Estero Bay was the state’s first aquatic preserve, and its pristine waters today reflect that move 40 years ago. But the Great Calusa Blueway’s route through the mangrove islands and beaches behind Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach is not just for diehard nature lovers. This is a place you can have a bit of both adventure and relaxation.
Watch a leggy heron devour a silvery fish, then paddle to Pink Shell Beach Resort and Spa for a cool beverage. Hear an endangered manatee come up for air just beside your boat at Lovers Key State Park, and later find yourself diving into a bowl of lobster bisque at Flippers on the Bay with its resort-style view. Observe dolphins circling your canoe, and then head in for a spa treatment at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa. You get the idea.
The trail through Estero Bay is not one-dimensional. Check out its highlights:
- Cultural and historical spots: It will take several paddling trips to cover these historic places. The site of the former utopian society of Dr. Cyrus Teed is today Koreshan State Historic Site. Paddle back into history and take in a hike as well in Estero. Mound House on Fort Myers Beach has significance as a Calusa site and also that of pioneers here – it’s the oldest home on the Beach. Mound Key — between these two places — is an island like few others, consisting of large shell middens rising as high as 31 feet.
Tip: Stop at Koreshan before visiting Mound Key. Rangers there are well versed in both sites.
- Robinson Crusoe feel: The mangrove tunnels and backwaters of Hell Peckney Bay are maze-like, yet inviting. Far away from powerboat traffic and human structures, this place is magical, with its clear, shallow waters giving a view of starfish, sponges, lightning whelks, kings crowns and sand dollars.
Tip: Join a guided trip for your first venture into these parts.
- Holiday lights and moonlight paddles: The Imperial River is famous for its lighted holiday boat parade. Sure, they mean the kind for powerboaters, but a carefully placed flashlight on your bow and your stern make you as good as any spectator. The slow-moving parade each year is sponsored by the Bonita Springs Chamber of Commerce. The Estero River, another tributary to the bay, is popular among paddling clubs for nighttime outings on the Saturday closest to the full moon.
Tip: Always paddle with a buddy during sunsets and evenings.
- Canine cavorting and a place for lovers: OK, they’re not one in the same. But the area just north of New Pass is one of the few places dogs can be off-leash on the beach and it’s right along the trail. Kayaking with lumbering Labradors? You betcha. Just north of there is Lovers Key State Park, a place that sizzles every sunset. The park’s outfitter accommodates kayakers in three different park locations.
Tip: Avoid this place if you dislike dogs or Valentine’s Day scenes.
- Old-fashioned beach park plus extras: Bowditch Point Regional Park brings paddlers the best of both worlds. A bayside launch site and day dock that accommodates kayakers is a great amenity. But also in the park are a concessionaire, shade shelters and talcum-like sand welcoming you to dip in the Gulf. The park encompasses the entire tip of Estero Island, so you get bay and beach. Plus it’s significant for its unspoiled 17 acres of habitat.
Tip: Walk a trail and watch for gopher tortoises, which dig sandy burrows in the uplands and often are just off the trail grazing on grass and prickly pear fruit.