Science tells us if you want to live a longer, healthier life, get out into nature.
Take a walk, watch birds fly, reduce your stress by kayaking in tranquil waters – and leave your phone at home.
Kayaking, even more so than walking, helps you escape, takes you into watery worlds – worlds far away from highways, noise and worries.
Take a kayak trip around here and you’ll likely see majestic great blue herons, bubblegum pink roseate spoonbills, cackling kingfishers, leaping dolphins and beauty beyond anything you normally see day to day.
We’re lucky, this part of Florida has it all – the salty Gulf of Mexico, mostly shallow and calm Tampa Bay, lakes galore, sounds, marshes and bayous.
If you don’t have your own kayak, you can rent one from local outfitters. And, you can choose from one-person or tandem varieties, use paddles or your feet on the increasing popular pedal kayaks.
You can fish, race or coast. You can explore canopied mangroves. Or, you can paddle along marked trails.
No matter which way you float, you’ll be exercising and mentally decompressing – far from phones, politics, crazy drivers and information overload.
Here is a look at five local places sure to be worth a kayak trip:
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, 8737 U.S. 19 N., Port Richey
This park offers 4 miles of Gulf coastline, inlets and bayous and many springs, including Salt Springs, where you can view dolphins, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, red-tailed hawks, and all sorts of shorebirds and songbirds.
From the parking lot, a lengthy boardwalk leads to the kayak launch, so you must carry your own, which could be a hardship for some. The park does not rent kayaks.
Ranger-led tours are given the first Saturday of the month, starting at 10 a.m., at the kayak launch. You must have your own kayak and make reservations by calling (727) 816-1890.
This park also has picnic tables, restrooms, and nature trails through pine woods to springs. The trail to Salt Spring is a quarter of a mile long and is highlighted by a waterfall created by a spring that’s 351 feet deep.
Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily; fee is $3 per car with up to eight people, and $2 for bikers and pedestrians.
If you worked up an appetite kayaking or hiking and didn’t bring a picnic lunch, a variety of restaurants line U.S. 19. We like Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill, 7835 Bayview St., Port Richey, on the Pithlachascotee River, called “the Cotee” by locals. Call (727) 815-1178, or visit WhiskeyJoePortRichey.com, where you can make reservations.
Anclote Gulf Park, 2305 Baillies Bluff Road, Holiday
This 23-acre park straddles the Anclote River and the Gulf of Mexico, so it offers lots of watery beauty. You can launch a kayak from a sandy spot next to a fishing pier that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and paddle the river and Gulf.
The park itself is open from dawn to dusk daily. On a recent visit, anglers caught mangrove snappers, a night heron stood guard next to the pier and chattering kingfishers dove into the Gulf. Two men said they had just spotted three dolphins in the Anclote.
For more information about this Pasco County Park, call (727) 942-4030, or visit PascoCountyFl.net.
Historic Tarpon Springs is close-by and offers many good places for lunch. Our favorites are Tarpon Tavern, at 21 N. Safford Ave., for pub food. Call (727) 945-1000, or visit TarponTavern.com; and Mykonos, at 628 Dodecanese Blvd., for Greek specialties. Call (727) 934-4306.
Dunedin Causeway, Pinellas County
Take Florida 586 (Curlew Road) west to Causeway Boulevard
You can drop a kayak just about anywhere into St. Joseph Sound from the causeway to see dolphins, shorebirds and manatees in the warmer months. People who fish from kayaks tend to stay on the more tranquil north side of the causeway, but others try their luck on the south side near a small bridge leading to Honeymoon Island State Park.
Skilled kayakers can go farther afloat into the Gulf, or stay in the sound and paddle to Caladesi Island State Park, a barrier island in the Gulf that has a marina and kayak trails. Kayak rentals are available for $25 for one hour to three hours, at the park’s cafe.
Sail Honeymoon on the south side of the causeway rents kayaks for $35 for two hours, $45 for four hours, or $60 all day. The outfitter also rents fishing kayaks and tandems. For details, visit SailHoneymoon.com/kayak-rentals, or call (727) 734-0392.
A word of caution: On weekends, the sound can be crowded with boats and big yachts, whose captains don’t always see kayaks, so wear bright colored lifejackets, carry a whistle, keep close watch and wave your paddle in the air if you face danger.
For good food and good vibes, eat lunch at Frenchy’s Outpost Bar & Grill, at 466 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin. Call (727) 286-6139, or visit FrenchysOnline.com.
Philippe Park, 2525 Philippe Parkway, Safety Harbor; and, Safety Harbor City Marina Area, 110 Veterans Memorial Lane, Safety Harbor
This Pinellas County park has a boat launch and lots of grassy, low-lying spots in picnic areas where it’s easy to slip a kayak into Old Tampa Bay.
You can tool around the bay as far as you’d like. Much of it is shallow and safe, and within sight of land. We’ve seen beautiful birds along the shore – spoonbills, herons, egrets, pelicans and even flamingos. Once, a huge manatee scared us by popping up for breath right next to our kayak.
Park hours are 7 a.m. to dusk; admission is free.
You can also launch kayaks into the bay at the city marina and, on weekends, you can rent them from Tocobaga Tours, across the parking lot from the marina. Ken Bambery, a teacher who owns the company, charges $20 per hour, $25 for two hours, or $45 for a full day. He’s not always there, so call (727) 389-8687 for reservations.
Just across the street from the marina, Barfly Saltwater Grill, at 100 Main St., has tasty Caribbean seafood and other fare. Call (727) 400-4790, or visit BarflySafetyHarbor.com.
Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, 8001 Double Branch Road, Tampa
This park has one of the best kayak launches in the bay area. It’s a floating dock with bars you can hold onto to glide yourself into waterways that lead to Tampa Bay. Along the way, you’ll pass dense mangroves, salt marshes, pinewoods and thick hammocks.
Marked kayak trails lead the way to all sorts of wondrous sights. We once saw a dozen dolphins frolicking in the waters between the kayak launch and bay. Another time, we counted 27 roseate spoonbills in mangroves off the bay. It’s a wonderful place to see butterflies, and mullet, snook and red drum. Best of all, the waters here aren’t usually very crowded with boats, since it’s so shallow in most places.
The park rents kayaks for $25 for up to four hours. Other amenities include picnic areas, nature trails, a fishing pier and a nature center, closed now for renovations. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fee is $2 a car.
For more information about this park, call (813) 855-1765, or visit HillsboroughCounty.org.
For a tasty lunch and good craft beer, head to nearby Tampa Bay Brewing Co., at 13937 Monroes Business Park, Tampa (off Race Track Road, south of Tampa Bay Downs). Call (813) 247-1422, or visit TBBC.beer.
These suggestions are just a small sampling of places for kayaking in the Tampa Bay area. So grab a paddle, launch away, and savor the silence.
By Karen Haymon Long
Published January 08, 2020