Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
Sheriff’s Office: 941-639-2101
Lee County Sheriff’s
Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission 24-hour wildlife emergency/boating
under the influence hotline: 1-888-404-3922
Resort near Stump Pass Beach State Park
End: Cayo Costa
Duration: 2 days
Special Considerations: Extreme caution should be taken in
crossing Stump Pass and Boca Grande Pass. Due to currents, boat traffic
and breakers on the Gulf side, these crossings should only be attempted
by experienced paddlers in favorable weather conditions along the bay
with most South Florida segments, boat traffic can be heavy, especially
on weekends. Boca Grande Pass can be packed with boats during the peak
tarpon season, from April through June.
Advance reservations are recommended for motels and campgrounds,
especially during holidays and the spring season.
The situation regarding motels may change as motels are rapidly being
converted to condominiums and resorts that require multi-day rentals.
Developed and pristine barrier islands contrast each other in this
segment, which spans Charlotte Harbor. Paddlers have the option of
cruising the bay side or the Gulf side, depending on weather. This guide
will focus on the bay side since most of the camping and lodging
opportunities are inside the barrier islands, and it is considered
This area was clobbered by Hurricane Charley in 2004, with numerous
buildings damaged, some so severely they had to be torn down. Coastal
forests took a hit, too, as countless trees were knocked over or
defoliated. Beaches suffered extreme erosion. It will take years for the
area to fully recover.
The centerpiece for this segment is Charlotte Harbor, an area with a
Early Calusa Indians built canals and temple mounds in the region.
Houses can be seen on some of their early shell middens along Pine
Island. Ponce de Leon is believed to have visited in the early 1500s,
and he was followed by various European explorers. Cattle was king in
the 1800s, with cattle being shipped through the harbor to Cuba and
other points. Sports fishing became popular by the turn of the last
century, especially for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, a trend that
Five contiguous aquatic preserves cover most of Charlotte Harbor:
Lemon Bay, Cape Haze, Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor, Matlacha Pass
and Pine Island Sound. Altogether, they total more than 150,000 acres.
Besides serving as a valuable nursery grounds for both recreational and
commercial species of fish, crabs and shrimp, the Charlotte Harbor
region harbors 86 endangered or threatened species. They include five
species of sea turtle, the Florida manatee, and numerous birds such as
roseate spoonbills, peregrine falcons and bald eagles. To learn more,
Four scenic state parks are featured in this segment: Stump Pass
Beach, Don Pedro Island, Gasparilla Island and Cayo Costa. All of the
parks offer sandy beaches, hiking trails, restrooms, fresh water and
picnic facilities. To learn more, log onto
Only one state park, Cayo Costa, offers cabins and camping. For
reservations, call Reserve America at 800-326-3521 or log onto
For day paddling opportunities in and along the bay’s many
tributaries, Charlotte County has put out an excellent blueway trails
guide. To ask for your free guide, call 941-625-7529 or log onto
http://charlottecountyfl.com/Parks/blueway.asp to download a
1: Weston’s Resort to Dog Island, 9 (miles) or Hoagen
Key (12 miles)
Weston's resort is conveniently located on the bay and Gulf adjacent
to Stump Pass Beach State Park. Paddlers can use the ramp right at the
motel, check in, and secure kayaks on shore. The problem is that they do
not take reservations for one-night stays. These are on a first-come,
first serve basis, so don’t arrive late. If you want to reserve for more
than one night, or check on potential availability, call 941-474-3431.
Spring is considered the high season.
If staying at Weston’s, you can walk to Stump Pass Beach State Park
and hike a mile or so to Stump Pass, either along the undeveloped beach
or down the park’s nature trail through the interior. Look for shells
and shark teeth along the beach, especially after a storm.
Proceeding from Weston’s along the paddling trail, paddle along the
state park on the bay side and be watchful of heavy currents, boats and
breakers as you cross Stump Pass. You can take a rest stop/bathroom
break on the mainland land base of Don Pedro Island State Park, landing
just to the left of the dock. For a longer break, make sure to visit Don
Pedro Island. Look for a shallow channel and state park sign off the
Intracoastal Waterway at green marker #35. This channel leads to a small
cove and the island’s dock. Before state acquisition in 1985, this
property was used as a private beach for people who owned land in the
Rotunda Development on the mainland, seen from the air as a huge wagon
wheel. The park boasts about a mile of unspoiled beach and five distinct
From the park, paddle through Little Gasparilla Sound, heading east
toward the Intracoastal Waterway. Dog Island, your destination for the
night, is near the mainland just on the other side of the Boca Grande
Causeway (S.R. 771) to Gasparilla Island. An adjacent island, Little Dog
Island, is a bird sanctuary.
A permit is required to camp on the island for a small fee. Permits
are obtained from Grande Tours Family Outdoors Center on the mainland,
about a half mile from the island. Proceed northeast and enter Coral
Creek. The outfitter is just around the bend on the left. Since there
are no facilities on the island, you may want to use the restroom and
fill up water bottles. Reservations can be made in advance by calling
Leave No Trace principles should be followed on the island, meaning
that all trash and human waste should be packed out. To learn more about
Leave No Trace principles, log onto
http://www.lnt.org/. Even though Dog Island is public land, failure
to adhere to rules regarding use of the island could ban further camping
on the island.
Near Dog Island, you can enjoy the Woolverton Kayak Trail through a
scenic mangrove forest. Ask for a map at the Grande Tours Family Outdoor
Another option for primitive camping is Hoagen Key, a privately owned
site that is maintained by the Florida Paddling Trails Association and
only accessible by small watercraft. Camping is free and on a
first-come, first-serve basis. A maximum number of 8 people (4 small
tents) can stay on the island. Leave No Trace guidelines should be
followed. There are no facilities.
2: Dog Island or Hoagen Key to Cayo Costa State Park, 9.5 or
6.5 miles respectively
If you land on Gasparilla Island on your way to Cayo Costa, look for
some of the many naturalized geckos that roam the island. Some are an
impressive three-feet long and look like mini kimodo dragons. You have
the option of extending your trip by staying at The Innlet, a motel
accessible by kayak from the bay side. For reservations or information,
call 941-964-2294 or log onto
www.innletonthewaterfront.com. From the motel, you can more easily
check out the restaurants, shops and culture of Boca Grande.
A must stop is Gasparilla Island State Park, along Boca Grande Pass.
You can land along the bay side and stroll along scenic beaches. Be sure
to visit the historic Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890. The
lighthouse contains an informative museum and visitor’s center. Learn
more about the Calusa civilization and early European and American
settlers, and how tarpon gather in the waters around Gasparilla Island
to prepare for their journey to offshore spawning grounds (the reason
why Boca Grande Pass is known as the Tarpon Capital of the World).
Carefully cross Boca Grande Pass along the bay side to Cayo Costa
Island. This island is only accessible by boat. After roughly two miles,
you’ll see the park’s boat dock. Paddle up the small inlet to the right
of the dock to a kayak landing spot on a tiny beach in the mangroves.
Pull up your boat and keep it separate from the rental boats.
Even if you have a camping reservation, you must check in at the
office near the dock. Until five p.m., a shuttle can take you and your
gear (not your kayak) to the campground and cabins about a mile away on
the beach side.
If you happen to land on the Gulf side near the campground, you must
register at the park office (on the bay side) before setting up. You can
carry your boat to your campsite or cabin. Periodic shuttles can give
you a lift to the office, or you can hike.
Advanced reservations for campsites or cabins are highly recommended,
especially on weekends and holidays and during the spring. Call Reserve
America at (800) 326-3521 or log onto
Restrooms, water and cold showers are available at the park.
In the 1800s, four Spanish fishing “ranchos” were once located on
Cayo Costa, places where fish were caught, dried and shipped to Cuban
markets. In the early twentieth century, the island was a small fishing
village for about 20 families, with a school, post office and grocery
store. Most of the island is now owned by the Florida Park Service.
If visiting or staying on Cayo Costa, take time to hike the several
miles of beach and interior trails. Numerous wildflowers may be blooming
in spring, such as the deep red coral bean. Look for wild pigs of many
different color varieties. Mosquitoes can be pesky in warm weather.
Along the beaches, you’ll see numerous bleached tree trunks, victims of
hurricanes and rising sea levels.
Being remote and scenic, Cayo Costa will likely be a highlight of