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 paddleboarding Tampa Bay waters.
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.
I’ve come to love paddleboarding: There is something so tranquil about gliding across the surface of the water and gazing down at a myriad of sea life.
Paddleboarding 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 for paddleboarding Tampa Bay waterways.
Paddleboarding Tampa 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
Paddleboarding Tampa at 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
Paddleboarding Tampa at Little Manatee, Hillsborough rivers
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 paddleboard. 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 paddleboarding 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
Paddleboarding Rainbow River, 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
A guide for beginner paddle boarders.
More things to do in the Tampa Bay area
If you’re planning a trip to this region of Florida, there is a wealth of great destinations. Here are some Florida Rambler has written about:
Dunedin: Delightful biking, breweries, beaches & more
Safety Harbor Spa: Healing waters are star of charming town
7 things to do in St. Petersburg for Old Florida delights
Pass-A-Grille: Top beach; charming old town in St. Pete Beach
Fort De Soto Park is Tampa Bay treasure
Best camping near Tampa Bay: 9 choice campgrounds
Frog Creek: Little-known Tampa Bay kayak trail
Egmont Key: 5 things I love about this wild island
3 new museums boost St. Petersburg as ‘City of Art’
Emerson Point Preserve: Four reasons to discover this jewel in Palmetto
Hillsborough River State Park adds ‘glam’ to its camping options
Richard Remick works as an IT security consultant and is also a contributor to OutsidePursuits.com.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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Richard Remick 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.
Tuesday 15th of June 2021
Hi! I love reading your articles about kayaking so informative, detailed and you can really feel the love of the experience. I'm curious if you have ever paddleboarded the 7mile juniper springs run? I read the article about kayaking there and was wondering if you think it would be just as fun on a board? Thanks so much!! Keep on exploring and sharing with us!!
Tuesday 15th of June 2021
I have not paddleboarded Juniper. I made some additional comments about this on the Juniper story here: https://www.floridarambler.com/kayaking-in-florida/juniper-springs-florida/