South Florida’s best places to paddle

May 10, 2011, 1:20 pm

Thirty years ago when we bought a house on Fort Lauderdale’s Middle River, we also bought a canoe to explore the waterway in our backyard. And we were pretty much alone in that.

People asked us if we had a boat. When we said, “Yes, a canoe!” I often detected a look of pity. Canoes weren’t boats — boats pulled water skiiers and made noise.

Today, a flotilla of kayaks passes my house every day. Somewhere over the years, the rest of the world discovered the joys of paddling. And now our river teems with stand-up paddleboards, too, the latest paddling craze.

Paddling was bound to catch on: It’s easy. It uses no fuel, except the calories you burn. It offers a serene and quiet experience where you are close to the water and wildlife and can hold a conversation with a paddling partner in little more than a whisper.

Over the years, my husband and I have taken our canoe to every nearby waterway we could find. (We’re still using the same yellow fiberglass canoe, repaired but leaky after a tree fell on it during a hurricane. Best $250 I ever spent.)

Within an hour of any spot in South Florida, there’s a place to paddle that will provide a memorable and authentic Florida experience.

Here are 14 of the best places to paddle in South Florida. Some are urban routes, with views of yachts and mansions. Others are true wilderness excursions, where we’ve come as close as anyone really should be to a 15-foot crocodile. At many of these places, you can rent a kayak (or canoe or paddle board), so the waterway makes a good introduction to paddling for first-timers.