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Latest update: December 2014

Little Manatee River...

Kayaking an Outstanding Florida Water

The Little Manatee River, listed as an "Outstanding Florida Water" (a water designated worthy of special protection because of its natural attributes), flows 40 miles from near Fort Lonesome, FL, to Tampa Bay and includes a 10-mile designated paddling trail near Ruskin. The Designated Paddling Trail from the US 301 bridge to Wildcat Park is a generally easy paddle though the current can get strong at high water. The river north of 301 (off the paddling trail) is more technical, and inexperienced paddlers are not encouraged to tackle this section. (Detailed map and photos below.)

paddle Little Manatee River, kayak, canoe

Little Manatee River Paddling Map

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Distance: 10 mile Designated Paddling trail between US 301 bridge and Wildcat Park, Ruskin, FL; 40 miles total from Fort Lonesome to Tampa Bay
Location: Hillsborough County (Ruskin)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Partial, as the river approaches Tampa Bay
Launch points: Paddling Trail: US 301 bridge, Little Manatee River State Park, 24th Street, Wildcat Park (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Little Manatee River State Park, Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve


Canoe Outpost (rentals)

Support and Advocacy:

Friends of the Little Manatee River
Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center

 Page Summary:

  1. Paddling on the Little Manatee River
  2. On the Designated Paddling Trail
    - US 301 to 24th St. Launch, Manatee Loop
    - Launches on the Paddling Trail
  3. Little Manatee River - SR 579 Bridge to US 301
    - SR 579 put-in, FPL Intake Station, Orange Blossom Special Train Trestle, US 301 (Canoe Outpost)
  4. Wildlife
  5. More About Little Manatee River
  6. More Information and Resources

Paddling on the Little Manatee River... Comments and Photos

The tannic Little Manatee River is generally shallow with a sand bottom and many places to pull over to stretch or picnic. Upstream the river is more narrow and twisty, through cypress, willow, sand palm, cedar and oak forest. Downstream it widens as it approaches Tampa Bay and includes large areas of tidal marsh. Motorboats are more common in this area.

Designated Paddling Trail - US 301 to 24th St. Launch

This section is wider and less technical than the section upstream (see description, below), better suited for the novice paddler. Exploring scenic side creeks is fun in this section, we also saw more wildlife here.

Canoe Outpost/US 301 to State Park - 3 miles

We launched from Canoe Outpost (outfitter) at the US 301 bridge, and paddled downstream on the Designated Paddling Trail to the State Park.

Manatee Loop

Paddling around Manatee Loop where we saw a great spot for a home, and passed the kayak/canoe dock at Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center.

State Park to 24th Street Launch - 3.5 miles

From the State Park, we continued downstream on the trail to the 24th St. Launch. We met some other paddlers, and saw some motor boats (manatee zone posted).

Downstream from 24th Street Launch

We explored some of the side creeks downstream from 24th Street. We found a great beach to stretch and snack, and saw some boys having fun.

Launches on the Paddling Trail

US 301 Bridge - Canoe Outpost
Access Point 1 (mile 0)

There's a drop off under the bridge, the better launch (parking, restrooms, water) is at Canoe Outpost nearby (fee applies).

Little Manatee River State Park
Access Point 2 (mile 3)

The boat landing is at the end of a flight of steps with a steep drop at the end. A better choice is the launch at the youth group campsite.


24th Street
 Access Point 3 (mile 6.5)

A short drag from parking to launch. Parking (limited), no restrooms


Wildcat Park
Access Point 4 (mile 10)

End of trail. Launch at the boat ramp. Parking, picnic, no restrooms.

Little Manatee River - SR 579 Bridge to US 301

On this trip, we used the Canoe Outpost (outfitter) shuttle to put in at the SR 579 bridge, upstream from the paddling trail. From the launch, we paddled about 1.5 miles upstream, then downstream about 6.5 miles to the US 301 bridge (start of the paddling trail), returning to the outfitter. This section is more technical than the paddling trail, best for kayaks, not canoes. Watch for tight turns, submerged objects and low branches. At low water, there are areas where it will be necessary to drag your vessel.

Upstream from the SR 579 bridge

Downstream from SR 579 bridge to FPL Intake Station


Intake Station to Orange Blossom Special Train Trestle


Orange Blossom Special Trestle to Canoe Outpost/US 301

The famous "Orange Blossom Special" passenger train once crossed the river on this trestle. We found a good beach to stretch and snack near the old trestle. This is a popular area for local ATV riders.


The river is popular for fishing, with mullet, trout, snook, reds and other fish. Alligators, otters, turtles, deer, bobcats, assorted birds, and other wildlife are seen. Manatee can be found near the southern end at Tampa Bay.

More About Little Manatee River

Stretching from Tampa Bay and bordering Little Manatee River State Park, part of the river is encompassed within the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. Designated as Outstanding Florida Water, this is one of the most unspoiled areas in Florida. The State Park has parking, restrooms, picnicking, camping, playground, fishing, hiking and equestrian trails.

More Information and Resources

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