I can’t think of any other place better for exploring a wide variety of different waterways than Florida. In Florida, we are blessed with many different kinds of rivers and bays, from narrow rivers flowing beneath a canopy of lush, green trees to wide open bays to lagoons that are only 300 to 400 feet wide.
Most of the waterways we focus on at snails2whales.com are coastal ones, so, we will take you on a quick tour of the various waterways on different Florida coasts, plus introduce you to some of the inland waterways, too.
The Florida panhandle has some very interesting coastal waterways. Most of the bays here are very large and open, connected to the Gulf of Mexico by only a tiny, narrow inlet. Despite this fact, many marine animals, including dolphins, manatees, and turtles, are found throughout these bays.
Florida’s northwest coast is well-known for a usually once-a-year activity – scalloping. Crystal River and Crystal Bay is probably the most popular scalloping destination. There are no lagoon-like bays on Florida’s northwest coast, but there are many shallow rivers and creeks running inland. Most of the northwest coast of Florida is marshy, and the view from a river usually consists of a vast, empty expanse of salt marsh with trees visible out in the distance. The river banks are muddy and usually have many oyster beds. Many of the northwest Florida coastal rivers are spring-fed, with spring locations being only six to seven miles upriver. Manatees are frequently seen in these waterways, along with birds, but (with the exception of the Homosassa River), dolphins are usually harder to find.
Florida’s central west coast is more developed, with docks lining almost every square inch of land surrounding the harbors and bays. The little bit of land that is not developed is mostly covered in mangroves.
The scenes seen from bays, harbors, and rivers on Florida’s southwest coast vary. Some waterways, like Naples Bay, are completely developed, and the entire harbor is formed by nothing but docks and houses squeezed together. Others, like Gasparilla Sound, are a mix of both, with patches of houses and docks here, and other stretches of wild, all natural mangrove forests. However, the stretch of coast from about Everglades City all the way to Whipray Basin is nothing but undeveloped, natural beauty, with mangroves crowding around creeks and bays. Dolphins are probably the most plentiful of all marinelife found in these waterways, along with birds. Manatees, turtles, sharks, and egale rays are also often seen in this area – even in the more developed bays.
Uncertain waterway in southeast Florida – photo was from Pixabay, so I don’t know exactly where it was taken, but I believe it is Biscayne Bay
Florida’s southeast coast is probably its most developed coast, with brown, dirty intercoastal waterways crowded out by houses. The Atlantic Ocean off this coast of Florida is quite clear and blue, but the intercoastal waterway (actually the southernmost section of the Intracoastal Waterway) is very brown and dirty, and it appears that dolphins and other marine animals tend to avoid living in the Intracoastal on Florida’s southeast coast. However, by the time you reach the Jonathan Dickinson State Park on the southernmost section of the Indian River, the development begins to clear up, giving way to some small white sandy banks and crowding mangroves on the shores of the Indian River.
Most of Florida’s central east coastal waterways are taken up by Florida’s large Indian River Lagoon, which includes Mosquito Lagoon, the Indian River, and the Banana River.The coastal landscape on Florida’s east coast varies, too, from big, industrial towers to quiet, natural, mangrove-lined creeks.The shore lining the Banana and Indian Rivers from Palm Bay to Port Canaveral is quite developed, and closer to Port Canaveral, big, industrial towers can be seen (especially when in Port Canaveral). Once the Indian River meets Mosquito Lagoon, the scene again becomes natural, with little islands scattered all about and no houses or docks in sight. Once the northernmost end of Mosquito Lagoon meets the South end of the Indian River North, the waterside landscape again becomes more developed, but once you reach Ponce Inlet, the natural part of the landscape begins to change a little. There are still lots of mangroves, but now, small expanses of salt marsh begin to show. Throughout the Indian River, Banana River, and Mosquito Lagoon, a variety of sealife can be found, including dolphins, manatees, turtles, and birds.
The Matanzas River, just south of Fort Matanzas
Once you go north of Ponce Inlet, the Halifax River is more developed, but by the time you reach the Tomoka River, the west bank of the Halifax becomes natural with few houses (although the eastern barrier island remains developed. Once the Halifax River becomes the Matanzas River, the scene again changes to houses lining every scare inch of riverbank. However, once you reach Bing’s Landing, development on the western shore completely clears while development on the eastern shore almost completely clears. Also, the natural landscape continues to change. There are still some mangroves at the river’s edge, but much of the west side of the river is bordered by vast expances of salt marsh, often dotted with mangrove bushes out in the open marsh flats. Development stays mostly clear until you reach about where Devil’s Elbow is, then the east shore becomes lined with docks (although the west shore remains marshy and natural. Development turns on and off, until you reach the St. John’s River. Here, skyscrapers tower above the river, and it’s impossible to escape develpment. However, the industrial scene quickly clears as you enter Clapboard Creek, and remains mostly clear as you travel up Clapboard Creek to the Amelia River. From the Amelia River to the St. Mary’s River (on the Florida-Georgia border), development stays mostly clear on the east shore, and almost non is found if you venture west up the many twisting creeks through the salt marsh. Dolphins, manatees, birds, and turtles are found throughout most of the intercoastal waterways in northeast Florida.
Florida is well known for some of its freshwater springs, like its famous Blue Springs. Although the water usually feels quite cold, a dive in a spring is usually well worth it. Spring waters are usually crystal clear with a bright blue tinge to them. Around most springs, trees and bushes crowd around the cool water. There is usually much wildlife to be seen in Florida springs, including turtles, various kinds of fish, many different kinds of plants, and in many springs, West Indian Manatees will swim in and near the spring head. Occasionally, Bottlenose Dolphins can be found near springs in the Homosassa River, the Chassahowitzka River, and the Weeki Wachee River.
Freshwater Rivers & Lakes
Florida has many, many freshwater rivers and lakes. Although some of these are developed, with many houses and docks lining the shore, many of them are completely natural. The landscape around and the appearance of Florida’s freshwater rivers and lakes varies greatly. Some rivers are small and narrow, with no houses or buildings in sight, with a canopy of lush, green trees overhead. Others are wider, with houses everywhere you look. Some are in-between. Some have water as clear as crystal, and others are brown and muddy.
The best way to discover Florida’s waterways is by far to visit them yourself! Do you live in Florida? Then you already have a lifetime’s worth of discovery to make on amazing lakes, river, bays, and harbors in your own state! Even if you don’t live in Florida, many adventures can still be made by visiting. So, I encourage you to go outside, and begin exploring some of the wonderful waters in Florida (or in other places, too). Just remember to be respectful of wildlife and stash your trash!