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Kayak Shell Creek for one of the prettiest kayak trails you’ve never heard of

Punta Gorda river is an easy kayak outing into authentic Florida

Most Florida kayakers and canoeists know the Peace River at Arcadia, but a half hour away, there’s a little-known river with appealing scenery and wildlife — Shell Creek.

Shell Creek is easy to access via Hathaway Park, a county park with picnic tables, rest rooms and a boat launch

From there you can kayak eight miles east up Shell Creek as it twists and reveals new vistas at every turn. If you head west, you can paddle five miles to the dam near where the creek  meets the Peace River.

Every twist in Shell Creek brought a new gorgeous view.
Every twist in Shell Creek in Punta Gorda brought a new lovely view. (Photos: Bonnie Gross)

We’ve paddled Shell Creek twice a few years apart, both times heading east, which is described as the most scenic section. The first time, we saw almost no paddlers. The second time, we passed several small groups of kayakers. 

The scenery was unchanged and lovely: Live oaks decorated with Spanish moss arch over the creek. Gnarly cypress trees poke out of the the river and line the shores. Turtles sun on fallen logs and shy alligators stretched out on shores and branches — until we approached. Kingfishers, egrets and hawks shared their piece of Old Florida with us.

Small, shy gators were easy to spot along Shell Creek near Punta Gorda
Shy gators were easy to spot along Shell Creek near Punta Gorda when we visited a few years ago. On a recent visit where we saw more kayakers on the river, the gators were not out sunning. (Photo Bonnie Gross)

The clear water of Shell Creek is the source of drinking water for Punta Gorda. A dam maintains the water level and thus there is only a slight current. The banks of the river at times are five and six feet high, often embedded with shells left from a prehistoric sea that covered the area.

Turtles were everywhere along Shell Creek near Punta Gorda
Turtles were everywhere along the Punta Gorda kayak trail.(Photo Bonnie Gross)

Despite the higher banks, we did find an attractive sandy bank where we had a picnic, and we vowed to return another time and see more of the creek as it gets wilder as it winds east. 

Shell Creek: Beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda
Shell Creek: Kayaking Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Planning your kayak trip

Hathaway Park
35461 Washington Loop Road
Punta Gorda

  • There are two side-by-side entrances to Hathaway Park. Kayakers can use the concrete boat launch or an unimproved kayak launch in the second parking lot, which also serves a picnic area. 

  • This is an easy paddle perfect for beginners, and even long touring kayaks can handle the turns. You can make the trip as long or short as you want. Just turn around and head back when ready.
  • Fishermen say there’s good fishing for pan fish and crappies upstream. As you head downstream, they say they catch bass.

Cypress trees at Shell Creek, a beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda
Cypress trees at Shell Creek, a beautiful kayak river near Punta Gorda. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Make a weekend of visiting Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda is a cool little historic town. Here’s a Florida Rambler roundup of things to do in Punta Gorda— from a great car museum to good bicycling trails to one of Florida’s most classic crab shacks, Peace River Seafood.

Kayakers will find this a good destination because you can paddle fresh water like Shell Creek on Saturday and then spend Sunday on salt water in the gorgeous mangrove-lined Gasparilla Sound, with dolphins, white pelicans and roseate spoonbills to delight you. Here’s a report on sea kayaking in Gasparilla Sound.

The Charlotte County Blueway Trails map lists 57 trails!

Cow In Shell Creek, Punta Gorda
A cow grazed on vegetation along Shell Creek. Most of the land along Shell Creek is undeveloped or has an occasional private home. This cow, however, attests to the fact that there are some ranches also along the creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Find accommodations near Shell Creek

Find a campsite near Shell Creek

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James Jordan

Sunday 12th of March 2023

Question, re post-Ian conditions: we run inflatable, heavy duty kayaks, but are obviously concerned about debris (trees, etc) in the water. Any trip reports on this specific topic would be appreciated, as we are going to give it a try in the last week of March 2023 to patronize the Punta Gorda locals. Thanks very much. James

Dave Cannon

Sunday 9th of December 2018

Thanks for the post. I happened to be in Punta Gorda this weekend. 12-9-18. First time. When I put "kayak Punta Gorda" in my favorite web browser, of course, this came up close to the top of the page. Your directions are spot on. However, the kayak/canoe launch is closed. No explanation. From the water, it looks pretty beat up. water -eroding it is my guess.

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 11th of December 2018

Thanks! Too bad. It is an awesome river. Will check out if there are alternatives.

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