River Cruises in Florida

River cruises in Florida are an interesting mixture of nature- and eco-based tours and city tours by water. You’ll find cruises on rivers through cities like St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale. However, most are through rivers that inhabit quieter areas and offer travelers a chance to see some of Florida’s wildlife in its natural habitat. 

Let’s take a look at some of the rivers you can cruise in Florida.

Caloosahatchee River

The Caloosahatchee River is 67 miles long and is located in southwest Florida. During the last 25 miles of its course, the river turns into a tidal estuary and eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Major cities along the river include Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Cruises are available through downtown Fort Myers on the Capt. J.P. paddlewheeler.

Or if you’d like to cruise from Cape Coral to Fort Myers, Banana Bay Tour Company provides a shuttle service along San Carlos Bay and the Calasahootchee River.

Crystal River

View of Crystal River from Crystal River Archaeological State Park

View of Crystal River from Crystal River Archaeological State Park 

By Ebyabe (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons


Crystal River is another river that is located on the west coast of Florida near the Gulf of Mexico. It’s only 7 miles long but serves a very beneficial purpose for the manatee population, which tend to migrate to the rivers’ warm water. During the winter months, especially, the river acts as a harbor for several hundred manatees.

Located on the banks of the river, The Crystal River Archaeological State Park, also referred to as Crystal River Indian Mounds, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

If you’d like to see manatees in their natural habitat, you can take a Crystal River eco cruise.

There are also tours that combine a manatee tour with snorkeling. So if that sounds interesting to you, this cruise on the Crystal River will give you the chance to do both.

Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades cover over 1.5 million acres of tropical wilderness. It’s not a river but rather a wetlands' area that was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The Kissimmee River in central Florida is where the system actually begins. 

It's a very popular tourist attraction with over 1 million people visiting this national park annually.

There are several companies that offer airboat rides in the Florida Everglades. Some suppliers use smaller boats and others use larger boats that carry more passengers, such as Airboat Everglades and Everglades Safari Park

Indian River

The Indian River is located on the east coast of Florida and is connected to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Because it is so close to the Atlantic Ocean, the 121-mile river has more saltwater than freshwater, which is also termed as brackish water. This characteristic is not uncommon for coastal rivers. 

Cruises on the Indian River Queen depart from the city of Cocoa. Along this Intracoastal waterway, you’ll have the chance to see manatees and bottle-nose dolphins as well as other marine life that are found in brackish water.

Kissimmee River

The Kissimmee River flows between two lakes in Central Florida. It is formed from East Lake Tohopekaliga and reaches its mouth at Lake Okeechobee. Interestingly, the Florida Everglades system actually begins with the Kissimmee River near Orlando.

Airboat rides are available with Kissimmee Swamp Tours. Tours depart from the river not too far from Orlando. If you’re visiting or live in Central Florida, this is a great way to see the northern branch of the Florida Everglades Ecosystem.

Matanzas River

Bridge of Lions across the Matanzas River in St. Augustine, Florida

Bridge of Lions across the Matanzas River in St. Augustine, Florida

By Kristee M. Booth (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/56823) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Matanzas River flows through the city of St. Augustine along the northeast coast of Florida. It’s a 23-mile long estuary that is connected to two other rivers. The three rivers are part of the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve

Scenic cruises are available on the Matanzas River through St. Augustine. You can enjoy a narrated boat ride on the Victory III, which will be sure to point out the city's historical landmarks.

New River

New River in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

New River in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

By WPPilot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The New River is about 30 miles long and is located in southeast Florida. It begins in the Florida Everglades and flows eastward through the city of Fort Lauderdale

Scenic cruises are available on the Jungle Queen Riverboat. You can also enjoy an evening cruise on the New River in Fort Lauderdale.

Peace River

The Peace River is located on the west coast of Florida. It begins about 45 miles east of Tampa at the confluence of two creeks – Saddle Creek and Paddle Creek. The river flows in a southwesterly direction for about 106 miles until it reaches Port Charlotte, which is approximately 30 miles north of Fort Myers.

Nature cruises (eco-tours) by King Fisher Fleet are available. You’ll travel up the river through the backwaters of central Florida, possibly with the chance to see an alligator or two in its natural habitat.

If you live near or you’re just visiting southwest Florida in December, Kingfisher Fleet offers Christmas Light Canal Cruises through the end of the year.

King Fisher Fleet allowed me to add a description of the Peace River cruise experience taken directly from their website.

"A 3 1/2-hour true eco-tour with interpretation by naturalists from the well-known Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center. We depart from our dock near the mouth of the Peace River and travel upriver towards the center of the state. Experience the flora and fauna of four different eco systems as we journey from the open waters of Charlotte Harbor into the scenic, winding Peace River. The banks are lined with overhanging trees, native grasses and other vegetation, and basking alligators often pose to please photographers." . . . Read More

Thanks for providing the additional information, King Fisher Fleet!

Sebastian River

The Sebastian River (or St. Sebastian) is located in southeast Florida. It begins northwest of Vero Beach and flows in a northerly direction toward the Indian River Lagoon. 

You can take a scenic boat ride on the Sebastian River and the Indian River Lagoon aboard a pontoon boat called the Sebastian River Queen. Daily ecology tours are available as well as boat charters for special occasions.

St. Johns River

St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida

St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida

I, Jonathan Zander [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida. It flows in a northerly direction for about 310 miles from its origin near Vero Beach to Jacksonville where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. There are scenic cruises through the city of Jacksonville, and there are also nature or eco-based tours along other parts of the river.

You can cruise on an authentic sternwheel paddleboat about 25 miles north of Orlando. The Barbara Lee riverboat departs from Sanford and takes you on a nature cruise. You’ll have the opportunity to see some of Florida’s wildlife, which might include manatees, alligators, herons and osprey. St. Johns Rivership Co. offers lunch and dinner cruises on the Barbara Lee. 

Eco cruises are also available in Sanford, which is about 100 miles north of Orlando. St. Johns River Tours has three different boat options ranging in size from six passengers to twenty passengers. You'll get a narrated tour as you cruise the backwaters of the St. Johns River. 

And if you like river cruises that offer scenic tours of the city, River Cruises, Inc. offer river cruises in Jacksonville. They operate two party boats – the Lady St. Johns and the Annabelle Lee. You can jump aboard and enjoy the ride. Or if you have a special event, they can accommodate large parties of up to 250 people. 

St. Lucie River

The St. Lucie River flows through Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie  in southeastern Florida. It’s actually considered an estuary rather than a river. 

St. Lucie River Cruises features a narrated ecological and historical tour on a 22-passenger pontoon boat named the St. Lucie Princess. 

Capt. Ray Clarke of St. Lucie River Princess, shared this additional information about the St. Lucie River:

"The St Lucie River (estuary) is about 35 miles long and is the second longest river on the east coast of Florida.  Only the St Johns river is longer.  Most of  the river is pristine,with it's shoreline preserved in its natural state since 1972.  This despite the fact that 16 miles of the river flows through Port St Lucie, the ninth largest city in Florida ( population 168,000 )."

Thank you, Capt. Ray!

St. Marys River

The St. Marys River is located in northern Florida forming a border between Georgia and Florida. It flows for 126 miles from the Okefenokee Swamp until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean at the very tip of northern Florida. 

Amelia River Cruises offers an Eco-Shrimping tour in the St. Marys River basin as well as other cruises along some of the interconnected waterways that are joined by the St. Marys River. 

St. Marys River in Northern Florida Courtesy of Amelia River Cruises

Photo Courtesy of Amelia River Cruises

The company, Amelia River Cruises, allowed me to add a description of the cruise experience on the St. Mary's River taken directly from their website:

"The backwaters and tidal creeks that make up this estuary are also part of the St. Mary’s River Basin connecting Tiger Basin with the Okefenokee Swamp. The oyster beds, mud flats, and thousands of acres of marsh grass in Tiger Basin are a critical part of our local environment. Salt marshes are the most productive Eco systems on earth, providing a nursery for all of the sea creatures that are native to our waters and providing a rich source of food for others. The summer months are most productive and our waters team with life. Read More 

Sights we often see in the St. Mary's river basin:

  •  manatees
  •  dolphils
  •  sharks
  •  wild horses on Cumberland Island National Seashore
  •  oyster beds
  • partina grass
  • oak hammocks
  • shrimp
  • squid
  • rays
  • egrets
  • seagulls
  • pelicans (sometimes even rare white pelicans!
  • ospreys
  • herons
  • roseate spoonbills in their natural habitat with seasonal pink plumage from eating the  local shrimp"

Thank you, Amelia River Cruises, for this additional information!

Withlacoochee River

Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon, Florida

Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon, Florida

By DanTD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons


The Withlacoochee River begins in central Florida. It’s 141 miles long flowing from its source – the Green Swamp – to the Gulf of Mexico about 90 miles north of Tampa. 

Cruise the Withlacoochee with Captain Mike, the owner of Lazy River Cruises. You’ll travel along this waterway aboard a 24-foot pontoon boat.

Captain Mike shared this additional information about the Withlacoochee River:

"The river has had the designation of one of Florida's most outstanding waterways and is also on the Florida's Great birding trail. Most of the banks are cypress swamp with many very large cypress trees - some over 1000 years old. The river is one of the cleanest and most undeveloped rivers in Florida."

Thank you, Captain Mike!

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Lauri Wakefield is a travel writer who specializes in  river cruises in Europe and the U.S. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

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