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Latest update: September 2020

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge...

Kayaking along Florida's Space Coast

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1963 as part of the development of Canaveral (John F. Kennedy) Space Center, provides important habitat to a wide variety of plants of animals. It also offers many recreational opportunities - bird and wildlife watching, a wildlife drive, manatee observation deck, fishing and hunting, and boating. There are several public access roads to launch onto the Indian River or Mosquito Lagoons, the best areas for paddling to avoid motorboats. It is also one of the most popular locations in America for bioluminescence kayaking tours. (Detailed map and photos below).

paddle Merritt 
		    Island National Wildlife Refuge, kayak, canoe

Distance: varies
Location: Brevard County (Titusville).
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: Along Shiloh Marsh Road, Bairs Cove,  Beacon 42, Dummitt Cove, Bio Lab Road (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Manatee Observation Deck, Kennedy Space Center, Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda Beach

Rentals/Outfitters/Tours (including Bioluminescence Tours):

A Day Away Kayak Tours  (rentals/tours)

A1A Beach Rentals  (rentals)

BK Adventures  (rentals/tours)

Cocoa Kayaking (kayak & paddleboard tours)

Kayaks by Bo  (rentals)

Merritt Island... Comments and Photos

This is mostly shallow, open water in the upper Indian River Lagoon. Watch the weather, high winds can create difficult paddling conditions. Note: during waterfowl hunting season, canoeing and kayaking are not allowed in refuge impoundments (inside the dike) except by permit.

Other areas to explore include Dummitts Cove, and Eddy Creek. More paddling is available to the north and east at Canaveral National Seashore (see link below). In the summer months, bioluminescence is an interesting phenomenon and several outfitters offer tours. Marine life have developed the ability to use chemicals within their bodies to produce light, visible at night.

Paddling on the Indian River

Paddling along the Indian River Lagoon at the Refuge provides an unparalleled view of natural habitat and wildlife including an occasional alligator or dolphin. Our favorite area to paddle is by launching from Shiloh Marsh Road - a 12-mile unpaved road paralleling the river (closed during waterfowl hunting season, November 1-February 15, and from time-to-time for maintenance.)

Launch at Shiloh Marsh Road and Canals

On the Indian River

BioLab Road - Mosquito Lagoon

Biolab Boat Ramp launches onto Mosquito Lagoon, popular for fishing. A kayak launch has been added at the southern end of the parking area. Paddling along the shoreline toward Playalinda Beach will encounter fewer motorboats.

Haulover Canal

Haulover Canal links and Indian River (east) and Mosquito Lagoon (west), and is popular with outfitters for manatee viewing tours. Launches are available on either side of the canal (entry is near the SR3 drawbridge): (1) at Haulover Canal Access, a kayak launch area has been added at the south end of the parking area, easy on and off; (2) at Bairs Cove there's a busy boat ramp, so we recommend using the Haulover Access area; (3) you can also launch roadside, wherever you can find an open pull-off spot. Paddle up the canal (about 1.5 miles), or avoid the boat traffic by exploring the side channels. Past the drawbridge is a Manatee Viewing Area, though manatee (and dolphin) can be seen throughout the area. From the southern end a popular paddle is around Mullet Island (about 1 mile roundtrip), a bird sanctuary - no landing allowed.


The Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals, including 358 species of birds.

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