Great Calusa Blueway


The Great Calusa Blueway

January 15-21, 2021

Paddling Itinerary:

DayLunch StopLunch MilesCamp SiteDaily Miles
1N/AN/AKoreshan State Historic Site0
2Mound House, Ft. Myers Beach8Bowditch Point Park, Estero Island11
3Tropical Point Part, St. James City12Sirenia Vista Park, Cape Coral18
4Jug Creek Cottages, Bokeelia10Tropic Star Adventures, Bokeelia15
5Cayo Costa State Park8Cayo Costa State Park8
6Cayo Costa State Park0Cayo Costa State Park0
7End: Tropic Star Adventures88
Total Miles60

Bask in the history, culture, and beauty of Southwest Florida as we explore 60 miles of Lee County’s rivers, bays, creeks, mangrove tunnels, aquatic preserves, Calusa shell mounds, and pristine white-sand barrier islands.

Evening Programs: Evening programs will include educational speakers and live music.

Refund Policy

Due to the financial outlay and costs incurred by Paddle Florida during event planning, any force majeure, which includes but is not limited to water levels, inclement weather, and any other Acts of God not mentioned herein, shall not result in the refund of any fees paid to Paddle Florida. Absolutely no fees will be refunded after 15 days before the event begins. Before each trip registration deadline, requests for fee refunds will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

***You will receive a confirmation email message 7 - 10 days before the event with all the latest details on the trip***

Shuttle Details: Paddlers will leave their vehicles at the launch point, Koreshan State Historic Site, for the duration of the trip. At the trip’s conclusion, paddlers and their boats and gear will be shuttled back to Koreshan.

Boat & Gear Recommendations

For this trip, we recommend sit-in kayaks of 14 feet or more in length equipped with a rudder or skeg and a spray skirt. You should have solid kayaking, rescue, wet exit, and swimming skills. If you have any questions about the kind of environment you will encounter on this trip, please contact Bill Richards at

Paddle Florida Policies

  • All paddlers must attend the trip overview and orientation on the first evening. Paddlers must adhere to the safety guidelines presented.
  • All paddlers must wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD) and whistle at all times on the water.
  • Paddlers under age 18 are the responsibility of, and must be accompanied by, a parent or guardian. No more than two children under the age of 12 per adult guardian.
  • Sorry, no pets allowed.
  • All paddlers must provide an emergency contact information and sign a Waiver of Claims and Release of Liability form. Parents must sign for their children under the age of 18.
  • People-powered watercraft only.
  • Paddle Florida adheres to all rules put forth by the public parks we stay in, including the ban on alcoholic beverages.
  • All paddlers must respect private property along waterways.
  • All paddlers must have basic paddling and swimming skills
  • Violations of any of these policies can result in the paddler being removed from the event without refund.

Trip Itinerary

Day 1/Friday, January 15: Koreshan State Historic Site Paddling Miles: 0

We’ll be kicking off our week on the Great Calusa Blueway at Koreshan State Historic Site. The Koreshan Unity settled here in 1894 and believed that the entire universe existed within a giant hollow sphere. You’ll be able to explore what remains of their once vibrant community during our time here. Paddlers will check in between 1-5PM and set up tents prior to the kick-off dinner and orientation for the paddling adventure to come. Throughout the week, dinner will be served at 6PM each night, followed by an evening program at 7PM. Nightly entertainment ranges from musicians to educational speakers who will provide insights regarding the flora, fauna, history, and ecology of the region we’re paddling through. Be sure to bring a camera to capture and preserve some great moments.

Day 2/Saturday, January 16: Koreshan State Historic Site to Bowditch Regional Park, Estero Island Paddling Miles: 11

After a hearty breakfast, paddlers will launch onto the Estero River, which meanders through oak hammocks and pine flatwoods into Estero Bay, the first aquatic preserve established in Florida. Mound Key Archeological State Park, near the mouth of the Estero, is a shell mound. At 30 feet in height, it is believed to be the ceremonial center for the Calusa. We’ll stop for lunch at the Mound House, the oldest home on Fort Myers Beach, featuring an underground museum interpreting 2,000 years of island life.

Our paddle continues through Matanzas Pass, which parallels the 7-mile long island of Estero. Matanzas, meaning slaughter in Spanish, is believed to be the location of many skirmishes between the Calusa and Spanish when they tried to settle here. Our camping destination for the day is Bowditch Regional Park on the northern tip of Estero Island.

Day 3/Sunday, January 17: Bowditch Regional Park to Sirenia Vista Park, Cape Coral - Paddling Miles: 18

Leaving Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island, we cross the Caloosahatchee River as it meets the Gulf of Mexico near charming Sanibel Island. Famous for its sunsets and shelling, two-thirds of the 33-square mile island is protected and managed as conservation land. The Blueway forks here and we will paddle Matlacha Pass 8 miles north, enjoying sites of the National Wildlife Refuge bearing the same name. There’s an opportunity for an optional stop in Matlacha, home of the “World’s Fishingest Bridge,” for a song and/or suds at the Old Fishhouse Marina.

Our lunch spot will be at Tropical Point Park located in St. James City at the southern end of 17-mile long Pine Island. Our evening campsite will be at the City of Cape Coral’s Sirenia Vista Park, named for the manatees that seek winter refuge in this area when Gulf water temperatures dip below 70 degrees.

Day 4/Monday, January 18 : Sirenia Vista Park to Tropic Star Adventures - Paddling Miles: 15

An early start will take us through Buzzards Bay (tide permitting), across Matlacha Pass to Jug Creek (for lunch), located on the northern portion of Pine Island and then down to Tropic Star Adventures past the Pineland Marina (to camp for the night). Much of the land on either side of Matlacha Pass is conservation land, resulting in prime birding opportunities. With a sub-tropical climate, two-thirds of Pine Island is devoted to palm and tropical fruit farms. This area took a direct hit from Hurricane Charley in 2004. Damage to the mangrove vegetation that fringes and protects these coastal communities can still be seen.

Our campsite tonight will be Tropic Star Adventures, which is past Pineland Marina. We will be walking to Randell Research Center, the site of the evening program. Pine Island is a 17-mile long island encircled by three aquatic preserves and bordered with mangroves.

Day 5/Tuesday, January 19: Tropic Star Adventures to Cayo Costa State Park - Paddling Miles: 8

As we cross Pine Island Sound today, tides will dictate our path. Shallow and dotted with more Calusa mounds, this area’s healthy estuary full of fish and shellfish lured a community of nearly 10,000 Calusa for several centuries.

Our destination is Cayo Costa State Park, the largest undeveloped barrier island in southwest Florida. While we’ll be paddling there, the Tropic Star ferries campers and day visitors daily to the island, which features six miles of hiking trails and some of the best shelling in Florida. We’ll be spending two nights here to enjoy the hospitality of state park staff and volunteers who passionately maintain this unique island park.

Day 6/Wednesday, January 20: In and around Cayo Costa State Park - Paddling Miles: You decide!

Today is our layover day and you’ll be able to choose your activity level, including none at all! There will be opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, beachcombing, and day paddles to nearby islands and mangrove tunnels. The park rents bicycles, so you can swap paddles for pedals and explore the bike trails on this beautiful barrier island.

Lunch snacks will be provided at the park, to eat there or take with you on a day paddle. Another fun option is to paddle a couple miles over to the Inn on Cabbage Key and eat lunch at the restaurant. Cabbage Key also offers lovely hiking trails and a tower you can climb to see an aerial panoramic view of the region’s islands.

Day 7/Thursday, January 21: Cayo Costa State Park to Pine Island - Paddling Miles: 8

After breakfast we will pack up and paddle back across Pine Island Sound. A final celebratory lunch will be served before the shuttle returns paddlers and their boats and gear to Koreshan State Historic Site.

Mission Statement

PADDLE FLORIDA is a non-profit corporation that promotes water conservation, wildlife preservation, springs restoration, and waterways protection via fun and educational multi-day paddling trips in Florida’s most spectacular river and coastal environments. The vehicle for carrying out this mission is the staging of the multi-day paddling/camping trips in each of Florida’s five water management districts from October to April each year. Paddle Florida also seeks to promote Florida as an international destination for nature-based tourism in general, and paddling in particular.

Ranging from three to six days, trips are open to all paddling skill levels and designed to maximize enjoyment of Florida’s natural environments while engaging and empowering citizens so that they may become involved in the protection and restoration of our waterways.

If you wish to be pampered by professional guides, this isn’t the trip for you. But, if you want to experience a real community brought together under a common goal and by the thrill of adventure, Paddle Florida is the trip for you

The Meal Plan

Your Paddle Florida trip fee covers the meal plan, which provides hearty catered breakfasts and dinners, plus daily lunch snacks of assorted fruits, sandwich items, snacks, and drinks.

General Guidelines


Each paddler is limited to two bags and a total of 40-pounds of luggage. You have to haul your baggage and place it in the gear truck each morning, and haul it back to your campsite each evening of the trip. After paddling all day (about 8,000 paddle strokes per day), a 40-pound bag is really heavy. We recommend you pack as lightly and tightly as possible. This saves your back and the backs of your fellow paddlers. Everyone is expected to assist with the loading and unloading of the truck during the week.

Items we would rather not see in your luggage include bulky chaise lounge chairs, framed bedding/cots, and boxes without tops. Your gear should be packed so that it will not get wet. In the afternoon, your baggage may be removed and placed outside the gear truck where it will be exposed to the elements. Overnight rains may result in gear being packed up wet. A wet tent on top of your clothes bag will result in wet clothes. Plan on inclement weather and make sure you have a bag that will protect important gear in the event of rain.

Please place a label on your luggage with your name on it and make sure your bags are secure.

Suggested Packing Lists

For Water: [Note: Unless you’re wearing it, every item you bring should be secured to your boat. Carabiners and bungee cords can be handy devices for this purpose.]

  1. Boat and paddle.  Need to rent? Estero River Outfitters
  2. PFD.  Every Paddle Florida participant must wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device while on the river (no ifs, ands, or buts).
  3. Every kayak and canoe should have two lines, a bow line and a stern line, each 8-10 feet in length, secured in such a way that they are readily accessible, but cannot come loose accidentally. Loose ropes increase the risk of entanglement in the event of a capsize.  Kayaks should have grab-loops at both bow and stern.
  4. An extra throw rope in case of emergencies should be stored safely in each boat.
  5. Attach a whistle to your PFD or body to signal for help in case of emergency.
  6. A knife.
  7. Waterproof matches or other fire source in waterproof covering.
  8. First aid kit—each vessel should bring a first aid kit stored inside a waterproof covering.
  9. Repair kit—each vessel should be able to make their own repairs (i.e., duct tape, sealant, waterproof tape).
  10. Rain gear—be prepared to get wet and potentially cold. Every participant should have access to a lightweight jacket or fleece, rain jacket, and rain pants or kayak skirt.
  11. Dry change of clothes—be prepared to take an unexpected swim. Every participant should have access to a dry change of clothes kept in a waterproof covering.
  12. Appropriate close-toed footwear that will protect your feet from unseen underwater hazards and permit you to walk comfortably on slippery and jagged limestone when launching and taking out.  Flip flops do not meet these criteria.
  13. Sun protection—sunburn might be the trip’s biggest hazard. Bring ample sunscreen and wear a protective hat and sunglasses.
  14. Mask and snorkel? You’ll be paddling by a dozen or so springs on this trip. Explore them!
  15. Water—drinking water will be readily available along the Paddle Florida route. Bring sufficient water bottles for the day’s paddle for everyone in your boat.
  16. Food—there is little access to restaurants or grocery stores along the Paddle Florida route. Lunch snacks each day are provided to registered participants. You may also want to bring along your own snacks.
  17. Dry Bag or Ziploc—bring a waterproof bag to protect additional items you don’t want to get wet, like your camera or cell phone.
  18. GPS unit? We’ll give you a map, but a GPS unit might also be handy to note locations of campsites and springs.

For Land:

  1. Tent
  2. Sleeping bag, pad, and pillow
  3. Camp chair
  4. Clothes to keep you comfortable in temperatures generally ranging from 50-85 degrees. Think layers. You’ll likely be wearing more during potentially chilly mornings, then peeling off layers as the day progresses. Remember dry shoes for when you’re in camp and keep in mind there are often hiking trails available at the parks we camp in.
  5. Bathing suit, plus maybe a mask, snorkel, and/or fins. You will be paddling and camping near some of the state’s most beautiful first-magnitude springs on this trip. Enjoy them!
  6. Headlamp and/or flashlight.
  7. Toiletries and medications.
  8. Other tent items: reading materials, iPod, ear plugs…?
  9. A camera to record the awesome memories you’ll be making!

We look forward to paddling with you. Please contact us if you have questions!

Documents Attached to Great Calusa Blueway:
2019 - 2020 USCA Waiver Release Form
Flager Trip 2019 - Paper Registraton Form
Flager Trip Itinerary - 2019
Registration Information