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Prairie Creek: Beautiful little-known kayak trail in Punta Gorda

I love to discover and share new places to kayak, and Prairie Creek near Punta Gorda is a scenic, pristine stream full of birds and wildlife. It’s just the sort of place that makes me love to paddle.

Prairie Creek is only about 20 minutes outside Punta Gorda in a rural area that was a delight to this South Florida city-dweller.

There’s a downside, though. You must bring your own kayak; we can’t find any outfitter who serves it. Secondly, the launch site accommodates a single car; maybe two if you both park carefully. This alone means you’ll probably have Prairie Creek to yourself.

But this out-of-the-way creek is a joy to paddle.

Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda has some exceptionally beautiful scenes. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Is this Eden? Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda has some exceptionally beautiful scenes. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Launching on to Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda

Prairie Creek is just two miles away from another terrific kayak river in Punta Gorda, Shell Creek, about which we’ve written before. Prairie Creek is a tributary of Shell Creek and both are kept pristine because they are the source of drinking water for Punta Gorda. (Here’s Florida Rambler on Shell Creek.)

For Shell Creek, you launch out of Hathaway Park, and we recommend you stop here for Prairie Creek too – because it has toilets whereas Prairie Creek has no facilities.  After your stop at Hathaway Park, continue two miles east and then north on the same road to the Prairie Creek launch. At about the two-mile point, watch for a small bridge with a gravel road on the right just before the bridge. (We missed it the first time.)

In the future, Charlotte County has plans for a launch site at the new Prairie Creek Preserve, which also has some nice hiking trails.

A great blue heron along Prairie Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A great blue heron along Prairie Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The beauty of Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda

Prairie Creek is an out-and-back paddle and you can head in either direction – upstream to the right or downstream. We headed upstream against a mild current and paddled for about 90 minutes. Returning downstream, our trip was half that. I’ve heard you can paddle for 10 miles upstream, as the river twists and turns through the heavily wooded shoreline.

You can’t get lost, but you can head into a dead end if you miss a turn. The dead end where we ended up turned out to be one of the prettiest places on the river — a forest of cypress trees and knees. (Often, we find it’s worthwhile to explore tributaries and dead ends on rivers.)

We weren't sorry we missed the turn and ended up in this dead end. It was one of the prettiest spots along Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
We weren’t sorry we missed the turn and ended up in this dead end. It was one of the prettiest spots along Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Prairie Creek is a quiet paddle without road sounds or whining leaf blowers, and there was a delightful quantity of wildlife. We saw six or eight alligators on the way upstream and the same number back (probably the same gators returning to their favorite spots.)

Most of the alligators shyly disappeared in the water as we approached. There was one that decided to cruise down the river in front of us, like he was our guide. If we got too close, he plunged under with a dramatic thrash, only to return to his spot in front a couple of times.

Other wildlife included a good variety of birds – many more heard than seen — and many turtles, big and small.

Manmade development is blessedly sparse on Prairie Creek, with a couple of rustic docks, the remains of what might have been a bridge on a ranch and a few houses set back from the water. We saw not one piece of litter.

What's left of a huge cypress tree along Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
What’s left of a huge cypress tree along Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

There are not many places to get out and stretch your legs. There are a few sandbars that would work — if they are not already occupied by alligators, which several were.

Large cypress trees, cypress knees and live oaks arching over the waterway created some beautiful scenes. (The early part of the creek did suffer from a blanket of an invasive kudzu-like vine.)

he launch site for kayaking Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The launch site for kayaking Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda. We pulled over as far into the weeds as we could so another car could get by to launch. Still, it would have been tight. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

From Florida Rambler: Punta Gorda: Seven things to do for a perfect getaway itinerary

Logistics on kayaking Prairie Creek in Punta Gorda

It’s easiest to navigate first to Hathaway Park, where you should stop to use the facilities, including toilets and picnic tables. This is where you launch for a delightful paddle on Shell Creek, which you should consider your backup plan if all launch parking is taken at Prairie Creek.

Hathaway Park
35461 Washington Loop Road
Punta Gorda

From Hathaway Park, continue on Washington Loop Road as it heads east and then north. Before the two-mile mark, look for the bridge over Prairie Creek and the gravel launch adjacent to the road on the right side.

Here’s a link to a map of the launch site. (On Google maps look for “prairie creek bridge launch.”)

Note: Thanks to our paddling friends Ed and Deborah Higgins, whose “More Paddles in Paradise,”  introduced us to little-known Prairie Creek.

More things to do in and near Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda: Seven things to do for a perfect getaway itinerary

Peace River Botanic and Sculpture Garden

Florida barrier islands: Explore less-visited gems such as Stump Pass Beach State Park

Boca Grande: Old Florida island on the Gulf is worth the trip & toll

Salt water kayaking on Gasparilla Sound


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