With temperatures hovering in the 60's, we Southwest Floridians don't necessarily classify this as "beach weather." That's not to say you won't see a few brave souls (most likely visiting Northerners) splashing in the Gulf and catching some sun on the beach. We say, more power to them!
But for those of us who are cold weather delicate
, you can still enjoy SWFL winter weather on the rivers, canals and Gulf. In fact, it's the perfect time of year to go on canoeing or kayaking adventure with the family or group of friends. That's one activity sure to keep your body warm!
Where to paddle?
Lee County actually has a 190-mile marked canoe and kayak trail that winds through the area's coastal waters. If you haven't heard, The Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail is the perfect course for paddling Southwest Florida. Whether you are an experienced paddler, or this is your first time with an oar, the Great Calusa Blueway is the best way for you to experience Southwest Florida by water.
Developed by Lee County Parks & Recreation, the Great Calusa Blueway is a special project dedicated to the beach and shoreline enhancement of Lee County. The trail was said to have been first charted some 2,000 years ago by the Calusa Indians of the area. Today, the trail is broken into three sections spanning the same Gulf waters, bays, rivers, and sheltered mangrove creeks the first settlers explored.
Phase 1 of the Great Calusa Blueway was completed in 2003 and explores Estero Bay and the waters near Bonita Springs, Lover's Key and Fort Myers Beach. You can paddle the Imperial River, the Estero River or stay in Estero Bay and paddle around a series of keys behind Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach. Be on the lookout for manatees and birds feeding on the oyster beds along the way. The map below shows the trail markings, with access points and highlights found on this portion of the trail.
In 2005, the second phase of the Blueway was completed, which takes you from the Matlacha Pass near Pine Island, up to Cayo Costa and the smaller keys, before heading south along North Captiva Island, Captiva Island and Sanibel Island. Here, you get to paddle three great bodies of water with the Matlacha Pass, Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay. You're sure to see some dolphins and other wildlife as you skim the edges of these barrier islands. Check out the map below to see all of the markings and stops along the way!
The third phase of the trail debuted in 2007, traveling inland on the Caloosahatchee River and through the tributaries of Fort Myers, North Fort Myers, Buckingham and Alva. With 38 miles of marked trail on the river and 52 miles of tributaries, this trail is a slower-paced and relaxing paddle compared to the major bodies of water crossed in the first two phases of the Great Calusa Blueway. Get up close and personal with both native birds and those that fly down south here for the winter. Below you can see the marked paddling trails along with hiking trails and highlights along the way.
Are you ready?
To get started on your paddling adventure, you can visit www.CalusaBlueway.com
and download or order the trail maps, which can also be found at a few area outfitters and marinas. Visit the website for a list of launch locations, paddling tips, trial tidbits, and stories of other paddler's adventures. For access on the go - download the Great Calusa Blueway app for iPhones and Androids and connect with them on social media. Last but not least... take lots of pictures and share with us stories from your own paddling adventure!