July and August can be uncomfortably hot in Florida and while relaxing on the beach is always a great place to spend those heat filled days, there are plenty of other options, especially if you’re up for some paddling! With the Gulf of Mexico, Choctawhatchee Bay, and several springs, streams and ponds, the Florida Panhandle is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, and Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP).
Where to go:
While the Gulf of Mexico and its turquoise water provide a gorgeous scene for paddling adventures, there are both pluses and minuses when it comes to the gulf. Most rental companies offer free delivery along the gulf coast, which saves the renter from picking up and hauling, as well as carrying the paddleboard or kayak to the water. Another plus, if you want to take a break from paddling, the beach provides a beautiful place to park the board or kayak and relax. The drawback is that the water may be a bit rough compared to the Bay, bayous and ponds.
Choctawhatchee Bay is a great place to go for a paddle. With many public accesses along the coast, it can be an ideal body of water to spend a hot summer day on. If the bay is too intimidating or rough for a leisurely paddle, there are several bayous including Alaqua Bayou, West Bayou, Basin Bayou and LaGrange Bayou that provide a more sheltered and calm environment.
If you are looking for the calmness of a bayou but want some of the Emerald Coast’s white sand, there are several coastal dune lakes in the area! Western Lake in Grayton Beach State Park provides a boat ramp and parking. Click HERE for more information on coastal dune lakes and which ones are easily accessible.
There are also many streams in the area. From the Bay Club at Hammock Bay, homeowners can paddle east on Choctawhatchee Bay to access Bear Creek, a narrow, winding creek, which runs through the southern part of Hammock Bay. If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, there are a few springs in the area that offer the scenic stream paddle with a rewarding natural spring as the destination. Cypress Springs in Vernon is less than an hour drive and only accessible by canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Snaggy Bend Outfitters provides rentals, as well as a shuttle service, which makes for a no-hassle paddling experience.
If you are looking for a beautiful spring to paddle around without having to paddle your way there, Vortex Springs may be more your style. Located in Ponce de Leon, a 40-minute drive from Freeport, Vortex Springs offers camping and recreational activities in addition to a paddling experience.
Where to rent:
Don’t have your own vessel? No problem! There are lots of places in the area that rent out everything you need. Here are just a few:
RentGearHere.com is the place to go for anything you could want or need. They have Perception Tribe tandem kayaks, which are one of the best sit on top kayaks out there, made from extremely durable material for maximum flotation. For Stand Up Paddleboards, they have YOLO (You Only Live Once) boards, which are designed for recreational use for new as well as experienced paddlers. RentGearHere.com has two locations, one in Destin and one in Santa Rosa Beach and they offer daily and weekly rentals.
Established in 1999, Yellowfin Ocean Sports is locally owned and operated and has three locations in Santa Rosa Beach. They have solo, solo fishing and tandem kayaks as well as SUP’s available to rent daily, 2-3 days or 4-7 days, as well as all other ocean sport gear you could want or need!
Sunny Days Bike & Beach Sports is a family owned and operated small business providing its customers with everything they need to paddle around Walton County. Sunny Days Bike & Beach Sports offers tandem and solo kayaks as well as Bru Surf, YOLO and Tower brand paddleboards.
- Be sure to check the weather before venturing out on the water and be aware of the beach flags if going out on the Gulf.
- With paddleboards, wearing a leash that connects you to the board prevents you from getting separated should you fall off.
- Kayaks and SUP’s are considered vessels when taken “beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing areas” requiring you to wear a personal flotation device.
- Paddling is a great workout so be sure you have some snacks or at least water (or access to some) to keep yourself energized and enjoying the wonderful waterways of the Florida Panhandle.
- And of course, don’t forget sunscreen!