Telegraph Creek, a tributary of the Caloosahatchee River located between LaBelle and Fort Myers, is all the things I love about kayaking destinations – out-of-the-way, uncrowded, scenic, quiet and full of wildlife.
Telegraph Creek is a route on Lee County’s Great Calusa Blueway and in 2020, the county acquired and improved the launch site so that there are now 10 parking spaces.
The creek was once home to a wild-animal farm with llamas frequently spotted by paddlers. Sadly, they have moved elsewhere.
An easy paddle on Telegraph Creek
It’s an easy paddle. You head upstream until you run out of time, get tired or come across more snags than you want to deal with, and then you paddle back. There’s a minor current and the river is deep enough to be do-able during the dry season. We paddled at a very leisurely pace for 90 minutes and then turned around when we came to a log that blocked our way.
Telegraph Creek is also a shady paddle. Our day there had temperatures in the 80s and we were comfortable, thanks to the large oak trees that arched over the 20-foot-wide creek. The landscape is full of airplants, Spanish moss, cypress knees and swamp lilies.
The first section of the river passes through an area with homes visible along the river. The houses, though, are surrounded by trees and set back from the water so they don’t detract from the beauty of the surroundings.
Eventually, homes give way to a county preserve and the creek gets wilder. The banks get higher and some feature limestone outcroppings.
As you progress upstream, a forest dominated by live oak trees with long limbs arching over the water changes and you see more cypress trees with thier knobby knees. Some of the cypress are huge and probably hundreds of years old.
The wildlife along Telegraph Creek is plentiful. We saw uncountable turtles, a few alligators, kingfishers, heron and egrets.
On the Telegraph Creek, you are immersed in a Florida you might have thought had disappeared. It hasn’t, but you have to seek it out.
Where to launch your kayak at Telegraph Creek
The launch site is right along Telegraph Creek where it goes under the rural and scenic SR 78/North River Road, which runs along the north side of the Caloosahatchee.
Where the river crosses SR78, at about 15700 N. River Road, there is space along the west side of the bridge for about 10 cars to park. You can pull your kayak down the embankment, launch and head upstream.
Paddlers also can launch from the Franklin Locks on the south side of the river and paddle to the mouth of the creek. You get to Telegraph in a little under mile. There is an oxbow island to paddle around on the way there.
Note: In spring 2020, a small bridge over Telegraph Creek is being reconstructed about a mile upstream of the launch site. We found the workers would move their floating barrier to allows us through. We met other kayakers, however, who turned around at that point.
Renting kayaks: There is no outfitter at the location. GAEA Guides runs guided tours here periodically.
Camping near Telegraph Creek
Camping at WP Franklin Campground, 17850 N Franklin Lock Rd, Alva, is ideal for this kayak trip, as you can put in right at the campground. Located on a peninsula in the Caloosahatchee adjacent to the lock and dam, it is a beautiful, quiet location with every campsite having a water view. It is clearly designed for RVs, offering standard electric, though tents are allowed. (There are “cruiser” sites designed for boat campers.) Details about WP Franklin Campground.
Camping at Caloosahatchee Regional Park, 19130 North River Road, Alva, is also very convenient. It’s three miles from Telegraph Creek. Primitive tent camping is available and here are details.
Lodging: I-75 is about a half hour away, with the usual hotel options along its exits in the Fort Myers area.
Things to do near Telegraph Creek
Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to exploring the area along the Caloosahatchee River.
Another recommended kayaking river is Orange River and Manatee Park, an excellent place to see manatees in the winter and another beautiful kayak trail on the Calusa Blueway.
The recreation-rich Fort Myers area is 20 minutes away.
Places to explore near Fort Myers
- Six Miles Cypress Slough Preserve
- Fort Myers Beach: Charming seaside getaway
- Lovers Key State Park for manatees, kayaking and beaches
- Mound Key State Archaeology Site
- Cayo Costa State Park: Dreams of a private island
- What makes Sanibel special and nine ways to experience it.
Places to explore near Naples
- Naples: Rich in nature, beaches and boating
- Corkscrew Preserve in Naples
- Barefoot Beach is on Southwest Florida’s wild side
- Clam Pass Park, a Naples beach where you ride the tide
- Koreshan State Historic Site: Wacky Florida history; lovely spot preserved
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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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.
Tuesday 20th of December 2022
12.19.22: an excellent post-Ian paddle, upstream, pretty much as described in the article. Unfortunately, we encountered an impass of downed trees in and across the creek at about 1.3 miles, and were leery of damaging our heavy-duty inflatable kayak (after an earlier Turner River mangrove tunnel mishap). Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip and will return to this " Old Florida" location.
Notes: The surge also washed debris up into the trees and scoured the banks. A hard sided kayak is recommended, even though we had successfully gone over a lot of debris. Clean restrooms are available at the locks' campground.
Tuesday 20th of December 2022
Thank you SO MUCH for the post-Ian update. I hadn't heard anything about the conditions there and I didn't contact the folks at Lee County Parks because I know they've got a lot going on. I expect that eventually the downed trees will be removed, but it may take a while.
Tuesday 25th of February 2020
Feb 25, 2020. The put-in on SR 78 is now finished and is lovely. Large sign, well marked, room for 4 cars, the no tresspassing signs gone. Thanks for this info! We are 4 paddlers from the Maryland area on a gypsy paddling vacation. This was a great creek! We made it 2.75 miles (according to GPS) upstream of SR 78, and it took 90 minutes each way as you stated. We saw one 6 foot gator and one small two footer who did not move as we passed a few feet away. There are a few tiny beaches where you can get out and walk around a few paces, all on the upper half of the run. An enjoyable day.
Tuesday 25th of February 2020
We did this paddle yesterday. The launch site has been upgraded by Lee County - the car pad has been leveled and "shelled" and all the no parking and trespass signs are gone. Although we didn't see any exotic animals the paddle was lovely and serene. There is a lot of dead fall in the creek but we were able to get around any obstacles without the need to portage. A little farther north (Exit 164) is Shell Creek, also a nice paddle but more crowded. If you do Shell Creek make sure to stop at the Peace River Seafood Restaurant for a really good meal!
Friday 28th of February 2020
I LOVE Peace River Seafood! A great tip.
I was back at Shell Creek this winter and it looks like it has gotten busier and more popular than when I first paddled it several years ago. The first time, we saw nobody. This year, there were a number of paddlers. I think it's a reflection of the growing popularity of kayaking.