What is the Difference Between River, Canal and Intracoastal Waterways?

     Whether you’re a local who likes to take your boat to dinner or you plan on renting a boat when visiting Perdido, it is helpful to know the difference between our local waterways. Here is a detailed description and a few local suggestions…

Perdido Key map of waterways

     There are several main waterways accessible by boat that lead to the Gulf of Mexico through the major harbor entrance of Perdido Pass in Orange Beach or the harbor entrance of Pensacola Pass. These waterways include Old River, Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), Perdido Bay, Pensacola Bay, Escambia Bay, Perdido River, Styx River, and numerous boat-able canals. To the south of Perdido Key is the Gulf of Mexico, with its white-sand beaches and warm waters. North of Perdido Key is Old River and ICW. Just north of Old River is the private Ono Island. North of Ono and separated by the ICW is a small area called Innerarity Point and Innerarity Island. This small, private gated island community has mostly single-family homes with a few townhomes at the entrance. Almost all of these waterways are accessible by boat.

     The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a network of canals, inlets and bays that run 3,000 miles inland along the Atlantic from Boston, MA, leading southwards along the Atlantic Seaboard and around the southern tip of Florida.  Last but not least, The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is the portion of ICW located along the Gulf Coast running approximately 1,050 miles from Carrabelle, FL, to Brownsville, TX. Pensacola, FL, is a busy cargo port on this waterway. Specifically, ICW runs 16 miles between the key and mainland of Perdido.

     You’ll find all sizes of boats along every waterway in our area and so many of the restaurants have made themselves boat-accessible for this very reason.  Another local option is kayaking! This is a great way to enjoy wildlife and even a manatee or two during the colder months.  

      Want to catch a great sunset? Any day of the week is a great time to check out Sunset Grille at Holiday Harbor Marina (myholidayharbor.com). The sunsets are breathtaking from their outside deck. Cobalt in Orange Beach is a great place to enjoy sunsets over Perdido Pass. Their laid-back atmosphere and impressive menu are a family (and foodie) favorite. The Old River will lead you directly to another local favorite ⇢ Flora-Bama Ole River Bar and Grill which is across the street from world-famous Flora-Bama (florabama.com). Some of the best fishing in the area is found on The Old River, too.

     Now on the canal side, Perdido Canal is a small waterfront home subdivision on the northern side of Innerarity Island. It is set along deep-water canals, ICW, and Perdido Bay. Perfect area for fishing and boat lovers, plus there is easy access to all surrounding bodies of water in Orange Beach and Pensacola. Perdido Bay is a great spot to spot dolphins and you can access it from any of the surrounding waterways!

     Ultimately, between all these waterways described, you cannot go wrong, and it all comes down to personal preference.  Life on the water, whether you’re on a boat, kayak or jet ski, is the norm around here so if you don’t own one, rent one while you in the area for a great local point-of-view.  You certainly won’t be disappointed.

     Do you have a favorite place accessible by boat in the area? Tag us on Facebook while you’re there!

Posted by Kathy Justice on


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