Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
Pine Island/Estero Bay
Emergency contact information:
Begin: Cayo Costa
Extreme caution should be taken in paddling to and from Cayo Costa
and in crossing the various passes. Due to currents and boat traffic,
these open water crossings should only be attempted by experienced
paddlers in favorable weather conditions along the bay side.
As with most South Florida
segments, boat traffic can be heavy, especially on weekends.
Advance reservations are
recommended for motels and campgrounds, especially during holidays and
the spring season.
Paddlers will have the
option of utilizing one of two main routes developed as part of the
Great Calusa Blueway (Phase Two). One route extends east from Cayo Costa
and runs around Pine Island through Matlacha Pass. The other hugs the
inside of North Captiva, Captiva and Sanibel islands. Both routes are
highly scenic, providing opportunities to view numerous species of
wading birds and other wildlife. For the purposes of this guide, we will
focus primarily on the Matlacha Pass option for long-distance paddlers
because overnight accommodations are reasonably priced and the waters
are generally more sheltered once you reach Pine Island.
Maps and guides for the
Great Calusa Blueway feature numerous paddling options along with
outfitters, access points and points of interest. To download or obtain
your free guides, along with GPS coordinates, log onto
http://www.GreatCalusaBlueway.com or call 239-461-7400.
Early Calusa Indians built
canals and temple mounds in the region. Houses can be seen atop some of
their early shell mounds on Pine Island. Ponce de Leon is believed to
have visited in the early 1500s, and he was followed by various European
explorers. Cattle were king in the 1800s, with cattle being shipped
through Charlotte Harbor to Cuba and other points.
Two aquatic preserves
cover part of the segment: Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. The
preserves serve as valuable nursery grounds for both recreational and
commercial species of fish, crabs and shrimp, harboring over 100 species
of invertebrates, 200 species of fish and 150 species of shore and
wading birds. Protected animals include five species of sea turtle, the
Florida manatee, and numerous birds such as roseate spoonbills,
peregrine falcons and bald eagles. To learn more, log onto
Several scenic state parks
are featured in this segment. Cayo Costa and Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson
feature hiking trails, restrooms, fresh water, and picnic facilities. In
addition, Cayo Costa offers camping and cabins. Camping is also
available at the Koreshan State Historic Site fronting the Estero River.
Mound Key Archeological State Park features hiking and large Calusa
middens and, like Cayo Costa, is only accessible by boat or kayak.
Estero Bay Preserve State Park features unique scrub sand ridges --
remnants of historic dune systems. To learn more, log onto
Advance reservations are highly recommended for overnight stays. For
reservations, call Reserve America at 800-326-3521 or log onto
1. Cayo Costa to Jug
Creek Cottages, 11 miles
Cayo Costa is only
accessible by boat or kayak. The park’s boat dock and kayak landings are
on the interior side of the island. Pull up your boat and keep it
separate from the rental boats. Another option is to take the park
shuttle boat and either rent kayaks at the park or bring your kayak on
the shuttle boat.
Even if you have a camping
reservation at Cayo Costa, you must check in at the office near the
dock. Until 5 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.
From Cayo Costa, paddle to
Pine Island between Patricio and Useppa islands. A point of interest is
the historic village of Pineland and the Randell Research Center -- site
of a Calusa Indian village for more than 1500 years. The center features
a self-guided trail through an extensive Calusa mound and canal complex.
Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving. To learn
more, log onto
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/RRC/ A donation is requested. If you
skip the research center and Pineland, you’ll shave off about 3 miles
from your day’s total.
Jug Creek Cottages are
part of the Cayo Costa State Park land base. The cottages, built in the
1940s, help to give visitors the feeling of a slower, earlier time. The
cottages are available for single night rentals except on weekends and
holidays, when there is a two-night minimum. Call 239-283-0015 for
Alternate route: From
Cayo Costa, you can stop at Cabbage Key, where there is a restaurant,
lodge and cottages (239-283-2278). Hug the inside of Captiva and Sanibel
islands and stay at the Castaway Cottages near Blind Pass after about 17
miles (1-800-375-0152). As you near Blind Pass, look for a marked
channel through the mangroves to Castaway Cottages. A general
store with groceries is next door. It is about 12 miles from Castaway
Cottages to Picnic Island. This route will enable you to view the famed
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, home to almost 300 species
of birds. The islands are also known for their strict ordinances
regarding building heights, signs and landscaping; there are no box
stores and very few chain restaurants.
2. Jug Creek Cottages
to Matlacha, 9.5 miles
To reach Matlacha
(pronounced Mat-lah-shay), paddle along Pine Island and enter Matlacha
Pass. Matlacha offers several small motels, restaurants, outfitters and
a small store. A GPS point is given for one motel as a reference point.
To learn more about area motels, contact the Greater Pine Island Chamber
http://www.pineislandchamber.org/ or call 239-283-0888.
3. Matlacha to Picnic
Island, 12 miles
Leave Matlacha with enough
fresh water for two days. From Matlacha, continue hugging Little Pine
Island and Pine Island to Picnic Island. You can take a rest break at
Tropical Point Park, although there are no facilities.
There are no facilities on
Picnic Island; primitive camping is required. Follow Leave No Trace
As an alternative along
the main route, you can paddle another 7 miles to the San Carlos RV Park
& Islands, where you can rent a campsite or a trailer (see map 2B). The
park is family and kayak friendly and it has a pool, whirlpool bath,
laundry, showers, community room, and outdoor game areas. Restaurants
are nearby. For more information or reservations, call 239-466-3133 or
From the San Carlos
Resort, it is about 10.5 miles to Koreshan State Historic Site, almost
10 miles to Lover’s Key, and around 20 miles to the next overnight stop
featured in segment 13.
4. Picnic Island to
Koreshan State Historic Site, 17.5 miles
From Picnic Island,
you’ll head toward the mainland. You can stop at the Punta Rassa Boat
Ramp and replenish your fresh water supply. About 3 miles past the ramp
is Bunche Beach, once the beach for African Americans during the Jim
Crow days. Just across Matanzas Pass from the beach—about a mile--is
the 17-acre Bowditch Point Regional Park where you can access restrooms,
a snack bar and outdoor showers.
You can follow the marked
Great Calusa Blueway on the inside of San Carlos Island or you can
shorten your day by about 1.5 miles by paddling on the inside of Estero
Island. A point of interest along this route is the Mound House, a
cultural museum and environmental center originally built in 1906. The
center is converting an old swimming pool on the site into an
underground room that is part of the large Calusa shell mound that the
house was built on.
Koreshan State Historic
Site is almost 4 miles up the Estero River from the river mouth. After a
mile or so, the extreme tidal influence wanes and the current is fairly
slack, making for easy paddling. Along the way, you can land at the
Estero River Scrub, part of Estero Bay Preserve State Park, and hike
through 1,260 acres of mostly dry scrub habitat ridges. These remnant
dune systems are home to gopher tortoises and other unique animals.
At Koreshan State Historic
Site, you can land and secure your kayak at the boat ramp next to the
rental canoes. It is about 300 feet to the campground via the nature
trail along the river. You must first register at the entrance station,
which is less than a half mile along the paved entrance road from the
ramp. Advanced reservations are highly recommended; the campground
frequently fills up.
The park encompasses the
Koreshan Unity Settlement site where about 200 religious utopian
followers of Dr. Cyrus R. Teed first settled in 1880. The Koreshans
believed that the universe existed within a giant hollow sphere. Not
surprisingly, their beliefs were often at odds with the surrounding
society. The Koreshans built their own stores, schools, sawmill, cement
works, hostelry, boat works and printing house. Dr. Teed died in 1908,
and in 1961, the four remaining members of the community donated the
land and settlement to the state. You can hike to the historic
settlement on the park nature trail along the river.
5. Koreshan State
Historic Site to Lovers Key/Bowtie Island 7.5 miles
After leaving the Estero
River, it is less than a mile to Mound Key Archeological State Park.
Kayak landings are at trail heads on the northwest and southeast
portions of the island. Interpretive trails lead one through the island
and to shell middens that rise up to 32 feet.
The romantic sounding
Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson State Park is an ideal place to end this
segment. Once the possible hideout of the pirate Black Augustus, and
later the site of numerous fish camps, this cluster of four scenic
barrier islands was slated for development before the state of Florida
and Lee County stepped in to the create the state park. You can hike or
bike miles of interior trails or launch your kayak at a landing along
Estero Bay. If on a long-distance paddle, you can land on either the bay
side or Gulf side for a picnic, to obtain fresh water, and to use the
restrooms. There is a small store and kayak rental near the boat launch.
No camping is allowed in the park, but if you wish to primitive
camp in the area, Bowtie Island is available on a
first-come-first-served basis free-of-charge. Managed by the Florida
Paddling Trails Association, the island is about two miles south of the
Lover’s Key wayside picnic area (see map).