Paddling is one of the most popular year-round activities enjoyed by Treasure Coast residents and visitors, thanks to miles of scenic waterways, friendly weather and abundant wildlife. I've been paddling the Treasure Coast and beyond for most of adult life so, naturally, I've developed a few favorites along the way.
(photos by Kerry Firth)
Round Island Riverside Park, located on A1A at the county line dividing Ft. Pierce and Vero Beach, is a hidden treasure for paddlers. The park has an easy access, sandy launch point where you can pull your car up, unload kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes, then park for free just a few hundred feet away. Most of this paddling route has little to no boat traffic, making it a smooth, serene trip.
Start your paddle by going north under the boardwalk bridge, following the mangrove lined contour of the island and you’ll see a fishing pier and the wide expanse of the Indian River Lagoon to the west. Open water can be choppy depending on the breeze, so hug the southern shoreline as you head out to the lagoon. You might be joined by a friendly dolphin or two and you’re sure to see some pelicans and anhinga’s diving for dinner.
Paddle beyond the first island and treat yourself to a magical mangrove tunnel that is somewhat hidden halfway down to the second island. It’s a short cut through so take your time experiencing the shadows of light that filter through the mangrove canopy. This is always a comfortable shady place to stop and hydrate.
You’ll exit the tunnel to a shallow cove where you can watch the stingrays and crabs play on the grassy bottom. Resident manatees enjoy the cove’s calm, warm waters and they will often approach your boat, but do not touch or feed them as they are a protected species. Just sit quietly and watch as they playfully cavort in the water or hoist themselves up on the riverbank for some tasty vegetation. You might even get lucky and see an amorous manatee couple mating in plain sight.
Paddling east you’ll soon see the marina and you’re back your launch site. Manatees love to nap in the shadows of the 400 ft. boardwalk, so keep your eyes peeled. They can fool you sometimes by looking like a big rock on the bottom.
The next time you paddle, reverse your path, venture further south from the cove or across the channel to relax on a spoil island. The island directly west of Round Island in the middle of the Indian River Lagoon has a nice sandy beach for wading and a picnic area complete with fire pit. Just make sure you take your trash with you and dispose of it properly.
Before you leave the area take the time to cross the pedestrian bridge and walk the dirt path through the field of purple and pink periwinkles to the fishing pier where you can try your luck casting a line to see what bites. River otters often dart in and out of the mangroves on this side of the small island and they are always fun to watch as they seemingly tease you with their game of hide and seek. When you leave the pier, veer right and follow the less traveled path to the observation tower. It’s definitely worth climbing the stairs to the very top where you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the park and surrounding waters.
As an added bonus, cool off with a refreshing dip in the ocean just across A1A at Round Island Oceanside Park. Though if the ocean is clear and calm and you still have the energy, you could haul or wheel your kayak over the dune cross-over boardwalk and paddle out. Just offshore are four parallel reefs that are home to 400 different species of marine life. The first reef is a short 100-yard paddle where you might encounter a dolphin or two gliding effortlessly in the ocean currents. The guarded beach has shaded pavilions and picnic tables, restrooms, walking trails, water fountains and even outdoor showers to rinse off before you head home.