Punta Gorda river is an easy kayak outing into authentic Florida
Most Florida kayakers and canoeists know the Peace River at Arcadia, but less than 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.
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.
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.
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.
Planning your kayak trip
35461 Washington Loop Road
- There are two side-by-side entrances to Hathaway Park. Kayakers are supposed to use the concrete boat launch. We saw some paddlers aso using the closed kayak launch, marked with signs warning you away, in the second parking lot, which also serves the 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.
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!
Find accommodations near Shell Creek
Find a campsite near Shell Creek
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.
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
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.
Tuesday 11th of December 2018
Thanks! Too bad. It is an awesome river. Will check out if there are alternatives.