Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beautiful canoe/kayak launches: Weedon Island, St. Petersburg, Florida

Weedon Island Preserve is a must see on foot and by kayak if you're visiting the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area of southern Florida. The preserve is part peninsula and a lot of islands.

The public canoe/kayak launch at Weedon Island is stunning. You'll find it next to the preserve’s long fishing pier at the end of Weedon Drive Northeast.

The South Trail
There is a basic map posted at the canoe/kayak launch of the numbered self-guided paddle trail. The paddle trail is a four-mile loop that winds through the mangrove forests, along islands and lagoons bordering Tampa Bay.

There is a public restroom next to the fishing pier.

You want to plan about three hours to complete the marked paddle trail and check the daily tide charts beforehand so as not get stuck in low tide.

I'm not a fan at all of paddling through narrow mangrove tunnels and avoid them. I like my kayak and my paddle to run free. There are lots of open areas to paddle here. Paddlers report that the marked trail will take you through some tight spots through mangrove tunnels into larger lagoons. I suppose some people enjoy the shade the tunnels provide from the sun during the hot summer months. If you're claustrophobic, you may want to plan your own navigation trail to stay in the open areas.

There are no alligators at Weedon Island Preserve. Yeah! That's high on my list of reptiles to avoid. Depending on the season you might see manatees. In the heat of summer they prefer deeper water. In winter, they prefer warmer shallows. You may also see mullet (fish) jumping, stingrays, and dolphins.

The paddling trails in Weedon Island Preserve are tide dependent 
This means, you need to paddle during high tide. The kayak friendly dock you can launch from is designed to rise and fall naturally with the tide. Two thumbs up!

You'll need to know the tide charts for the area or ask advice from a knowledgeable outfitter like Sweetwater Kayaks in St. Petersburg, Florida about the best times to paddle.

When we were in Florida in early January, the tides were particularly low in the mangrove trails and lagoons. Sweetwater Kayaks mentioned negative tides, so we scouted the preserve on foot.
Low tide paddle trails
Even with advice, everyone knows to read the tide charts themselves too. And bring a printed out map of the region you're going to paddle and a kayak compass minimum. Maybe a GPS. Marked trail or not, sometimes we wander off, miss a marker, or a marker can go missing. It would be easy to get lost or confused in here. Notice I mention the importance of tides several times over. It's no mistake.

Sweetwater Kayaks has a small kayak rental concession down the road from the canoe/kayak launch on Weedon Island with a basic selection of rec kayaks.
You need to contact them in advance or go by their big Sweetwater Kayaks store nearby on 10000 Gandy Blvd., if you want to rent a kayak or paddleboard, or to arrange for rental of a more performant kayak (some of us are picky and don't take to rec kayaks), or to purchase your own kayak.

Sweetwater Kayaks Rentals page also lists and links to local weather reports and tide charts for the Weedon Island area. There are other places to rent kayaks in southern Florida, but Sweetwater is the only outfitter with a concession on Weedon Island. They also help conservation efforts by organizing volunteers for clean up of the preserve.

The cost of kayak rentals and paddleboard rentals adds up quickly over a few days, and are expensive in southern Florida as well in most places we travel. This is often why we rent bikes for the day instead of kayaks. This is also why we bought our own kayaks and gear back home in Canada, but we can't transport it all unless we do a road trip. Lucky for you if you've got your own awesome gear along with you.

Birder's Paradise
Weedon Island Preserve is a birder's paradise. In January we saw hundreds of White Ibis, and bright pink Roseate Spoonbills in one of the big lagoons from a lookout boardwalk. Our cameras were unable to capture the overwhelming experience of the larger lagoons littered with beautiful birds across the water and in the branches of the mangrove forests.
lagoon at low tide
But we were able to capture a close up photo of a White Ibis feeding close by during low tide next to the lookout.
White Ibis make an odd, if not haunting, deep throated sound. It really resonated in the lagoon during the stillness and otherwise quiet of our January visit. While the wind was up in the Gulf, it was quiet and protected in the preserve.

Weedon Island is on my list of places to go back and explore more of the land trails and the paddle trails during high tide and warmer temperatures! Florida waters are cold in the winter. During our January visit water temps were 58F in the Gulf of Mexico and in the low 60sF in Tampa Bay. Something to remember even if the air temperatures are in the 70s to 80s Fahrenheit. I did jump into the Gulf for a swim without a wetsuit one day. I jumped right out one minute later.

For more information about paddling the preserve visit: 
Weedon Island Preserve, paddling launch information, Pinellas County
Make note: Visiting the preserve is free. No fees. Dogs are not allowed. Cycling the preserve land trails is not allowed. You'll have to hike it or paddle it.

You can also find lots of reviews of Weedon Island Preserve on Trip Advisor.

The canoe/kayak launch and the adjacent pier at Weedon Island Preserve are fabulous places to enjoy the sunset.
We'll visit more of the Weedon Island Preserve's mystical land trails and boardwalks in an upcoming post. Weedon Island Preserve is a large 3,190-acre natural area located on Tampa Bay. It's an archaeological area with an interesting history, some ghost tales, and it used to have a busy airport in the 1930s . . .

If the mangrove trails are lacking water during low tides, there is always plenty of open water in the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay,
and throughout the interesting tangle of Florida's over-populated intercoastal waterways.
Happy trails.
The BaffinPaddler

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