Last updated on January 24th, 2020 at 05:24 pm
Telegraph Creek near Fort Myers is the sort of kayak destination that gives me hope, and not just because it’s the only place I’ve been where can you can kayak with llamas in Florida.
Sometimes I worry that there are no unspoiled rivers left for me to discover in Florida – so much natural beauty has developed into suburbia.
And then along comes a river I had never heard of — Telegraph Creek, a route on Lee County’s Great Calusa Blueway, which was suggested to me by the Blueway’s coordinator Mike Hammond.
Telegraph Creek, a tributary of the Caloosahatchee River located between LaBelle and Fort Myers, is all the things I love about kayaking destinations – out-of-the-way, uncrowded, scenic, quiet and full of wildlife.
As a bonus, it’s the only place I’ve kayaked where I’ve seen zebra, llamas and big horn sheep along with alligators, turtles and a variety of birds!
An easy paddle on Telegraph Creek and watch for llamas
It’s an easy paddle. You head upstream until you run out of time, get tired or come across more snags than you want to deal with, and then you paddle back. There’s a minor current and the river is deep enough to be do-able during the dry season. We paddled at a very leisurely pace for 90 minutes and then turned around.
Telegraph Creek is also a shady paddle. Our day there had temperatures in the 80s and we were comfortable, thanks to the large oak trees that arched over the 20-foot-wide creek. The landscape is full of airplants, Spanish moss, cypress knees and swamp lilies.
The first section of the river passes through an area with homes visible along the river. The houses, though, are surrounded by trees and set back from the water so they don’t detract from the beauty of the surroundings.
It’s in this very first section that you pass the farm that raises exotic animals. From the water, the most visible animals are the llamas, who sometimes set contentedly chewing their cud right along (or in) the water. In a shady area on a higher bank of the stream, we spotted the big horn sheep. We had to peer into the property to get a glimpse of three zebras in the distance.
Eventually, homes give way to a county preserve and the creek gets wilder. The banks get higher and some feature limestone outcroppings.
The wildlife along Telegraph Creek is plentiful. We saw uncountable turtles, a half-dozen alligators, kingfishers, heron and egrets — all reasons why Telegraph Creek is about more than just kakaking with llamas.
On our weekday visit, there was not another boat or person on the creek. On the Telegraph Creek, you are immersed in a Florida you might have thought had disappeared. It hasn’t, but you have to seek it out.
Where to launch your kayak at Telegraph Creek
For a few years, the owner of land at the best launch site had fenced it off and posted “no parking” signs.
In January, 2020, however, Lee County bought the property and now the launch site is again open to the public. (The “no parking” signs are being removed; if you see them, the Blueways Coordinator says you can ignore them.)
The launch site is right along Telegraph Creek where it goes under the rural and scenic SR 78/North River Road, which runs along the north side of the Caloosahatchee.
Where the river crosses SR78, at about 15700 N. River Road, there is space along the west side of the bridge for three or four cars to park. You can pull your kayak down the embankment, launch and head upstream.
Paddlers also can launch from the Franklin Locks on the south side of the river and paddle to the mouth of the creek. You get to Telegraph in a little under mile. There is an oxbow island to paddle around on the way there.
Renting kayaks: There is no outfitter at the location. GAEA Guides runs guided tours here periodically.
Camping near Telegraph Creek
Camping at WP Franklin Campground, 17850 N Franklin Lock Rd, Alva, is ideal for this kayak trip, as you can put in right at the campground. Located on a peninsula in the Caloosahatchee adjacent to the lock and dam, it is a beautiful, quiet location with every campsite having a water view. It is clearly designed for RVs, offering standard electric, though tents are allowed. (There are “cruiser” sites designed for boat campers.) Details about WP Franklin Campground.
Camping at Caloosahatchee Regional Park, 19130 North River Road, Alva, is also very convenient. It’s three miles from Telegraph Creek. Primitive tent camping is available and here are details.
Lodging: I-75 is about a half hour away, with the usual hotel options along its exits in the Fort Myers area.
Things to do near Telegraph Creek
Kayaking: Another recommended kayaking river is Orange River and Manatee Park, an excellent place to see manatees in the winter and another beautiful kayak trail on the Calusa Blueway.
The recreation-rich Fort Myers area is 20 minutes away.
Places to explore near Fort Myers
- Six Miles Cypress Slough Preserve
- Fort Myers Beach: Charming seaside getaway
- Lovers Key State Park for manatees, kayaking and beaches
- Mound Key State Archaeology Site
- Cayo Costa State Park: Dreams of a private island
- What makes Sanibel special and nine ways to experience it.
Places to explore near Naples
- Naples: Rich in nature, beaches and boating
- Corkscrew Preserve in Naples
- Barefoot Beach is on Southwest Florida’s wild side
- Clam Pass Park, a Naples beach where you ride the tide
- Koreshan State Historic Site: Wacky Florida history; lovely spot preserved