• Kayaking Florida’s Coastal Paddling Trail

    by Sally White, Guest Contributor
    Adventures of Mom

    “My bright blue kayak bobbed on the waves.  The wind picked up and the knot in my stomach tightened. To my left was the gaping mouth of the Weeki Wachee and Mud Rivers, and to my right was the endless Gulf of Mexico. I was but a speck in the great wide open sea. This was my first time paddling in open waters and my worry-wart mom-brain raced through the worst scenarios: swept out to sea, eaten by a shark, or even worse- facing a gator alone- were there even gators out here?

    I dipped my paddle into the water, each stroke putting distance between me and my mom-head- and then that sweet unexpected moment came- like an elusive green-flash at sunset– all I could see was the sky and earth in their infinite embrace, surrounding me…

    Located on Florida’s Adventure Coast, the Coastal Paddling Trail stretches 1.7 miles from Bayport Park on the Gulf of Mexico to Linda Pedersen Park, with an additional side trail through a tidal salt marsh to Redfish Bayou. Opened in 2017, the Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail was created to give paddlers an alternative to the overcrowding on the Weeki Wachee River. Considered an intermediate paddle trail, the weather and tides must be taken into consideration before tackling this paddle trip.

    TACKLING FLORIDA’S COASTAL PADDLING TRAIL

    I pushed off at Bayport with a small group of outdoor writers. The day prior we had floated down the Weeki Wachee River, but this morning, all but our small group rolled out of bed for this early adventure. I heeded the warnings from the day before about watching the tides and weather, and dutifully checked the tide times for Bayport. I heard stories about paddlers getting stuck in the mud on the Redfish Bayou side trail during low tide. I checked the NOAA weather map too- as a friend of mine told me she once had to turn back because it was too windy. But it promised to be a beautiful day.

    Two of the more experienced paddlers raced ahead. I confess, I tried to keep up with them, but found myself alone in the wide open waters between the mouth of the Weeki Wachee River and the Gulf of Mexico. I have a fear of not being near swimming distance to land- but with each stroke of the paddle, my fears and worries slid away, along with civilization. There’s something about being immersed in nature that brings peace.

    The signs on the paddle trail were easy to follow- except at marker #4- that’s when the sun cut across the water at such an angle that I couldn’t spot the next marker, but I watched as the two lead-paddlers raced across the water ahead. I almost followed them–almost, but I wasn’t sure if they were headed in the right direction (call it mom-instinct). Instead, I stayed at the marker and waited for the rest of the group to catch up. A local paddler, Cole Kolasa had joined our expedition, and I guessed he might know the right direction (yes, I’m not afraid to ask for directions- even out at sea). My instincts paid off, and Cole pointed out the next marker, farther to the right. (Thanks Cole!) And off I headed with the others up Jenkins Creek, as our lead paddlers back-tracked to the trail.

    How Trail Signs Work

    Much like hiking blazes, when you are at a trail sign, you are able to have an unobstructed view of the next sign so that you can navigate your path accordingly.

    Due to the tide going out, tackling the side trail to Redfish Bayou proved to be a challenge, but traveling the winding paths through high saw grass in this brackish backwater estuary was worth it. I’ve boated through salt marshes before, but have always wondered what it would be like to paddle them. The signs were a definite help- otherwise I would still be out there…lost in the marsh and mud. The return trip from the bayou was like getting pushed by the Silver River’s current- strong. I only needed to steer.

    A little later, I fought the current again, going through the tunnel under Shoal Line Boulevard- it’s fun- but tough. Maybe it would be easier with a high tide?

    The end of the trail at Linda Pedersen Park came all too soon, but it was good to finally get up and stretch. This paddle trail was nothing like the covered canopy of the Weeki Wachee River trip from the day before. Two places so close to one another, yet with completely different ecosystems.

    FOLLOW THE MARKERS: A GUIDE TO THE COASTAL PADDLE TRAIL BY NUMBERS

    Keep following the markers and you won’t get lost.

    Bayport Park Launch: You are greeted by the first signpost of the trail almost immediately. Each sign is clearly numbered with the trail name and also lets you know the distance traveled.

    Marker #1: This marker is at the starting point and end of the kayak launch channel. There will be picnic tables to your left on the bank. From here you must traverse the open waters, across the mouth of the Weeki Wachee and Mud River to your left and with the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico to your right.

    Marker #2: You’ve crossed the mouth of the river and now you will pass between  two coastal hammocks and again cross the open waters of the mouth of Jenkins Creek. This can feel like the longest stretch. Be aware of power boats in this area.

    Coastal Paddling Bayport Adv of Mom 2

    Marker #3: You are now on the right hand side of Jenkins Creek with the Gulf of Mexico at your back. Marker 4 is straight ahead up river. Keep an eye out for manatees.

    Marker #4: You are on Jenkins Creek and will not need to cross over the river again. Marker #5 was hard to spot from here- but it may have been due to the sunlight. Stay on the right and head upriver.

    Coastal Paddling Trail Paddler Cole Bayport
    Kayaker Cole Kolasa joins the Florida Outdoor Writers Association for a trip on the Coastal Paddle Trail

    Marker #5: You’ll be passing mangroves stretching their roots into the water. Keep right. The Redfish Bayou Trail is coming up on your right. It’s a marked trail too.

    REDFISH BAYOU TRAIL

    This side paddle trail takes you .75 miles winding through the sawgrass. It can be a challenge if the tide is going out, as you’ll be fighting it on your paddle to the bayou, but then you can just ride with the current on your way back to Jenkins Creek. Do not attempt if you are too near the height of low tide, as you can get stranded in the mud. There are many oyster beds, so be aware.

    Coastal Paddling Bayport Adv of Mom 3
    That moment when you see the earth and sky in their infinite embrace is indescribable.

     

    Redfish Bayou Trail is 1.5 mile round trip and with clearly marked signs, alphabetically from A to E. The trail opens up to a large bayou in the end. You may even see eagles nesting in the hammock trees. Return to Jenkins Creek and the main trail the way you came.

    Coastal Paddling Bayport Adv of Mom 4
    Outdoor writer, John Keatley of Florida Hikes! finds peace in nature on the Redfish Bayou Trail

    Marker #6: You will be back on Jenkins Creek. Follow the creek upriver to Marker 7. Stay to the right.

    Marker #7: You’re getting closer to the end. The creek begins to narrow.

    Marker #8: From here you may see some pull-offs on the left side of the creek, depending on tide times. This was the only ‘wild’ stopping point noted. These are probably fishing areas. From Marker 8 you will also see a long boardwalk to the left. This is Jenkins Creek Boat Ramp. You can get out for a leg stretch, but you are almost at the end of the trail.

    Coastal Paddling Bayport Adv of Mom 5
    Tackling the paddle against the tide through the tunnel beneath Shoal Line Boulevard

    Marker #9: By far the coolest marker point, this is the tunnel beneath Shoal Line Boulevard. You have to paddle through the tunnel and it will only fit one paddler at a time. During low tide the current through the tunnel can get strong, but the tunnel is short. When you get out the other side, you’ll see the wooden viewing tower of Linda Pedersen Park to your right.

    Marker#10: Takes you on a right turn down the channel to the exit. You will pass under a steel footbridge- part of the Linda Pedersen Park complex.

    Marker #11:  This marker is located on the left side of the river once you go under the footbridge. This is the paddle launch of Linda Pedersen park & the exit ramp. The ramps are steep and very slippery when wet. Take caution.

    You can end your trip here if you have a waiting shuttle or car, or you can turn around and follow the markers back to Bayport Park.

    Paddling the Bayport – Linda Pedersen Coastal Paddling Trail on Florida’s Adventure Coast. Have you tackled it yet?

    Things to Know Before You Go:

    1. Check the tide times and weather before tackling this paddle trail.
    2. Dress appropriately. Bring sunscreen/sun protection. There is no shade on this paddle.
    3. Bring water and stay hydrated.
    4. Be smart, stay safe, respect the wildlife, and always carry out any trash that you bring.
    5. Bayport Park is located at 4140 Cortez Blvd, Spring Hill, FL 34607. You’ll find restrooms, picnic tables, boat ramps, fishing pier & concessions. Parking fee.
    6. Linda Pedersen Park is located at 6300 Shoal Line Blvd. (CR595) Spring Hill, FL 34607. There you will find restrooms, picnic tables, a 40-foot observation tower (over the footbridge), a playground, sandy beach and  seasonal swimming area. No fee.
    7. Jenkins Creek Park & Boat Ramp is located at 6401 Shoal Line Blvd, Spring Hill, FL 34607. There is a fishing pier, rest rooms & picnic tables. Parking fee.

    Staying in Weeki Wachee?

    There are many hotels located in nearby Spring Hill. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, located 5 minutes south of Weeki Wachee State Park  -3528 Commercial Way – (US 19) Spring Hill, Florida 34606. Clean hotel, friendly staff, and hot breakfast included.

    If you prefer a more laid-back style, Mary’s Fish Camp is located just up the Mud River. It has fully-furnished rental cabins, RV sites, tent camping…and fishing, of course 😉 You can find the fish camp on Mary’s Fish Camp Rd in Weeki Wachee, Florida 34607.

    What about those Gators? This is Florida- and there are gators. This co-existence is a fact of life in the sunshine state and although Bayport is on the saltier Gulf of Mexico,  alligators will swim into the salty waters to feed before returning to the fresh water. Be alligator-aware when paddling and with all water sports in Florida and the Southeastern United States.

    Sally White, Author

    Hey, I’m Sally White. Artist, Parenting &Travel Writer, Avid Florida Spring Hunter & Former Greek Island Ex-Pat. I’ve been writing about the outdoors & family adventures since 2007. (But only recently bragging about this 10lb catch!)

    My paddle adventure on Florida’s Coastal Paddling Trail was courtesy of  Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau and Kayaks & Attractions Rentals, but the opinions and thoughts in this article are all my own.

     Coastal Paddling Trail Paddler Cole Bayport

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