In your mind’s eye, imagine the Florida Keys. What do you see?
Do you imagine white sand beaches and warm, crystal-clear water? Most people do.
The Keys do have those things, sort of. And, they’re great, don’t get me wrong. But, most people never get past the beaches. Most people miss out on one of the true hidden gems of south Florida: Florida Bay.
Locals lovingly refer to Florida Bay as “the backcountry”. Few tourists have even heard the name. That’s a shame because Florida Bay is absolutely beautiful. It’s one of the best places in Florida to kayak, fish, explore and have a real adventure.
Where is Florida Bay?
Florida Bay is a waterway located at the southernmost point of Florida’s mainland.
Florida Bay sits just south of Everglades National Park, and just west of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. The boundaries of Florida Bay stretch from approximately Key Largo to Islamorada. The western boundary of Florida Bay blends into the Gulf of Mexico.
Florida bay is enormous; it covers approximately 849 square miles. It’s also very shallow and difficult to navigate. The average depth throughout Florida Bay is less than five feet, and it’s divided into endless sections and basins. Navigating Florida Bay is difficult, and requires a local’s eye to “read the water”.
There are hundreds of small islands in the waters of Florida Bay. Few of the islands have actual dry land, though. Most are “tree islands”; patches of mud and mangroves that peek just above the waterline. Most of the islands remain wet year-round, and are often flooded.
Fishing and Boating in Florida Bay
Florida Bay is beautiful, but in its own way. It requires a close, quiet inspection, and is best appreciated by curious people who love nature and are willing to appreciate the intricate and delicate ecosystem.
Florida Bay is one of the best places to fish in Florida. It is a mecca for fishermen, bird watchers and other wildlife lovers. Many rare and endangered species live in Florida Bay.
Tours in Florida Bay
There are many kayak outfitters in Florida Bay which offer services, including kayak tours, rentals, new and used kayak sales.
Guided eco-tours are the best way to experience Florida Bay. Outfitters are a great place to find guided tour options, or to ask for friendly advice.
There are many remote areas of the backcountry in Florida Bay. Outfitters in this region have local experience and knowledge. They know about spots without crowds or boat traffic.
In some spots, you may not see another boat for the entire day!
Camping in Florida Bay
Some paddlers can even experience camping in Florida Bay by staying on raised platforms called “Chickees”.
Chickee platforms are maintained by the National Park Service and offer an exceptional opportunity to camp and extend paddling adventures into an overnight trip or even a multi-day adventure in the Everglades and the Florida Keys Paddling Trail.
Florida Bay can be a challenging and potentially dangerous place. Local knowledge and experience is extremely important in Florida Bay because it covers very large areas. It’s easy to become disoriented or lost.