Last updated on December 14th, 2018 at 09:52 am

Punta Gorda river is easy kayak outing into authentic Florida

Every twist in Shell Creek brought a new gorgeous view.
Every twist in Shell Creek brought a new gorgeous view. (Photos: Bonnie Gross)

Most Florida kayakers and canoeists know the Peace River at Arcadia, but less than a half hour away, there’s a little-known river with scenery and wildlife as splendid as you’ll find in Florida.

Shell Creek is about five miles east of Punta Gorda and it deserves to be a destination for kayakers from well beyond its area. You will have to travel several hours to kayak anywhere more beautiful.

Small, shy gators were easy to spot along Shell Creek near Punta Gorda
Shy gators were easy to spot along Shell Creek near Punta Gorda. They silently slid into the water when we approached.

Shell Creek is easy to access via Hathaway Park, a county park with picnic tables, rest rooms and a good kayak or canoe launch.

Turtles were everywhere along Shell Creek near Punta Gorda
Turtles were everywhere along Shell Creek.

From there you can kayak eight miles east up Shell Creek as it twists and reveals new vistas at every turn. If you head west, you can paddle five miles to the dam near where Shell Creek meets the Peace River.

We paddled east, which is described as the most scenic section. Live oaks decorated with Spanish moss arched over the creek. Gnarly cypress trees poked out of the middle of the river and lined the shores. Turtles sunned on fallen logs and shy alligators stretched out on shores and branches — until we approached. Kingfishers, egrets and hawks shared their piece of Old Florida with us.

Nothing disturbed the natural beauty. A few houses and cabins face on to the creek and a few fishermen and in power boats passed by at a sedate speed. Other than that, it was us and the turtles, birds and gators under the magnificent canopy.

Shell Creek is the source of drinking water for Punta Gorda. A dam maintains the water level and thus there is only a slight current. The banks of the river at times are five and six feet high, often embedded with shells left from a prehistoric sea that covered the area.

Shell Creek: Beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda
Shell Creek near Punta Gorda.
Cypress trees at Shell Creek, a beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda
Cypress trees at Shell Creek near Punta Gorda

Planning your kayak trip on the Shell Creek

Hathaway Park
35461 Washington Loop Road
Punta Gorda

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  • Shell Creek is an easy paddle perfect for beginners, and even long touring kayaks can handle the turns. You can make the trip as long or short as you want. Just turn around and head back when ready.
  • Fishermen say there’s good fishing for pan fish and crappies upstream. As you head downstream, they say they catch bass.
  • Need a boat? It’s Time! Kayak outfitters offer regular tours of Shell Creek.
Shell Creek Punta Gorda
Shell Creek Punta Gorda (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Make a weekend of visiting Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda is a cool little historic town. Here’s a Florida Rambler roundup of things to do in Punta Gorda— from a great car museum to good bicycling trails to one of Florida’s most classic crab shacks, Peace River Seafood.

Kayakers will find this a good destination because you can paddle fresh water like Shell Creek on Saturday and then, as we did, spend Sunday on salt water in the gorgeous mangrove-lined Gasparilla Sound, with dolphins, white pelicans and roseate spoonbills to delight you. Here’s a report on sea kayaking in Gasparilla Sound.

The Charlotte County Blueway Trails map lists 57 trails!

Find a room near Shell Creek

Find a campsite near Shell Creek







  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the post. I happened to be in Punta Gorda this weekend. 12-9-18. First time. When I put “kayak Punta Gorda” in my favorite web browser, of course, this came up close to the top of the page. Your directions are spot on. However, the kayak/canoe launch is closed. No explanation. From the water, it looks pretty beat up. water -eroding it is my guess.