Stand-up paddleboarding (or “SUP” to those in the know) is the latest saltwater craze, and there’s no better place for beginners to find their balance than the warm, tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico. While venturing into the current on a paddleboard is a fun, active adventure, it’s also a great way to explore Southwest Florida’s vibrant ecosystem. Peer under the surface of the water to spot sea stars and schools of fish, and watch for manatees bobbing in the shallows of mangrove tangles as you drift by. Here’s our list of five places in Southwest Florida to try out this popular sport – and spot some of the natural beauty and wildlife at home here, too.
The Great Calusa Paddling Trail is a 190-mile marked paddling path that meanders through inland tributaries and coastal waters throughout Lee County. The first portion of the trail flows through Estero Bay, the second drifts by Pine Island and Matlacha Pass, and the third takes paddlers inland to the Caloosahatchee River. Since there are more than 80 access points to the Calusa Trail, you may find yourself drifting along the current in nearly any of these sites below.
Bowditch Point Regional Park brings paddlers to the northern tip of Estero Island for 17 unspoiled acres. A bayside dock launch site offers easy access to the quiet waters of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail and a closeup look of boats sailing in and out of the bay. And since Bowditch Point Park is a designated Great Florida Birding Trail site, you’re sure to spot a few rare feathered friends to jot down in your birding journal, too.
For years, Lovers Key – one of four barrier islands that make up the 712-acre Lovers Key State Park –was a remote, solitary beach accessible only by boat. Now, it’s much easier to reach, but the estuary is still a perfect place to find your paddleboarding rhythm, since it’s known for easy currents and little wind. Paddleboarders can explore the north or south end of the park, or if the water is a little rougher, surf the waves for a different kind of adventure.
Looking to explore some of Florida’s classic mangrove tunnels by paddleboard? Both Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve and Captiva’s Buck Key offer a closeup look at Old Florida in its natural splendor. With calm, easy-to-navigate currents and towering mangroves – trees with thick, dark trunks planted in saltwater – these undeveloped barrier islands create a natural playground for paddleboard enthusiasts.
Gasparilla Island, otherwise known as Boca Grande, is a barrier island located at the tip of Cape Haze peninsula. Launch into the Gasparilla Sound on the Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail, and be sure keep a sharp eye out during the warm-water months between March and November. Here, manatee flock to these quiet waters to nurse and feed on sea grass beds, which means you’ll have a chance to get up close and personal with this natural wonder.
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