Total Length: 1550 miles
managing body the Florida Office of Greenways & Trails
volunteer stewards Florida Paddling Trails Association
Western Terminus Big Lagoon State Park
Eastern Terminus Fort Clinch State Park
Conceived 2004, by Doug Alderson
Established 2007, became an official Florida paddling trail
First thru-paddled 2008-09 by Matt Keene, Mike Ruso, and Dan Dick
total # of thru-paddlers 14 as of Dec 2014
length of thru-paddle 4 to 5 months
thru-paddle season November - March
trail open year round
trail markings none
# of shelters 0
What about rowboats, canoes, or small sailboats?
I have received a number of emails from people asking if they could complete the Circumnavigational Trail in a canoe, rowboat, or small sailboat like a Sunfish. My short answer is NO, the CT is not for these craft. Here's why:
1) The seas get too rough.
During my trip, enormous, unthinkable swells hit Dan and I on the second day but even on normal days there are three or four sets of breakers between the shore and open, calm water that must be crossed multiple times every day. In these situations you need to be able to maneuver through the waves and stay upright. Only a kayak can do this. Canoes and rowboats simply do not have the maneuverability and control necessary.
2) You will lose all your gear, and possibly your life
When a canoe or rowboat inevitably capsizes, there is no way to keep yourself and your gear in the boat. A kayaker can perform an "Eskimo role" and return upright, but every other boat spills you and your gear into the water and then sinks.
3) Sunfish have no place for gear
As for small sailboats like a Sunfish, the question becomes, where would you store your gear? If you plan to camp out and complete the CT unsupported (meaning a team will not be waiting for you at predetermined stops with food et cetera), which is the only option in the Big Bend and Everglades sections, then you will need to carry 30-40lbs of camping gear, food, etc. There is no place for all this on a sunfish.
My argument here assumes that you are going to attempt the CT unsupported as I did. However, there was a woman who paddled the whole coast of Florida in a canoe. She was supported by a team on land, carried nothing with her except snacks and water, and slept in hotels every night. If you plan to do something like that, then all bets are off.
Every potential CT thru-paddler should read Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat." Based on Crane's experience in a rowboat off the coast of Florida with three other men, the story depicts how normal near-shore breakers acted as an impenetrable barrier to their little boat and trapped them at sea. When they finally attempted to reach shore and braved the breakers, the boat capsized and one of the four men drowned.
What about slightly larger sailboats, like the O'Day Daysailer?
Obviously the Florida coast can be traversed in a sailboat—people do it every day. But to follow the CT route presents problems for sailboats. Sailboats need to be large enough to carry your gear but also small enough to land and launch from beaches without the need for boat ramps.
My dad has an O'Day daysailer that is about 19' long and has an enclosed compartment for gear. It could easily make the trip and survive the breakers but the centerboard would make approaching many campsites on the Gulf Coast and in Florida Bay difficult. You could of course plan your trip to skip these sites.
The CT is a strategic long-term priority of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, being coordinated by the Office of Greenways and Trails, but it relies heavily on the involvement and cooperation of numerous other government agencies at the federal, state, regional and local levels, along with private outfitters, businesses, paddling clubs and individual volunteers. The non-profit Florida Paddling Trails Association was formed in 2007 to act as volunteer stewards of the CT, along with other paddling trails. The "Paddling Community" page of their website shows paddlers who have completed the entire trail.
The CT is virtually unknown to most Floridians. Don't be surprised if you start telling people you are going to do it and they ask, "What's that?" You could keep it simple and just say you are
paddling all the way around Florida. During your trip, lots of people will ask you what you are doing, so you will be an ambassador for the Trail, and for all other paddlers who come after
Currently, there are 19 million Floridians, and according to the state's tourism marketing corporation, 94.7 million visitors came to Florida in 2013, a record number. So with at least 100
million people in Florida in any given year, what percentage of them paddle the CT?
Exact figures are hard to determine, but needless to say, not many. While tens of thousands of kayakers paddle the coast every year, most are only out for the day, or just a few hours. Few camp
overnight or do extended trips. There are maybe one or two thru-paddlers each year.