Kayaking in a Paddler's Paradise

Story highlights:
  • Pristine beaches, mangrove kayak trails on Caladesi Island
  • Wood storks, bald eagles, manatees at Weedon Island
  • Five islands and self-guided trail at Fort De Soto Park
Links within article correspond to map points.
Kayaking near Tampa in St. Pete/Clearwater
Kayaking is a quiet way to get close to nature.

Warm sunshine and calm winds make the perfect conditions to explore the variety of kayaking alternatives in the St. Pete/Clearwater area. Whether you want to discover the mangrove trails of Caladesi Island, cruise the coastline along the beaches, lose yourself for the day in the intracoastal waterways, or cast a line a little bit closer to the fish, kayaking is a great way to soak up some fresh air and experience firsthand the natural beauty of the area.

Kayaking Caladesi Island State Park

If you are looking for a secluded kayaking excursion, Caladesi Island State Park is a great place to start. One of the few pristine barrier islands along Florida's Gulf Coast, this award-winning beach is accessible only by private boat or public ferry. The island features abundant wildlife and over three miles of lush mangrove kayak trails to adventure through in the intracoastal waterway.

Maps to guide you on your journey are also available. Don't fret if you don't have a kayak, rentals are possible on the island. As a bonus, the Caladesi Cafe serves up a great burger after a long day out in the wild.

Weedon Island Preserve's Kayaking Trails

Weedon Island Preserve an expansive 3,000-acre region on Tampa Bay comprised mostly of marine habitats, is also a kayakers' delight. The history of Weedon Island goes back 5,000 years when early peoples such as the Manasotas made this their coastal home. Paddlers visiting Weedon Island Preserve can rent a canoe or kayak from Sweetwater Kayaks and enjoy natural Florida by leisurely floating along the shores of Riviera Bay or on the South Paddling Trail.

The South Trail, however, is the signature one and by far the most intriguing. Featuring several long, dark and narrow corridors of thick mangroves, the trail periodically leads into open areas where sunlight penetrates the water's surface, revealing lush seagrass beds. The mangrove swamps and seagrasses are the prime habitats for dozens of marine species and provide roosting and feeding areas for wading birds.

Endangered birds seen by kayakers at Weedon Island include wood stork and bald eagle. The preserve is also home to a year-round population of West Indian manatees which are sometime spotted by paddlers.

Paddling at Fort De Soto Park

Another popular destination for kayakers is Fort De Soto Park, and award-winning park that was recently named America's best family beach by Parents magazine. Made up of five separate islands, the park is home to a 2-1/4-mile self-guided trail that takes about two hours to paddle, taking you through mangrove communities, sea grass beds and oyster bars.

Be sure to follow the guidebook, it tells about the rich history of this area, the vegetation, the wildlife and sealife. Manatees are seen March through November, and dolphins visit the trail almost every day.

If you are looking to get off the trails and explore on your own, boat ramps to launch your kayak or canoe are available all over the St. Pete/Clearwater area. Maximo Park, located by Maximo Marina in south St. Petersburg, puts you right at the mouth of Frenchman's Creek as it opens up into Tampa Bay.

To access the intracoastal waterways, try the Park Boulevard boat ramp and beach access park, located mid-peninsula just south of Park Boulevard on Gulf Boulevard. These are just two of the many boat launches available in the area.

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