Kayak & Canoe / Southwest Florida / Springs

Five favorite places to paddleboard in Tampa Bay area

We’re happy to share a guest post today from Richard Remick, who works part time as an IT security consultant while traveling and exploring the outdoors. He spends most of his time skiing, hiking and camping in Colorado and when in Florida you can usually find him on the water either paddleboarding or kayaking.



(c) Can Stock Photo / EricRHinson

By Richard Remick

I have to admit I am not the most in-shape person and I definitely have my lazy moments — weekends where I just want to sit around and recover from work.

Luckily, my very active girlfriend will have none of that. Whether we go biking, kayaking, or paddle boarding, she has a plan to drag me out of the house.

She was fortunate to get her hands on a couple of inflatable stand up paddleboards (SUPs) that I happily agreed to try out.

I’ve come to love paddle boarding: There is something so tranquil about gliding across the surface of the water and gazing down at a myriad of sea life.

Paddle boarding is great for maintaining your core strength, and it can be a workout when you’re paddling against the current.

Florida, and Tampa Bay in particular, have an unending number of options for paddling, starting with the beaches. With surf and ocean currents, however, it’s a more challenging paddling experience. For a more leisurely pace, the calm waters of protected inlets, lakes, and slow-moving rivers make a perfect ride.

Here are five of my favorite places to paddleboard around Tampa.

Sunset at Fort Desoto Park

Fort Desoto at sunset (Photo: Dave Ryan)

Paddleboarding at Fort Desoto Park

Fort Desoto Park, which is located right off the causeway that leads to Pass-A-Grille Beach, is a local favorite for nature lovers.  It’s the perfect place to escape from the more commercialized beachfront.

At Fort Desoto, visitors can explore the fort, which was built during the Civil War. It also has a well-maintained campground (that requires reservations well in advance due to its popularity.)

The beaches at Fort Desoto are pristine, with powdery white sand. On calm days, the water is quite clear.

Our paddleboard outing at Fort Desoto didn’t get us quite so far as the main beach area. We decided to put our boards into the water right off the causeway because it was extremely calm.  The area was well protected from the wind, thanks to outer-lying islands.

We liked that there was virtually no one else in sight. Launching from a clearing in the mangroves was simple, as there was no need to carry our boards any distance. We popped them right into the shallow water and were quickly on our way.

The water was clear and the bottom easily visible, if not particularly inviting. In spite of that drawback, we paddled along the shoreline where we were graced by the presence of a couple of herons that froze in their tracks before taking off as we approached.

A Florida Rambler guide to Fort DeSoto Park

Weedon Island from the air.

Paddleboarding Weedon Island Preserve

Another picturesque area is Weedon Island, which is in St. Petersburg. This 3,200-acre conservation area is popular with paddlers of all types. In fact, there’s an outfitter who rents canoes, paddle boards, and kayaks to you right as you enter the park.

Weedon Island has other activities for outdoorsy types, including trails and boardwalks for hikers and a pier for fishing aficionados. The pier itself is actually an intriguing area to explore on paddleboard due to the abundance of fish and sea life that congregates in the shallow water below it. Watch out for flying hooks, though!

Weedon Island is comprised of a smattering of mangrove islands that create a system of canals and channels you can explore by paddleboard. Making our way through the various canals was fun, but my favorite part by far was skimming the shallower areas where small fish hide and peer out from behind mangrove roots.

We’ve been to Weedon on several occasions and we’ve seen a variety of water birds (and tons of fish, of course). The coolest, though, was seeing a small stingray that bolted off as we drifted above his sandy hideout.

1800 Weedon Drive NE
St. Petersburg, FL 33702
(727) 453-6500

The section near Little Manatee River State Park, the ideal place to paddle, is shallow, with lightly tannic water, a white sandy bottom and rather steep banks.

The section of the river near Little Manatee River State Park, the ideal place to paddle, is shallow, with lightly tannic water, a white sandy bottom and rather steep banks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Little Manatee and Hillsborough rivers by paddleboard

The Little Manatee and Hillsborough rivers have a completely different feel from Fort Desoto and Weedon Island. They are both freshwater with a distinct variety of flora and fauna.

These two rivers are the top in my list of favorites to paddle board. That said, they do have a couple of downsides, as two of their most attractive features are also liabilities.

Part of what I like about paddle boarding is being able to look down and see through to the bottom, checking out the underwater creatures and plant life I paddle over.

The Little Manatee River has many shallow areas where you can see down to the riverbed. The problem is a few areas are so shallow there is no maneuvering around them, thus you have no choice but to lift your board up and trudge through the water till you get to a deeper spot.

The Hillsborough is deeper, and with its tannin-colored water, you can’t see much below the surface. This river offers some neat challenges because of many fallen trees beneath the water’s surface. Occasionally, we’ve run into places where there is just no getting through, so we’ve had to finagle a way over these natural obstacles.

The wildlife on the rivers is quite impressive. You’re surrounded by animals sunning themselves.

Gators lie lazily on the shore. I’ll admit that’s a bit unnerving, and I’ve had the sensation of suddenly losing confidence in my ability to keep balanced and afloat.

Cormorants perch on fallen branches, their wings stretched as they dry in the sun; and turtles with babies line up on half-submerged tree branches.

A Florida Rambler guide to the Little Manatee River

 

Kayaking the Rainbow River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Paddling the Rainbow River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Paddle boarding the Rainbow River and other Florida springs

Because of my fondness for the Florida springs and their spectacular beauty, I’ll briefly mention them, even though the notable ones are a few hours from the Tampa area. It’s worth the drive!

Rainbow River in Dunnellon is the most recent spring we paddled. It’s located about two hours northwest of Tampa.

We launched our boards from Rainbow Springs State Park. You can also launch from K.P. Hole, which is a local county park.

I cannot say enough positive about paddling down this glassy waterway. Looking down, we could see river grasses dancing with the current below. Sandy patches created brilliant flecks of aquamarine along the river.

If you ever get the chance to paddle on a spring-fed river in Florida, jump at the opportunity. It’s not to be missed! Just make sure not to fall off. Florida springs maintain a constant temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit — quite chilly!

A Florida Rambler guide to the Rainbow River

Resources:

A guide for beginner paddle boarders.

 


Richard Remick works as an IT security consultant and is also a contributor to OutsidePursuits.com.

 

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