Kayaking the Great Calusa Blueway of Fort Myers

By: Jen Karetnick

October 14, 2015

Kayaking is undoubtedly an idyllic way to explore a region, but some adventures are more visually appealing than others. On a scale of powder to royal blue, paddling The Great Calusa Blueway through Lee County – where Fort Myers is located – could definitely be classified as indigo.

Named after the native Calusa Indians, the Blueway comprises 190 miles of Southwest Florida’s coastal waters and tributaries. But skimming the shores of Florida’s Gulf Coast, the sign-posted route is designed to be traversed in three legs, with 19 launch locations to set off from, suiting couples and families who like to spend their vacation doing something dynamic. Spanning the coast from Bonita Springs to Pine Island and heading inland as far as Alva – where you can take a break from kayaking with a guided Fossil Expeditions tour – the route passes by the communities of Boca Grande, Cape Coral, Estero, Sanibel and Captiva.

Kayaking the Great Calusa Blueway of Fort Myers | exploring the mangroves
Explore the waterways around Pine Island © The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

Manatees and dolphins are frequent sightings, and sometimes these aquatic mammals can even be playful with the slowly moving watercraft in the smaller creeks and byways. The region is rife with sea turtles, frogs and river otters, in addition to land mammals such as the foxes and raccoons that hang out on the shores of the mangrove creeks. Water birds are prevalent too, with pelicans plunging from the sky, great blue herons standing as still as tree trunks and impossibly pink roseate spoonbills.


Kayaking the Great Calusa Blueway doesn’t have to be strenuous with a number of routes to suit paddlers from novice to expert level. Beginners should generally take guided tours though, such as the nature and ecology tours offered by GAEA Guides and Adventure Sea Kayak or the short, bay-to-beach trips from Captiva Kayak Company. Away from deep water, some of these calm areas are only a foot or two deep.

Kayaking the Great Calusa Blueway of Fort Myers | kayaking in open waterKayak on open water near Fish House © The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

For a different experience, sign up for a guided full moon or ghost-themed tour. Archaeology enthusiasts might want to visit the historic Mound Key – an island where the Calusa king lived – or hire a fishing guide. Casting for and pulling in a catch from a kayak requires a bit of practice and a good deal of balance, so anglers relish the challenge of hauling fish in. Just be sure to check permit and licensing information first.


For overnight beach camping, try Red Coconut RV Park or in the woods at the Seminole Campground. Alternatively, stay at a bed-and-breakfast such as the Mango Street Inn or the renowned Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina.

Kayaking the Great Calusa Blueway of Fort Myers | looking out to sea
Explore the waters by Red Coconut RV Park © The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

And if you visit in November, coincide your visit with Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival. This ten-day event of exhilarating races, tournaments and tours is a sure way to make your experience of The Great Calusa Blueway even more memorable.


Our partnership with Delta connects you to and from a range of destinations across the United States and Canada, making it easier to book flights to Fort Myers.


Have you kayaked along the Great Calusa Blueway? What did you think? Let us know in the comments section below.


Header image: Paddle through the Blueway’s mangroves © The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel


Written by Jen Karetnick


Jen Karetnick

Miami-based poet, writer, critic and educator Jen Karetnick’s fourth chapbook of poetry, Prayer of Confession, is out now from Finishing Line Press, and her cookbook, Mango, is due October 7, 2014 from University Press of Florida. She also has a full-length book of poems, Brie Season, forthcoming from White Violet Press/Kelsay Books in late 2014. She works a million jobs, including Creative Writing Director at Miami Arts Charter School, dining critic at MIAMI Magazine, contributor to, mom of two teenagers, fur-mom to six rescue pets and caretaker of 14 mango trees. Jen is currently working on her twelfth book, From the Tip of My Tongue (Story Farm Press), a cookbook with Miami and Caribbean chef Cindy Hutson.

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