Best Places for Kayaking Around Marco Island
Marco Island is the first and largest of the 10,000 Islands, situated right in the middle of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
With some of the best kayaking and paddling opportunities in the world, you can explore beautiful winding mangrove tunnels, calm protected bays of the estuary, sandy beaches with some of the best shelling in the country, and experience Southwest Florida’s unique wildlife from the vast canal systems of Marco Island. With lots of opportunities for kayaking, it can be difficult to decide which launch site to start from and how to acquire equipment to get out and paddle this beautiful area.
Here is a list of some of our favorite places to kayak around Marco Island!
- Isles of Capri Paddlecraft Park
- Shell Island Road & Rookery Bay
- Tigertail Beach
- Marco Island Canal System
Isle of Capri Paddlecraft Park- your portal to the mangrove tunnels!
Just North of the SS Jolly Bridge on the corner of Capri Blvd and Collier Blvd you’ll find the Isle of Capri Paddlecraft Park. The entrance to the park is located off of Capri Blvd (CR-952) just west of Collier Blvd by about 100 yards. Once you make the turn onto Capri, keep your eyes out on the right for a green gate and a small sign that says Isle of Capri Paddlecraft Park!
The park is a true trash to treasure story as it was developed by the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in 2012 specifically for kayakers, paddleboarders, and all non-motorized vessels. After discovering a dump site with large piles of trash in the mangroves, Rookery Bay acquired funding to clean up the site and transform it into the paddle park we know today. The Capri Paddlecraft Park now provides easy and safe access to one of the most pristine and intricate mangrove tunnel systems of the entire 110,000 acre reserve. This area gives you access to many shallow areas called ‘mud flats’ that are home to unique wildlife like sea stars, urchins, giant marine snails that grow up to 2 feet in length, and more. The park has some great features and amenities including restrooms, two shaded picnic pavilions, plenty of parking, and even a wash station for your kayaks!
Parking is free and you are welcome to launch your own kayak at this park with a launch fee of $4/vessel to access these amazing mangrove tunnels. The area is unmarked and can be a bit tricky to navigate, so we highly recommend booking a guided kayak tour with Rising Tide Explorers so you don’t have to worry about getting lost and you can learn from Marco Island’s only biologist ecotour guides. Rising Tide Explorers is the exclusive ecotour provider of the Rookery Bay Reserve and a portion of the proceeds from all kayak tours and rentals goes back to support the Friends of Rookery Bay. You’ll have a great time, and you can trust that you and your family are out on the water with someone who is actually qualified to take you into these wild areas as all guides are vetted by the Reserve.
- Kayak rentals are also available from Rising Tide Explorers, and you can always access their free digital kayaking map with a color coated routes so you can easily navigate the mangrove tunnels. The digital map is a layer that can be added to Google Maps and is free to download HERE.
RTE has the newest and highest quality equipment in Marco Island, and the most knowledgeable and friendly staff to help you have the best experience in the estuary. Rentals start at $35 and you can enjoy paddling the whole day for just $50.
Biologist Guided Kayak Tours are available with Rising Tide Explorer & Rookery Bay Reserve. Rising Tide Explorers has the ONLY biologist guides in SWFL, most having master’s degrees from local universities and actively conducting research in the area. They are by far the most fun, entertaining, and knowledgeable guides in the region. Get on a Mangrove Tunnels & Mudflats tour with these experts. Free photography is included with each tour and both single and tandem kayaks are available.
- Address: 1 Shell Island Road, Naples, FL 34113
- Hours: Gates open at sunrise and close at sunset
- Parking: FREE. Public launching of kayaks and motorized vessels
- Restrooms: Port-o-Johns available
- Other Amenities: Marked paddling trail, Hiking trails, geocaching,
- Guided Kayak Tours, Boat Tours, & Kayak Rentals available (reservations required)
The Shell Island Road area was originally occupied by SWFL Indigenous Peoples called the Calusa. Two shell mounds were located at the end of the current road where the Calusa lived and thrived from 700AD through the mid-1700s, due to the abundance of life and access to food in the estuary. The area was later settled by early SWFL homesteaders and the road was constructed from the remains of the old Calusa Shell Mounds earning it the name, Shell Island Road. Head North on Collier Blvd over the SS Jolly Bridge and continue for about 3.5 miles. The entrance to Shell Island Road is on the left and marked by a simple street sign right across from the entrance to the community of Fiddler’s Creek.
The road is about 3 miles long and takes you through the beautiful upland areas of the Rookery Bay Reserve. Keep your eyes out for gopher tortoises, bald eagles, deer, and lots of other SWFL wildlife that frequent this area! Stopping at Briggs Boardwalk, about half way down the road, is an opportunity to hike into upland areas and marsh lands featuring interpretive signage, and often volunteer interpreters are available to help you learn about this unique area.
Continue to the very end of the road where you will find the boat and kayak ramp.
Set back off the road and away from human activity, this launch site is quiet, serene, and hosts some incredible open views as you paddle through hidden back bays and a few winding mangrove tunnels. You’ll see lots of bird life, dolphin, oyster beds, and sometimes even manatee in the summer months. You will truly feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, and it’s wonderful.
Marked Paddling Trail – Launch your kayak here or rent from Rising Tide Explorers to gain access to Rookery Bay’s marked paddling trail. You can snap a photo of the trail located on a sign near a shaded park bench near the launch area or use Rising Tide Explorer’s digital kayaking map to make sure you’re on the right track. The trail is marked with bright orange sign posts and large white numbered signs #1 – #18. You can also access a nice PDF guide to the trail with a map and interpretive guides for each of the signs as you paddle along.
Geocaching – This site has some amazing opportunities for geocaching which is finding hidden treasures using clues and a handheld GPS unit (or even your phone!).
Guided Kayak Tours – Explore this area with an active local biologist who actively studies the ecology and wildlife of these estuaries on a guided kayak tour with Rising Tide Explorers. Check out the daytime Shell Island Road kayak tour here: Heart of the Rookery Bay Tour
This area is also home to the famous Bird Rookery Island, the Reserve’s namesake where you can witness over 1,000 birds return to their roost and/or nests as the sun sets every single night. You can see this incredible event on a guided Sunset Bird Rookery Kayak Tour or Sunset Bird Rookery Boat Tour with Rising Tide Explores
Boat Tours – This is also the location of Rookery Bay Reserve’s incredibly unique boat tours led by the biologist guides of Rising Tide Explorers. Cruise the Rookery Bay on Essence of the Estuary, explore an ancient sand dune island (the highest point in the 110,000 acre Reserve and the site of an ancient human burial ground) only accessible via the High Points Ancient Island Excursion Boat Tour, or head out to a remote part of Keewaydin Island, Florida’s largest unbridged barrier island for some shelling and beach combing with a biologist captain on the Life’s A Beach Barrier Island Shelling Tour.
- Address: 430 Hernando Dr, Marco Island, FL 34145
- Hours: Sunrise to sunset
- Parking: $8 per day
- Restrooms: YES, Parking lot 1 and 6
- Other Amenities: Birdwatching Tower, boardwalks, playground, tidepools, food concessions (coming soon)
Looking for a quick and simple leisurely paddle in a calm lagoon with lots of birds and other wildlife? Tigertail Beach is a great option! Tigertail is 79 acres of beautiful preserve state park in the Northwest corner of Marco Island. From Collier Blvd, take Kendall Dr and make a left on Hernando Dr following signs for Tigertail Beach.
Be sure to check out the birdwatching tower (parking lot 1) overlooking the lagoon!
As one of the few preserve areas left on Marco Island, Tigertail give you access to a lagoon full of wildlife, and the white sand beach of an old barrier island. Walk among the sea oats around to the beach, swim in the ocean and relax in a beach chair, or launch a kayak or paddleboard and explore the lagoon wildlife!
Daily & Weekly Kayak Rentals w/ FREE DELIVERY – Rising Tide Explorers provides daily and weekly kayak rentals with free delivery and pick up to Tigertail Beach! RTE has the newest and highest quality equipment in Marco Island, and the most knowledgeable and friendly staff to help you have the best experience in the estuary. Rentals start at $35 and you can enjoy paddling the whole day for just $50.
The lagoon is two miles long, and home to plenty of herons, egrets, wading birds, osprey, and more! Enjoy paddling around in the newest and highest quality kayaking equipment on Marco Island (mix and match single or tandem kayaks) with Rising Tide Explorers. You’ll also get expert advise from certified kayak instructors and can always send in photos of any wildlife you encounter so a local biologist can identify it for you!
Marco Island has over 100 miles of canals connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Lined with seawalls and many extravagant homes, these canals host a variety of local wildlife and provide a nice place for a paddle, especially if you are close enough to access the gulf or the adjacent barrier islands. Low tide will showcase oysters, barnacles, crabs, and a variety of other mollusks that use the sea walls as a place to live and feed. You’ll also see plenty of fish like needlefish, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, mullet, grouper, snook, tarpon, rays and maybe even a variety of other swimming critters like sooty sea hares (sea slugs), blue crabs, and more! Bring your rod and fish the pilings, or simply paddle out in search of dolphin and manatee that frequent the canal systems of Marco Island.
Daily & Weekly Kayak Rentals w/ FREE DELIVERY – Have a vacation rental on Marco Island? Rising Tide Explorers provides daily and weekly kayak rentals with free delivery and pick up right to your dock! Enjoy paddling around the canals in the newest and highest quality kayaking equipment (mix and match single or tandem kayaks) on Marco Island for your entire vacation on the Island. You’ll also get expert advise from certified kayak instructors and can always send in photos of any wildlife you encounter so a local biologist can identify it for you!
For more information on how to get out and explore the estuaries of Naples and Marco Island on a biologist guided kayak tour with Rising Tide Explorers, visit www.RisingTideFL.com.