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Exploring Tampa Bay by boat

There’s ample Tampa Bay waterways, and we break down some of best ways to explore them.

Shell Island kayak tour

Get a glimpse of all the underwater life — and pristine water— Shell Key has to offer.

Photo by @getupandgotampabay

Kayaking, canoeing + paddleboarding are great ways to explore Tampa Bay. These water sports also offer both physical and mental health benefits that extend far beyond a day on the water.

But before we dive in, let’s get a lay of the land (er, water). Check out these unique facts about our region:

  • With 12,132.93 square miles of water, Florida ranks third in the US for water area.
  • The National Forests in Florida have over 600 lakes and rivers.
  • Florida has the second largest freshwater lake wholly contained within the United States
Woman holds up a paddle board along the Hillsborough River.

Urban Kai offers guided kayak + stand-up paddleboard tours of Downtown Tampa’s waterfront and adventure tours.

Photo via @urban_kai

Next, we should talk about paddling safety, so you don’t capsize:

  • Always wear a PFD or personal flotation device.
  • Start small. Water, especially flowing water, can be intimidating. First-timers should opt for a small lake, pond, or city canal. You don’t want to get in over your head.
  • Consider a guided adventure from Tampa Kayaking Company before heading out on your own.
  • For a fully detailed list of do’s + don’ts, check out this paddling safety guide.

And finally, here are a few local options for getting your feet wet:

  • Shell Key Preserve, 2187 Oceanview Dr., Tierra Verde | 15-minute drive from Downtown St. Pete | That’s right, you don’t have to leave Pinellas for this one. Get Up and Go Kayaking even offers clear kayak tours.
  • Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill | 1-hour drive from Downtown Tampa | Paddle through 2.8 miles of fresh spring water mostly under the shade of oak and cypress trees + stop by to watch the park’s famous mermaids perform their underwater dance.
  • Hillsborough River, Urban Kai, Armature Works dock, 1910 N Ola Ave | Downtown Tampa | Paddle along the River on a guided tour from Urban Kai + stop at one of the fantastic rooftop bars along the Riverwalk for a post paddle sip.