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Trip report: December 2019

Pine Island... Southwest Florida Paddling

Along the Great Calusa Blueway

Pine Island is in the Pine Island Sound Region of the Great Calusa Blueway. Located between the mainland and barrier islands (Cayo Costa, Captiva, and Sanibel), the water is shallow, with hundreds of small mangrove islands and few beach areas. Today, nearly all water and mangrove surrounding Pine Island is protected. To the east is Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve. To the west is Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve. Kayak fishing is popular. (map and photos below.)

paddle Pine Island, Matlacha, Great Calusa Blueway, kayak, canoe

Distance: Varies
Location: Lee County
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: Matlacha and Pine Island (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Sanibel and Captiva Islands

Rentals/Outfitters/Tours:

Gulf Coast Kayak (rentals, tours)

Carmen's Kayaks (rentals, tours)

Bocilla Island Seaport (rentals)

Pine Island... Comments and Photos

The paddling ranges from moderate to difficult, due to distances and open water, subject to wind and tide. Faster, low profile sit-ins and sea kayaks are best for paddling here. At 18 miles long, this is the largest island in southwest Florida. Thanks to the topography not being favorable for tourism, Pine Island retains an "Old Florida" feel, with no traffic lights and no chain restaurants or hotels!

Matlacha Launches

The only road onto the Island is SR 78 (Pine Island Rd.), first passing through the island village of Matlacha, FL, with its quaint shops and restaurants, situated in the middle of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve. Then onto Little Pine Island, a 4700-acre wetland preserve. Then the road crosses a small creek onto the main Island. Going through Matlacha from east to west, we visited two launches, the first is at an outfitter's shop, the other is at Matlacha Community Park. Fishing and exploring the mangrove are popular. Follow the trail markers, but remember the distances. Paddling south to Picnic Island off St. James City, or north to Bokeelia (the northern tip of the Great Calusa Blueway) are each about 10 miles one-way. The bridge at Matlacha is called the "fishingest bridge in the world" due to the tidal flow that creates good fishing conditions.

 

Launch along Causeway at Gulf Coast Kayak

On the right when first entering Matlacha, Gulf Coast Kayak offers onsite rentals and tours. With your own craft, a small launch fee applies. Easy on and off, this launch puts paddlers on the northeast side of the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve. From here, it's a short distance (with no channel to cross) to a series of mangrove islands, creeks, and trail that appear to provide some good wind sheltered paddling, an area we are told popular for fishing and bird watching (see map).


Launch at Matlacha Community Park

Located on the southwest side of the island, Matlacha Community Park has a boat ramp and separate hand launch, easy on and off. A parking fee applies. The Park also houses the Matlacha Community Center, restrooms, picnic pavilions, playground, and fishing pier (closed this day for repair). No rentals on site, but Carmen's Kayaks will meet you here.


Pine Island Launches

We visited three launches on the west side of Pine Island, shown south to north, from the community of Pineland (Pine Island Sound) to Bokeelia (Charlotte Harbor). This is mostly wide open water. A popular destination is Cayo Costa - reached by boat only - ferry service at marina. Camping available. The more ambitious can paddle across the channel to Boca Grande (for experienced kayakers only). While in the area, check out Pineland Monument Park, a site of ancient Calusa Indian culture (see below).

Monument Park Hand Launch

Located along Waterfront Drive in Pineland, just south of the marina, an easy roadside hand launch, but very limited parking. Some launch onto Pine Island Sound and paddle west to Part Island, Useppa Key, Cabbage Key, and Cayo Costa (7-8 miles with island-hopping, about 15 miles round-trip.) Nearby, we enjoyed visiting Pineland Monument Park and the Calusa Heritage Trail at Randall Research Center. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this site was once inhabited by the Calusa Indians, and includes ceremonial mounds and other historical remnants.


Pineland Marina

Pineland Marina is a full-service marina with parking, storage, boat ramp, store, ferry service to nearby islands, and fishing charters. An ADA compliant kayak launch is now available (launch fee). The entire marina parking lot was being re-paved on the day we visited, so we weren't able to see this launch. We're told that paddlers now park and launch here when the small parking area at the Monument Park launch is full.


Bocilla Island Seaport in Bokeelia

Fronting Charlotte Harbor, at the northern tip of Pine Island, Bokeelia is also the north end of the Great Calusa Blueway. Technically, Bocilla" is a separate island, divided from Pine Island by Jug Creek and Seagull Bay. Thus, "Bocilla Island Seaport" (boat ramp, parking, fee applies) also operates the "Bokeelia fishing pier" (daily entrance fee, but private, so no fishing licensed required). Kayak rentals are available, see the Dockmaster. This is the quiet side of the Island(s), and the side with the best water views. Jug Creek Marina (to the south and across Jug Creek, so technically on Pine Island), has ferries that run to Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa.

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