Picture of blind pass, which separates sanibel and captiva islands and is part of the great calusa blueway in Florida

The Blind Pass, which separates Sanibel and Captiva Islands, is part of the Great Calusa Blueway.

Photograph courtesy The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Bays, coves, and other sheltered areas along the coast create favorable conditions for sea kayaking. Protected from the strong winds and waves of the open ocean, paddlers typically are able to focus less on keeping their kayaks upright and more on the natural beauty that surrounds them.

Apalachee Bay Maritime Heritage Paddling Trail System

Made up of ten saltwater trails, the Apalachee Bay Maritime Heritage Paddling Trail System offers beginner to experienced kayaking routes ranging from three to eight miles long. The trails are primarily located between Panacea and St. Marks, along undeveloped coastline protected by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. "This is a unique opportunity to view and experience the natural beauty of the ‘real' Florida coast," says Wakulla County Tourist Development Council spokesperson Jacki Youngstrand. "Wakulla County is located in the Big Bend (where Florida's Gulf Coast curves westward), with 73 percent natural lands and 85 percent natural coastline. Bring your sense of adventure, and choose a trail based on your skill level and interest."

The Great Calusa Blueway, Lee County

Whether you opt for a backcountry expedition through mangrove tunnels or a one-hour paddle in knee-high waters, wildlife views are a given along any stretch of Lee County's 190-mile Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail. More than 300 species of birds live in or migrate through the county, and paddlers regularly report seeing dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, river otters, and tarpon.

Kayak Amelia Guided Ecotour, Florida Sea Islands Trail, Jacksonville

An urban park may seem like an unlikely place to paddle a pristine coastal trail, but that's exactly where you'll find the Florida Sea Islands Trail. The trail's ten saltwater and two freshwater-brackish creek routes are part of the 84,000-acre Timucuan Trail State and National Parks, one of the largest urban park systems in the U.S. Kayak Amelia leads guided ecotours on the Timucuan Preserve salt marsh and unspoiled Talbot Islands section of the trail, stopping on a sandy beach for a break and, weather permitting, a swim. "We'll say ‘hi' to the waders, including great blue herons and snowy egrets, raptors like ospreys and bald eagles, and, depending on the time of year, roseate spoonbills, black skimmers, and both brown and white pelicans," says Ray Hetchka, who owns and operates Kayak Amelia with his wife, Jody. "We also follow the tide, which sometimes means going out and back with the flow, or a one-way paddle with a shuttle ride back."

TRAVEL TIPS

How to Get Around: Download the free Great Calusa Blueway smartphone app for GPS navigation, safety tips, and an interactive map to mangrove tunnels, Calusa Indian mounds, uninhabited islands, and other destinations on the paddling trail.

What to Bring: Pack a compass and a nautical chart of the area you're paddling, and learn how to use both before your trip.

Practical Tip: Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for sun protection; water shoes or aqua socks to protect feet from sharp oyster shells and rocks; and, in cooler weather, synthetic layers (add or shed as needed) to stay warm even when wet.

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