Bioluminescent kayaking in Florida

The best spot for bioluminescent kayaking in Florida

Terry Ward
Published: April 29, 2021

Wondering about the best spot for bioluminescent kayaking in Florida? Or perhaps you’re just surprised that you can see bioluminescence here at all, like I was the first time I witnessed the ocean around me glowing like something out of Ghost Busters while I paddled a kayak through it along Florida’s sublime Space Coast

Spots like Vieques in Puerto Rico are among the first that come to mind when you think of where to see bioluminescent waters. So many travelers are downright shocked to learn that you can experience this phenomenon during the summer months right here in Florida in Titusville along the Space Coast, within the waters of the Indian River Lagoon—less than an hour’s drive east from the manufactured glow of Orlando’s theme parks

A traditional or clear kayak is the ideal vehicle for paddling out to see bioluminescence in Florida’s Mosquito Lagoon

What is bioluminescence?

National Geographic has a simple definition of bioluminescence that I love: “light emitted by living things through chemical reactions in their bodies.”

It’s caused when tiny marine organisms called dinoflagellates (a single-celled type of plankton, if you want to get specific) are agitated, often by moving water (a kayaker pushing a paddle through the water makes for a great agitator, you see where we’re going with this?). 

Wondering what bioluminescence actually looks like? That can vary, so keep your expectations in check while bioluminescent kayaking in Florida. The result could be a glow that’s dim—as in just a few sparks trailing off your paddle, like embers flying from a campfire—or grand, causing the water all around you to emit a bright blue-green glow.  

When can I see bioluminescence in Florida?

The summer months in Florida, when waters are warmest, bring the best chance to see bioluminescence displays in Florida. And really, any marine environment around the state is fair game. And since Florida hardly gets a reprieve from the heat until well into the fall months, you can expect to see bioluminescence here on any night between the months of June and early October. Full moon nights are beautiful, but darker skies make it easier to see the bioluminescence in the water as well as the Milky Way stretching like a canopy overhead. So if you have flexibility with visiting, plan a night when it’s not a full or kinda full moon. 

All you have to do is step into your kayak and push off from shore to see bioluminescence in Florida’s water (Photo courtesy of A Day Away Kayak Tours)

Where can I go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida?

Boaters in Florida will tell you bioluminescence can occur anywhere in the state’s plankton-rich waters (they often see it sparkling in their boat’s wake as they motor in the night). 

But come summertime here, I do have a favorite and reliable place for going out on an organized kayak tour in search of the magical Tinkerbell dust glow. And this is an easy trip out and back from Orlando (although it’s even better if you base nearby along the Space Coast), in case you want to just drove over to the coast for a few hours for a total change of scenery. 

My favorite spot to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida is Mosquito Lagoon, a wide expanse of protected water within the Indian River Lagoon in Titusville, Florida. 

And I can tell you this place is called Mosquito Lagoon for a reason—as dusk approaches, so do the flying marauders. Mosquitoes descend in droves here during the summer months, so don’t even think about exiting your car until you’re covered in DEET (forget the herbal stuff, just trust me on this) or something equally effective. 

Luckily, once you paddle out into the calm waters of the lagoon, the mosquitoes stay largely at bay thanks to the sea breeze, so you can sit back in your kayak, paddle slowly and take it all in. You’re also protected by barrier islands from the open ocean here, so the paddling is usually relatively wave-free and mellow. 

Bioluminescent kayaking in Florida comes with glow sticks at Mosquito Lagoon.
Glow sticks help kayakers keep track of each other in the darkness (Photo courtesy of A Day Away Kayak Tours)

Which operators offer bioluminescent kayaking tours in the Mosquito Lagoon? 

There are a few operators that will you meet you right at the boat ramp on the banks of Mosquito Lagoon, kayaks at the ready, and lead you out, glow sticks attached to your lifejacket, under darkening skies to catch the bioluminescence show.

I’ve always done the bioluminescent kayaking tours here with A Day Away Kayaks and have never been disappointed by the informative and educational banter from their knowledgeable guides. 

Sometimes, you’ll only have been paddling out for a few seconds when you start to see the glow trailing kayaks in front of you and sparking off your own paddle, too. But it’s when darkness is complete that things really get spectacular out on the water. 

The shallow waters of the lagoon are a hunting ground for mullet, and it’s easy to spot their comet-like streaks glowing green as they shoot around and under your kayak on the hunt. 

Guides will usually warn you not to freak out if a mullet jumps into your kayak (it’s happened more than once—consider it good luck and don’t panic so much that you capsize). Mullet are highly acrobatic fish when motivated by food after dark, and it’s fascinating to watch their trails that you’ve otherwise never see during the daytime hours. 

It all makes for a jaw-dropping show, as the water lights up with splashing and streaking fish all around you. Dip your hands into the water, too, and watch the glow drip for your fingers and paint the water below with a green puddle. 

Tours cost about $50 per person (a bit more if you want to upgrade to a clear kayak, which is a cool experience, although they’re a bit more unwieldy to paddle). Plan to be out on the water just under two hours, give or take.

Can I photograph the bioluminescence? 

Bioluminescence, because it’s so faint, is a very tricky thing to photograph. So this is really one of those experiences where I suggest just putting your phone or camera away and being present in the moment, taking photos in your mind and making memories for a lifetime. 

What should I bring along for a bioluminescent kayaking in Florida?

Insect repellent is a must if you want to make it from your car to your kayak without losing ample blood supply. Consider bringing a dry bag, too, to keep dry anything you don’t want getting splashed by the dinoflagellate-rich waters. 

Bring a reusable bottle of water, as paddling (especially if you’re not used to it) can be tiring work, particularly if any part of the journey involves heading into the wind. 

Wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants, despite the heat, is worth considering, too, to keep bugs at bay. 

Where can I park at Mosquito Lagoon?

There’s plenty of free onsite parking right at the boat ramp and the area is generally considered a safe place to leave your car. That said, it’s best to keep valuables out of sight (or better yet, leave them wherever you’re staying).

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