Why to go: As more and more humans crowd the globe, it has become harder to be at one with nature. Dog Island, however, offers paddlers a place to experience adventure and inspiration in the shrinking wilds of coastal Florida. This diamond in the gulf rises up just south of Carrabelle, in the eastern panhandle. The only way to reach this seven-mile-long strip of secluded sands is by boat or small private plane.
You might spot a stray alligator on the bay side of Dog Island. More than 200 species of birds have been listed there. The island also boasts 400 types of plants, including Florida's northernmost stand of black mangroves.
On calmer days, shoot past the breakers and float along in sync with the winds, sea, sun, and sky. You may even be joined by sharks, dolphins, sawfish, needlefish, and rays. If you're lucky, you'll spot the remnants of several foundered ships and smaller craft-ranging in age from 250 to less than 10 years old-while skirting the island's fringes.
If you go: Always check the weather before paddling out. As Hurricane Katrina drew near the northern Gulf Coast last year, a Weather Channel "expert" stated that the Gulf of Mexico typically behaves like a large lake. On the contrary, it acts like an ocean. All sorts of storms and fronts can change it into an angry monster. It's much safer and pleasanter to wait for calm weather before visiting the island.
Even with glassy conditions on St. George Sound (the bay separating Dog Island from the mainland), large vessels can create huge wakes. At times, heavy fog enshrouds the sound and reduces visibility to a few feet. You'll need a good compass or GPS unit. Oyster bars can also cause problems at low tide. For this reason, having a NOAA navigational chart of Apalachee Bay would be helpful.
You'll need warm, dry clothes from late fall through early spring, since passing fronts bring chilly winds. Water temperatures may vary from the 50s in winter to the 80s in late summer. Bug spray or thicker clothes will keep sand gnats, mosquitoes, and biting flies at bay. Lastly, take an ample supply of sunscreen, water or sports drinks, and energy snacks. Novices should go with an experienced guide.
While you're there
While you're there: Sometimes it's fun to take a break from paddling and comb the island's remote beaches for shells and flotsam. These waters provide fine fishing-either from the surf or just offshore in your kayak.
The barrier islands and spits along Florida's panhandle from Dog Island westward occasionally produce rideable surf, especially for longboarding. You can attach a cord or small rope to the stern of your kayak and then tie the other end to your board's leash attachment. (Just be sure to have enough line to prevent your kayak and surfboard from colliding while you're paddling.)
Put-in/take-out: Wayside Park at Carrabelle Beach. Use the Crooked River Lighthouse, about half a mile west of the park, as a landmark.
Miles of paddling: 10.5 miles to Shipping Cove, with a short portage to the gulf and returning to the park via East Pass, west of the island; 23 miles to circumnavigate Dog Island; and 80 miles to cover all the barrier islands and spits stretching from Alligator Point to Cape San Blas.
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