The mangrove trails at Weedon Island are the coolest ever

A few months ago, I posted a Friday photo from Weedon Island Preserve, in St. Petersburg. The photo was a few years old, but I revisited the park recently to kayak the trails for probably the tenth time.

There’s lots of great kayaking in Florida, and lots in the Tampa Bay area, but nowhere comes close to Weedon Island.  Watch the video for a good summary:

Weedon is located in on the Tampa Bay side (as opposed to the Gulf side) of St. Petersburg.  Even though it’s been open to the public for the last 80 years, you’d be surprised how many people in the Bay area have never even heard of it.

The island has a fascinating history, and if you’re interested in it, I’d suggest reading this or checking out the Cultural and Natural History Center located on-site.

Fishing at Weedon Island

A fisherman casts his net off the old wooden bridge.

The history of Weedon Island, in a large nutshell:

A thousand years ago, the island was inhabited by Native American people (known as the Weeden Culture).  Relics of their existence are still on the island, and while they aren’t publicized, shell mounds and dugout canoes sit on the island waiting for excavation funding.  Homesteaders moved to the island in the late 1800s. Dr. Weedon was one early resident, and his family is buried in a small plot near the entrance of the park. In the 1920s, an airport was built on the island.  In the 193os, a Hollywood movie studio.  During prohibition, speakeasies and lookout towers.  During World War II, a military training ground. After a series of deaths on the old wooden bridge in the 1960s and ’70s, it was converted to a fishing bridge.

Bits and pieces of all of these eras remain on the island – a runway, a homesteader graveyard, piece of the control tower, half a bridge, burial mounds, a plane wreck, etc.

In the 1970s, a growing movement of concerned citizens pushed for preservation.  The land has been managed by several different county departments since then, and the Boy Scouts chipped in and blazed the hiking trails on the island.

A narrow stretch through a Weedon Island mangrove tunnel

The kayak trails:

The kayak trails, the crown-jewel of the park (in my opinion, at least), were a result of a failed 1950s program by the Army Corps of Engineers.  The plan was to cut down the mosquito population by cutting channels into the mangroves to provide birds, fish and other animals a path into the center of the island.

The evidence of this program is still easy to see from above.  Check out this Google Earth screen shot (notice the checkerboard pattern on the island):

Weedon Island Satellite Photo

Some of these paths are maintained as part of the kayak trail, and that’s what makes this such a unique place.  The south kayak trail is a four-mile loop.  It goes in and out of the mangrove tunnels, through lagoons and ends with a half-mile haul over open water.

The mangrove tunnels are fascinating places to kayak.  Many of the tunnels are so tight that a full paddle won’t work – I either break my paddle down or use my camera pole to push my way through these parts.

There’s also an abundance of wildlife along the trail.  You’re guaranteed to see to all sorts of wading birds, sting rays and mullet.  You’re likely to see mangrove snakes.  If you’re lucky (and I’ve seen all of these things on multiple occasions), you’ll see dolphins, manatees, sharks and turtles.

The non-portable trail map at Weedon Island

Also, spider crabs.  They look exactly how you’d imagine (watch the video up top).  Spider crabs cover every mangrove tree in the park, and they frequently fall into the kayak as you paddle through the tunnels.  If you accidentally whack your paddle on a branch, you’ll wish you had an umbrella handy.  If you are at all afraid of spiders, crabs, or spider crabs, this probably isn’t a good place to be.

But if you can brave the spider crabs and mangrove snakes, this is one of the coolest, most memorable kayak trails around, especially at dawn when the birds are feeding and the marine mammals are active.

A few important things to know if you’re planning a trip:

  • Check the tides.  Some of the tunnels are impassible at low tide.
  • The kayak trail has markers to keep you on track, but the markers are far apart and can be hard to spot.  If you’re eye sight isn’t great, binoculars might be helpful.
  • Bring shoes.  You never know when you’ll have to get out of the kayak, and the clam shells and barnacles make it impossible to walk around without them.
  • Sun screen and mosquito repellant are a must.
  • Admission is free, parking is free, the trails are free.
  • Sweetwater Kayaks rents kayaks on-site if you need one.
  • There is a kayak cleaning station right next to the ramp.

Here’s a map with driving directions to the park.  Open from sunrise to sunset.  Hiking, fishing, kayaking and road biking.  History museum on site.  Free admission, free parking and free trails.

A wider section of the mangrove tunnels at Weedon Island.

Mangrove snake at Weedon Island

A mangrove snake hanging over the kayak trail.

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Comments

  1. Yikes! Snakes hanging from trees and spiders (or snakes) falling into your kayak?? Here’s to 40 below!

  2. Very cool video and interesting information on the park. I visited here with friend when I was staying with him in Tampa. Unfortunately, we did not have boats, so we did not get to experience the cool kayak trails. I love the mangrove tunnels. It reminds me of the Bear Lake canoe trail in the Everglades.

    • If you end up back in the Tampa/St. Pete area, it’s definitely worth a $20 kayak rental and a few hours of your time. There really aren’t many places like it, at least in the central Florida area. I’ve never been on the Bear Lake trail, but I think I may plan a trip – it looks amazing!

  3. Weedon is such a great place to kayak. It’s a bummer that the entire pier and kayak launch area has about 6 parking spaces. It kills the whole thing.

  4. Very nice article! Its terribly hard to sum this place up in a short article. Funny, some of the other descriptions of this place mention a trail or two and talk about the mullet and crabs. This place is teeming with wildlife!! I have done this trail over 50 times now and it gets better every time. I have only seen snakes a few times and thank god have never knocked one the 9 billion spider crabs in to my kayak so don’t worry much about that. Other than that make sure you have polarized lenses, you’ll be able to spot more sharks, manatees, fish and other critters. There is also a cove I found that has the brightest giant sponges you have ever seen. I wont say where because id hate for someone to rip them all out, but the beauty and tranquility of this place makes this place by far the best kayaking trail in the Bay area…..going again tomorrow.

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