Kayaking Trails written by Will Isern
A few years ago I had the opportunity to take torch-lit kayak tour through the mouth of Bayou Texar out to Pensacola Bay. A dozen of us set off from Bayview Park at sunset and enjoyed a relaxing paddle through the lesser-seen parts of the bayou where islands sprouting with tall grass give way to watery trails traversable only by paddlecraft. It was a clear night as we made our way out into the bay and we picked out constellations and watched cars crossing the Three Mile Bridge as we floated just offshore across from Wayside Park. Having grown up in Pensacola and spent a considerable portion of my youth enjoying the local waterways, I can say that a kayak is perhaps the most versatile and enjoyable way to experience northwest Florida from the water. Not only are kayaks relatively cheap compared to other watercraft, but they’re easy to transport, easy to use and provide access to areas and experiences that larger vessels can’t. They also afford a more direct connection with nature. Paddle your way along the shoreline of the bay or down a stretch of the Blackwater River and you’ll come away with a much better sense of local ecology than you would speeding by in a boat. With an abundance of bays, bayous, rivers and creeks, northwest Florida is rich with paddling opportunities and home to a number of designated paddling trails. Blackwater River, Big Lagoon State Park and Escambia Bay are all popular paddling destinations for locals and visitors alike. The 1,500 mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail begins 32 Pensacola Magazine
at Big Lagoon State Park near the Alabama border. Outfitters like Adventures Unlimited, Bob’s Canoes, Pensacola PaddleSport Rentals, Outdoor Gulf Coast and others offer kayak and canoe rentals as well as shuttling service to a number of popular launch sites. For long-term involvement, a number community groups centered around paddling exist in Northwest Florida. The West Florida Canoe and Kayak Club, for example, has more than 100 members and organizes multiple outings each week. Club president Susan Benz said many in her organization are attracted to paddling for the escape it offer from daily life. “I think a lot us just want to be outside,” she said. “We don’t want to be stuck in the house, especially in the summer time. We have paddlers in our group who like to get out in the open water and ones like me and we’re all about the creeks, because the creeks we paddle on are clear, have sandbars where we can stop and they’re away from the noise.” Kayak fishing is also extremely
popular along the Gulf Coast. When conditions permit, anglers will travel miles into the Gulf of Mexico on specialized kayaks in hopes of bagging mahi mahi, mackerel, red fish and other Gulf delicacies. An entire industry has grown up behind the sport with dozens of local businesses and community groups offering equipment, day trips and advice for those interested in trying the sport for themselves. With dozens of boat ramps and kayak launches throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, finding a spot to put in is most easily accomplished by searching online for the
Escambia County Waterway Access Interactive Map and Santa Rosa County boat launches.
State Designated Paddle Trails in Northwest Florida
Descriptions Courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Perdido River This easy 15.4-mile paddling trail is a classic Panhandle river with tea-colored water cradled