other non-motorized boats.
After paddling your heart out around the lake, you’ll also enjoy being able to pop out of the water and head to a local bar or restaurant within minutes.
Nature preserves offer some of the best kayaking experiences near Orlando. For example, Crooked River provides an easy trail through the Clermont chain of lakes. You can access an easy launch site just past the main trailhead in the preserve.
From there, you can leisurely float along with hardly any effort moving the paddle as you take in gorgeous views and seek out your chance to spot some local wildlife.
Weeki Wachee Springs is about an hour and a half drive from Orlando, close to the Gulf of Mexico. The kayaking here is great because the water is so crystal clear. You can see fish and other aquatic life while paddling around.
The run has been shortened to about 2.8 miles long, so it’s a quick paddle if you want it to be. I recommend taking time and floating slowly to enjoy everything the springs offer.
Many people are frustrated that the run is so short now, but it’s still a gorgeous spot.
Watch out for motorboats. Even though the springs are a no-wake zone, there are spots where it is tough to maneuver around a boat while paddling a kayak or SUP.
There is plenty of wildlife to see while kayaking Weeki Wachee Springs.
I highly recommend kayaking Weeki Wachee Springs if you are in the area and looking for a great place to paddle. It’s a beautiful spot, and there is so much to see! It’s not too far from Tampa, either.
Next door, the state park has other fun things to do, including a water park.
Orlando Area Kayak Rentals
- Discovery Kayak Silver Springs
- Rainbow River Kayak Adventures
- King’s Landing
- Epic Paddle Adventures
- Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak
- Buena Vista Watersports
With so many places to go kayaking near Orlando, you might find it hard to narrow down your options. If possible, plan to stay for a few days to paddle down several unique waterways, but don’t worry if you only have time for a short visit.
Even a few hours on Florida waters will leave you with long-lasting memories of the adventures you enjoyed during your recent vacation.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.