Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
Begin: Anclote Key
End: Fort De Soto
Duration: 3 days
Open water stretches around Anclote Key may pose a hazard in windy
or stormy weather. Currents and tidal influences in passes, especially
Hurricane Pass, can pose a threat, too. As always, proceed with caution.
Rats are known to inhabit some of the spoil islands and raccoons can
always be problematic, especially at Fort De Soto Park, so do not leave
food or fresh water unattended.
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. The situation regarding motels may change as motels
in some locations are being converted to condominiums and resorts that
require multi-day rentals.
The rich history of
Pinellas County began thousands of years ago when Tocobaga Indians and
their predecessors hunted, fished and later farmed the area. About 1,800
years ago, the area’s native people created a more sophisticated social
and ceremonial structure that was reflected in their art forms. This “Weedon
Island culture,” (sometimes spelled “Weeden”) lasted about 800 years and
was marked by exquisitely decorated pottery. The 3,164-acre Weedon
Island Preserve on the west side of Tampa Bay protects a large shell
midden and burial mound complex associated with this time period and is
open to the public. To learn more, log onto
Panfilo de Narvaez landed
along Tampa Bay with about 300 soldiers in 1528. The Spaniards treated
the Indians cruelly in a futile search for gold and silver. Most of the
Indians eventually died from European introduced diseases and Seminole
Indians inhabited the area for a brief period before and during the
Second Seminole War, before being driven south or removed to Oklahoma.
Odet Phillipe is credited
with being the first white settler of the area, establishing a
plantation and citrus grove in the 1830s. Philippe is believed to have
spawned Florida’s citrus industry. The area began to boom in the 1880s
with completion of the Orange Belt Railroad to St. Petersburg. Large
motels, such as the famous Belleview-Biltmore, were built to accommodate
tourists. Many visitors who came for health reasons and balmy weather
decided to stay. From a population of 13,000 during the county’s
inception in 1912, the residential population now stands at almost a
million. In addition, more than four million tourists visit Pinellas
County each year. The word “Pinellas” reflects the area’s rich history,
having been derived from the Spanish words Punta Pinal, meaning
“point of pines.”
Although this segment
marks the beginning of a long stretch of urbanized coastline as you head
south, you’ll be able to enjoy several scenic state and county parks
reminiscent of original Florida. Three premier Florida state parks are
situated along the route: Anclote Key, Honeymoon Island and Caladesi
Island. To learn more, log onto
The Pinellas County park
system, totaling more than 4,000 acres, is unrivaled. Several “green
space” and beach parks are spaced out along the route. Some of the
larger parks have viewing towers, hiking trails, paddling trails, kayak
launches and unspoiled tracts of land. Birdwatching possibilities
abound. To learn more, log onto
The paddling trail in
this segment traverses the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve. Established
in 1972, the preserve’s 336,265 acres of seagrass beds, hard and soft
bottoms, oyster reefs, spoil islands and mangrove areas helps to protect
wildlife species such as manatees, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, sea
turtles, indigo snakes and a host of fish and marine creatures. To learn
more, log onto
Leave No Trace principles
should be followed when camping on Anclote Key, or on any spoil island.
To learn more about Leave No Trace principles, log onto
http://www.lnt.org/. Bear in mind that some spoil islands are bird
colonies and should be avoided. These many spoil islands and their
designations are described in the Boater’s Guide to Clearwater Harbor
and St. Joseph Sound. To obtain your free copy, call 727-893-2765 or
1. Anclote Key (north
end) to spoil island # 13, 12 miles
At Anclote Key, three
miles from the mainland near Tarpon Springs, primitive camping is at the
north end of the island. There is a composting toilet, but no other
amenities. You can explore this three-mile long undeveloped island on a
series of hiking trails or along the Gulf side beach. Kayaking along the
mangrove-lined bay side is inviting as well. The south end, open for day
use, has picnic shelters, grill and a composting toilet, along with a
19th century lighthouse that is still operational. Due to bird nesting,
dogs are not allowed on the island.
Camping is free on Anclote
Key, but you must first check in by calling (727) 469-5942.
Be wary of crossing open
water stretches to and from the island as winds can cause dangerous
Howard Park is directly
east of Anclote Key and a good stopping point for water, restrooms and a
picnic. The park also offers a paddling trail through sheltered mangrove
areas, and the mainland section of the park covers an impressive live
oak forest grove.
On your way south, be sure
to stop at Honeymoon Island State Park and hike through the 80-acre
old-growth slash pine forest. Viewing these majestic trees is worthy of
a visit, but the forest also supports an unusually high density of
active osprey nests.
After Honeymoon Island,
you’ll cross Hurricane Pass. Due to currents, tidal influence, boat
traffic, and breakers on the Gulf side, crossing Hurricane Pass should
only be attempted by experienced paddlers in favorable weather
conditions along the bay side. If you cross under the Dunedin
Causeway along the Intracoastal Waterway, you should be safe.
For camping, there are
several spoil islands to choose from along the route, but the one near
channel marker #13 is of good size and it features a marked interpretive
trail, fire ring and picnic tables. The island has been impressively
landscaped with native plants.
2. Spoil Island #13 to
Island #BC 21, 17 miles
A cultural stop along the
route is historic downtown Dunedin, which features a museum, shops,
galleries and several restaurants. You can access this area by entering
a sheltered marina of boat slips and hanging a right until you come to
the Dunedin boat ramp (see map). Here, you can carry your kayak across
the road and leave it at Edgewater Park.
Roughly a mile across from
Dunedin is Caladesi Island State Park, accessible only by boat. Here,
you can enjoy three miles of unspoiled beaches on the Gulf side and a
three-mile round trip paddling trail on the bay side through mangroves.
You can obtain maps for the trail at the marina near the boat docks,
where you can land on a low kayak dock adjacent to the ferry dock. The
park also has a snack bar and gift shop near the docks. Channel markers
will lead you to the marina. Kayakers must pay a $1 admission fee.
Many paddlers access the park’s marina from the Dunedin Causeway, where
there are numerous launch points and a kayak concessionaire. From
channel marker #14, just west of the Dunedin Causeway Bridge, take an
approximate 212´degree heading on your compass for approximately one
mile to the marked channel to the marina.
As you proceed south, you
have the option of remaining on the bay side en-route to Island BC 21,
or, if the weather is favorable, paddling on the Gulf side by traversing
Clearwater Pass and arranging for a motel stay at a beachside motel
along Indian Rocks Beach or other coastal communities to the south.
Advance reservations are recommended, especially in springtime beginning
around February 1st. Any number of websites can assist you in
locating a suitable motel, with one website featuring smaller,
locally-owned motels in the area:
It is about 13 miles from
Island #13 to Indian Rocks Beach, and another 19 or so miles from there
to Fort De Soto Park Campground along the Gulf, so plan accordingly.
There are numerous public beaches along the route that make for ideal
rest stops, most of which are listed on the maps. Supermarkets are
located near the Memorial Causeway to Clearwater Beach on the north side
and across the street from the St. Petersburg Beach Park (see map).
In the bottom half of the
bay route, you will proceed through “the narrows,” where the width
between the mainland and barrier islands is very narrow, thus the name.
Be wary of boat traffic as there is not as much room for maneuvering. At
the Bellair and Park Boulevard Causeways, you can find public boat
ramps, restrooms and potable water. There are at least two marinas along
this stretch as well. Numerous small spoil islands are available for
rest stops all along the route.
As you leave the narrows
and enter the first stretch of Boca Ciega Bay, Island #BC 21 will come
into view. Campsites are on the southwest side of the island. For a
break, you can land at Boca Ciega County Park near the viewing tower
just to the east of the island. Stretch your legs on scenic boardwalks
through mangrove forests. Restrooms are about 200 yards from the kayak
launch area. The area is very shallow at low tide.
Another excellent island
for camping is CB #9, about 3.5 miles farther south (see map). Camping
is on the east side. Just northwest of the island campsite is another
scenic county park--War Veterans’ Memorial Park on Turtlecrawl Point.
Restrooms and fresh water are near the kayak launch site.
3. Island #BC 21 to
Fort De Soto Park Campground, 16.5 miles
As you head south, you
may want to skirt around the end of Long Key to Pass-A-Grille Beach.
Pass-A-Grille is an historic coastal village with a lot of charm. There
is also a post office on 8th Avenue if you want to use it as
a mail stop (zip code 33706). It is open Monday through Friday from 9-4
with a break for lunch. A downtown museum is open Thursday through
Saturday from 10-4 and from 1-4 on Sunday.
The Spanish Explorer Panfilo de Narvaez
was believed to be the first European in the area when he anchored off
Pass-A-Grille Pass in 1528. Since then, the island was long used by
fishermen to obtain fresh water and to grill their catch, thus the
reason for the name (likely from the French Passe aux Grilleurs).
Beginning in 1857, John Gomez, a self-proclaimed pirate, opened the way
for tourism by bringing in excursionists from Tampa. A section of
Pass-A-Grille was declared a National Historic District in 1989.
Fort De Soto Park, your
destination for the day and the end of this segment, also has a rich
history. You can tour Fort De Soto, built to protect Tampa Bay during
the Spanish-American War. The fort was named after Spanish explorer
Hernando De Soto, who began his tumultuous three-year march from Tampa
Bay in 1539 to find gold and subjugate the native population.
Fort De Soto Park is known
for its birdwatching, one reason it is a featured stop on the Great
Florida Birding Trail. Flocks of shore and migratory birds seem to pose
for visitors as they feed or rest. Two hundred and ninety-six avian
species have been sighted in the 1,136-acre park.
Exploring the park is
easy. You can kayak through mangrove-lined lagoons in its interior to a
kayak livery facility that also rents bicycles (see map). By bicycling
or hiking, you can tour the park’s off-road trails that lead to beaches,
coastal hammock forests, a small museum, and the historic fort.
Numerous campsites at Fort
De Soto Park are easily accessible by kayak, especially tent sites. A
small seawall surrounds most of the RV campsites, which may prove
difficult for kayaks, so make sure you reserve one of the tent sites
(sites 1 through 85). Advanced reservations are highly recommended, so
call (727) 582-2267 up to six months in advance of your trip.
Primitive camping is
available at no charge on Shell Key, which is just offshore from North
Beach in Fort De Soto Park (see map). This island is also managed by
Pinellas County. Leave No Trace principles should be followed on the