Driving to Jiggs Landing Preserve, you pass through miles of commercial development that looks like it could be anywhere in the United States — chain restaurants, gated communities, traffic lights.
At Jiggs Landing, however, you enter a little island of tranquility that suggests what Bradenton was like 75 years ago – ospreys guarding a nest, people relaxing on the lawn, fishing boats and kayaks coming and going, birds by the hundreds returning to roost at sunset.
Jiggs Landing Preserve, a Manatee County Park, is the ideal place to start a scenic kayaking trip on the Braden River. And, when it reopens at the end of 2021, there will be an equally ideal kayaking destination – Linger Lodge, an Old Florida restaurant about a two-hour paddle up the river that has been beloved for 75 years. (It has been closed because of the pandemic.)
The three experiences – Jiggs Landing, the Braden River and Linger Lodge – can combine to make a delightful day in a Florida you might have thought was gone. Any one of these spots would qualify as a hidden gem; together, they’re a treasure.
Jiggs Landing: A modern-day fish camp that preserves local history
Jiggs Landing is located on Wards Lake, a reservoir created when a dam was built on the Braden River to create a source of drinking water for Bradenton.
Wards Lake is wide and picturesque with a bird rookery that attracts hundreds of white egrets and heron to roost every night. You can almost imagine things haven’t changed here — until you glance to the west side of the lake, where a housing development and a road are visible across the water.
People have been coming to Jiggs Landing since 1944, when Al “Jiggs” Metcalf and his wife Agnes bought the property and built a fish camp that was a local landmark for 40 years.
Few people who live in Bradenton now would remember the original and that local history might be forgotten had Manatee County not told its story so well in this wonderful little park.
Not only is there excellent signage about the history, but Manatee County built four little rustic cabins on the lake that look almost like the original pastel-colored cabins Jiggs built. Visitor can rent the cabins – each is one small room and a covered porch with a central bathhouse serving all four. The cabins rent for $85 to $100 a night. (It’s $20 less for residents of Manatee County.)
Nearby, the park also has a more precise replica of the original fish camp cabin so visitors can see what a Florida vacation was like in 1944.
Beyond the cute cabins, Jiggs Landing is a lively place, thanks to a popular free boat ramp and Jiggs Landing Outpost, a café that hosts live music every evening at sunset.
Serving local craft beers and excellent hamburgers and hotdogs made to order, the café attracts visitors in the late afternoon. Families bring lawn chairs and listen to the music, kids romp on a nearby playground and others watch the sunset from the Adirondack chairs that line the dock. (Note: the Jiggs Landing Preserve closes at 6:30 p.m. so this isn’t a late-night scene.)
Kayaking the Braden River
You can launch your own kayak at no charge or rent one at Jiggs Landing.
A scenic and popular kayak outing is to paddle upstream on the Braden River to the iconic Linger Lodge. The trip takes 90 minutes to 2 hours and there is lovely scenery along the way.
Even if you don’t paddle all the way to Linger Lodge, it’s a pleasant kayak on the Braden, first past the extensive bird life on the rookery island and then along the river, which is lined with mature trees and native vegetation.
It’s not a wild river; you are seldom far from homes on one side or the other of the Braden River. But some of the homes are interesting to see and there are also extensive preserved land and parks along the way.
The Braden River has very little current and there are few places to land. On a weekday in March, we were passed by several fishing boats. The whole river is a no-wake zone
The most common wildlife sightings were of turtles. We didn’t see alligators, although the folks on the eco-tours at Jiggs Landing apparently see many, according to reviews on TripAdvisor.
Linger Lodge in Bradenton
We’ll have to come back and kayak the Braden River again when the Linger Lodge is open because we have long heard about its off-beat charms.
Like Jiggs Landing, it opened in the 1940s, so it’s also a throwback to another century. It is known for serving down-home country cooking with a Florida twist – alligator chowder gets high marks, as do the frogs legs, fried green tomatoes, catfish, hush puppies, gator bites and key lime pie.
The walls are filled with taxidermied animals and there is seating in a screened porch overlooking the river.
Tips for kayaking the Braden River from Jiggs Landing to Linger Lodge
Finding Linger Lodge: As you paddle towards Linger Lodge you will pass under I-75, the only road you encounter. Linger Lodge is a few minutes past there on what appears to be a narrower channel on the left. If you miss the turn you will find yourself in a wide section of the river that is a dead end. On the correct route, you will pass several houses before you reach Linger Lodge, which has a large property with a boat ramp and signage.
Right now the entire property is closed with its docks and boat ramp roped off. In the past, Linger Lodge had live entertainment on weekends. When it’s open, Linger Lodge is more than a restaurant. It is also a campground, RV park and has a boat ramp.
Staying at Jiggs Landing: The cottages have air conditioning, TVs, Wifi, two chairs on the covered porch and are decorated with interesting antique furniture. We like the idea of them more than the reality; we stayed one night and were glad we did, but it wasn’t the most comfortable lodging. Note that Jiggs Landing closes at 6:30 p.m. so you must arrive before then to check in.
Jiggs Landing Outpost also sells live bait and tackle, assorted sandwiches and snacks and breakfast starting at 8 a.m. It rents kayaks, peddle boats, and jon boats with motors.
Boat tours at Jiggs Landing: You also can book a guided tour in a small electric boat. There are several options: There are tours to Linger Lodge when it’s open, there’s a sunset tour, a trip the goes up the Braden River, another around the reservoir and dam. The tours range from $20 to $50.
Map of Braden River kayak trail
Things to do near the Braden River
The Braden River is a tributary of the Manatee River, which also has an excellent paddling trail only a half hour away. Here’s our guide to the Upper Manatee River Paddling Trail, which has similar scenery but is less developed than the area through which the Braden River travels.
Emerson Point Preserve is an exceptional county park, off the beaten path on the southern end of Tampa Bay. There is excellent hiking and kayaking, and the real gem is the Portavant temple mound. It’s located where the Manatee River meets Tampa Bay.
We love the beaches and overall ambiance of Anna Maria Island, about 45 minutes away. Here’s a guide to things to do on Anna Maria Island.
Near Anna Maria Island, the picturesque fishing village of Cortez is an outstanding place to get fresh seafood and enjoy the ambiance of Old Florida. Here’s a guide to visiting Cortez, including my favorite fish shack there.
At the widest part of the Manatee River across the water from Emerson Point Preserve, you’ll find DeSoto National Memorial Park, 8300 Desoto Memorial Hwy, Bradenton, FL 34209. This is a national park, although quite small and modest. It has a spectacular location on the Manatee River and a well-done three-quarter-mile trail along the water and through the mangroves, telling the story of the indigenous people and the Spanish explorers. There is a small museum, not open during the pandemic. (During normal times, in the winter there is a living history program telling the story of the native Americans.) It’s free.
Kayaking Frog Creek in Palmetto. This is one of the best paddles you’ve never heard of. Your launch point is hidden behind a private campground in Palmetto. You can launch your own kayak ($10 fee) or rent one. What makes this paddle remarkable is that in one trip, it encompasses two completely different environments — a canopied fresh water cypress and oak creek with open water areas flowing into tidal salt water mangrove tunnels. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Frog Creek.