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Kayaking with manatees on Florida’s west coast
By Tom Adkinson
January 22, 2021

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

Orange River manatee on florida's west coast
Orange River manatee. Image by Manatee Kayaking Company.

FORT MYERS, Florida – The Orange River is tiny, just 8.7 miles long, but it showcases some really big attractions every winter. Manatees, those docile, bulbous vegetarian sea mammals that can be 10 feet long and weigh 1,200 pounds, love this little river, especially the warm water that flows out of a Florida Power & Light Co. generating plant. Lee County’s Manatee Park has viewing platforms and displays to tell you about the manatees that are most frequent from November into March.

Orange River kayak float
Orange River kayak float. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Even better than viewing manatees from the park’s platforms is floating along with them in a kayak. Indeed, almost the entire length of the river offers pleasant floating conditions, first among moss-draped trees and then in the wider stretches as it approaches its confluence with the Caloosahatchee River. Manatee Kayaking Co. offers guided tours as well as kayak rentals if you want to paddle on your own. (Tip: Polarized sunglasses can improve your wildlife viewing, including seeing cow-nose rays and tarpon that share the river with the manatees.) In any event, being in a kayak definitely allows for social distancing – from other paddlers and manatees alike.

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(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

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