Last updated on June 27th, 2020 at 05:30 pm

This guest post was written by Ed and Deb Higgins, authors of “Paddles In Paradise” and “More Paddles in Paradise,” who live in Punta Gorda and lead a kayak group within the Punta Gorda Boat Club. 

Mangrove tunnels at Lido Key Mangrove Trail. (Photo: Deb and Ed Higgins.)
Mangrove tunnels at Lido Key Mangrove Trail in Sarasota. (Photo: Deb and Ed Higgins.)

This week we paddled the Lido Key Mangrove Trail in Sarasota and it remains as pretty and serene as when we first did it many years ago.

This is an easy less-than-two-hour paddle among the mangroves and protected waterways of Sarasota Bay.

It leaves from Ted Sperling Park, located on the southern end of Lido Key, close to the Lido public beach and St. Armands Circle.

Dolphin and manatee sightings are common, and the friendly cormorants may just jump up on your kayak for a ride. We weren’t in the water for 10 minutes before a frisky cormorant jumped up on our friend’s kayak and accompanied us until we entered the mangrove tunnels. It seems to be a regular thing every time we paddle here.

A cormorant hitches a ride on a kayak at the Lido Key Mangrove Trail. (Photo: Deb and Ed Higgins.)
A cormorant hitches a ride on a kayak at the Lido Key Mangrove Trail. (Photo: Deb and Ed Higgins.)

Launching your kayak on the Lido Key Mangrove Trail

When you leave the launch at Sperling Park, head to the right to reach the mangrove tunnels. There are several trails in and out of the mangrove trees with abundant bird life. Some of the mangrove islands serve as bird rookeries.

The tunnels are numbered and easy to navigate, but don’t get too caught up in the numbers. You will find yourself paddling in and out several different ways and there are several side tunnels if you want to explore.They all come out into the same area, so you won’t get lost.

This paddle offers the best of both worlds; some covered mangrove trails and some pretty Sarasota Bay open water.

Kayaks lined up at launch for Lido Key Mangrove Trail (Photo: Deb and Ed Higgins.)
Kayaks lined up at launch for Lido Key Mangrove Trail (Photo: Deb and Ed Higgins.)

Lido Key Mangrove Tunnel are good for summer paddles

This is a great paddle to do in hot weather because there is a nice sandbar along the route where you can get out of your kayak, stretch your legs, wade in the water, or enjoy a swim in Sarasota Bay. Be prepared and wear something you can get wet.

If you want to extend your paddle, head back past the kayak launch to the left and you can paddle around an island before heading back to the launch

This is a popular paddling area and it can be busy. We know from experience that you want to avoid school vacations. — the launch area and waterways get extremely crowded.

The park has a launch area, parking and picnic and restroom facilities, but there are a limited number of picnic tables right at the launch area. On a busy day, Plan B would be to go into St Armands Circle after your paddle and have lunch at one of the many restaurants there.

Rentals are available here on site but are somewhat expensive. The outfitters in this area will only do full day rentals, even if you are only going for a few hours. In winter 2019, singles are $35; doubles $52. 

Guided eco tours launch from the park at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every day and cost $50 single; $90 tandem.

Park website has more information on rentals and tours

Map of Lido Key Mangrove Trail
Map of Lido Key Mangrove Trail

Ted Sperling Park (previously South Lido Beach Nature Park)
190 Taft Drive
Sarasota

Directions to kayak launch site for Lido Key Mangrove Trail

From I-75, take exit 210 and take SR 780 West (Fruitville Road). Stay on Fruitville Road until intersection of US 41. Turn left onto US 41 South. Turn right onto Gulf Stream/John Ringling Causeway. As you enter St Armands Circle, take the second exit and continue on John Ringling Boulevard. Follow to the end and bear left on Ben Franklin Drive. Follow to the intersection of Taft Drive. and turn left on Taft. The park is directly in front of you.

Other nearby kayak launches in Sarasota Bay

You can launch kayaks or rent them (it’s the same outfitter as above, so same prices) at these two other parks on Sarasota Bay. From these locations, you also can access the mangrove tunnels.

Ken Thompson Park (also known as City Island Park)
1700 Ken Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34236
(941) 263-6386

This 92-acre park has restrooms, a playground and picnic tables, and a spectacular view of the City of Sarasota across the bay. Located at the very end of the road  on the bay past Mote Marine. It’s a longer paddle, but you can reach the mangrove tunnels from here.

Ringling Bridge Causeway Park
John Ringling Causeway
Sarasota, FL 34236

This is a 12-acre park and beach on the west side of the Ringling Bridge. You also can reach the mangrove tunnels from here.

Sarasota County publishes an excellent guide to Sarasota kayak trails, with maps and descriptions.

Things to do in and near Sarasota





2 Comments

  1. Hello Ed and Deb:

    My wife and I have Hobie Outback Kayaks. These kayaks have flippers and a rudder that extend below the kayak. In an ideal situation we like to have two feet of water depth. We can go shallower if we flare the flippers for the shallow water crossing. But, for me, the one thing that is missing from your fine articles is a mention of the water depth. Not an issue for a regular kayak, but it sure is for us. Would you please add the water depth information when doing a review of the kayaking areas?
    Thanks for your wonderful articles.

    Mike Chlebowski

    • Hi Mike,

      Your flippers should fold up flat against the hull — or into a recess in the hull on newer models — when you encounter shallow water. And the rudder kicks up, but that only means you use your paddle the old-fashioned way.

      Here’s how you do it: With a Hobie Mirage Drive, simply extend both pedals to the furthest points and the fins are parked tight up against the bottom of the hull until you paddle to deeper water.

      It would be near impossible for us to provide point-by-point depths because the depth changes so much on most of these rivers and bays. And shoals pop up everywhere. You could be in 6 feet of water one minute and two inches of water the next.

      Changes in water levels are constantly an issue in rivers, depending on rainfall, and bays, depending on tides.

      That said, it’s safe to say that most of the paddle trails we write about are at least 18 inches deep, and probably two or more feet deep, but not always. We usually mention if it gets too shallow or narrow along specific stretches of paddle trails, especially when portages are required, and we also try to warn about changing water levels due to rainfall or tidal changes. You can assume, though, that water levels are always changing in Florida and prepare accordingly.

      — Bob Rountree, floridarambler.com

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