Two kayakers on the water at sunset near a set of homes
Shallow draft vessels are perfect for navigating tidal flats and narrow mangrove tunnels in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA

Nearshore waters of the Florida Keys can be remarkably shallow, and many parts are accessible only by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. Gliding silently above crystal-clear water, vibrant sea life—like conch and pufferfish amongst the seagrass blades, or stingrays and nurse sharks gliding under mangrove roots—come into perfect view. As you quietly approach the mangrove islands, you may be delighted with a chorus call from native bird populations.

Many of the sanctuary's wildlife management areas are established as 'no motor zones' to reduce disturbance of backcountry species. This becomes a perfect setting for paddlers who want to quietly immerse themselves in these natural surroundings. Our free mobile app, Marine Sanctuary Explorer, can tell you if you are near a location that is designated no entry.

Bored? Bring Your Board!

roots from a tree underwater
Red mangrove prop roots provide sediment stabilization and offer habitat to fish and wildlife. Photo: Olivia Williamson/Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest

The Keys stretch 125 miles, and with flats on either side of the highway, your biggest task will be deciding where to paddle. State parks are a great option for starting your paddle adventure. Some state parks with paddleboard rentals, boat ramps, and trails include John Pennekamp State Park (2.5 miles of meandering mangrove trails), Long Key State Park (with a marked,1.5-mile paddling trail within a protected lagoon) and Curry Hammock State Park (featuring a mangrove tunnel, deep water lagoon, grassy flats, sandbars, and open ocean).

With more than 50 publicly-accessible boat ramps in Monroe County, there won't be a failure to launch. Make sure to consult tides and weather conditions before heading out on the water, or the shallow flats could leave you high and dry.