Southwest Florida and The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel in particular, is a paddler’s dream come true. With hundreds of miles of gentle shoreline and backwater estuary systems to choose from, paddlers could spend literally years exploring our waterways and still not see it all. Seeing it from a stand up paddleboard, which is made for flat-water paddling, is relatively easy since the county offers seemingly endless choices for safe and peaceful paddling. With so many choices, where does a paddler start? A comprehensive, yet easily accessible option is the Great Calusa Blueway Paddle Trail, a 190-mile marked paddle trail that winds its way through The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel. It begins at its southernmost point in Estero Bay and ends north near Cayo Costa State Park. The mapped trail offers hundreds of options including paddling the Gulf of Mexico, quiet bays, and backwater, mangrove trails and tributaries. The choices can seem overwhelming, but here are some of our favorites that are easy to access.
Lovers Key State Park and Estero Bay:
With two miles of secluded beaches and put-in points for both gulf and bay paddling, Lovers Key State Park near Bonita Beach is a haven for wildlife like manatees, dolphins, roseate spoonbills and bald eagles. The park also offers plenty of parking, picnic facilities, kayak & paddleboard rentals, and miles of biking and hiking trails. The park has managed to preserve its pristine environments where paddlers can escape the hustle and bustle of civilization.
Bunche Beach Preserve – San Carlos Bay:
Bunche Beach is a hidden jewel in Fort Myers that offers 718 acres of natural tidal wetlands and access to San Carlos Bay. This living eco system ranges from sandy beach, to salt flats and mangrove forest. Paddlers can access both the backwater and the bay from the park’s launch designed for paddle craft. Parking and picnic areas are available on site.
Port Sanibel Marina, Fort Myers:
Port Sanibel Marina is a commercial enterprise. However, just five dollars per paddle board or kayak will cover parking and the use of their boat ramp. This gives paddlers access to a spectacular mangrove water trail and, for the more adventurous, the Caloosahatchee River. The main part of this three-mile trail is clearly marked, and maps are available from the marina store. Paddlers can meander through a shallow estuary system chock full wild life. The trail also offers a number of mangrove canopies and tunnels for paddlers to explore. Paddlers can rent paddleboards or kayaks at the marina or book a lesson or tour with Yoloboard Adventures Sanibel.
The J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge:
Located on Sanibel Island, this 6,400-acre refuge is thick with wildlife such as alligators, pelicans, as well as huge flocks of egrets, dolphin and manatee. In addition to a number of put in points where paddlers can explore the shallow mangrove estuary systems and bays, the park has a visitors center, interactive displays, and hiking and biking trails. Maps and information are available at the visitor’s center as well as from knowledgeable rangers on site.
Matlacha Park and Boat Ramp:
Located near the picturesque fishing and artist village of Matlacha, the park boasts a community center and public boat launch where paddlers can easily access Matlacha Pass and Aquatic Preserve. The area features a seemingly endless number of mangrove islands and secluded keys to explore surrounded by waterways frequented by pods of dolphin, schools of rays, and aggregations of manatees.
These are just a tiny fraction of places to explore on the Blueway. For a complete overview of the Great Calusa Blueway, including maps and more information, please visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/calusablueway. For more information on Yoloboard Adventures Sanibel, visit www.yoloboardadventuressanibel or call 239-249-4701.