Kayaking Tarpon Bay, Sanibel Island

Because of our 5 1/2 foot draft, our anchorage off Sanibel was a bit more than a half mile to the Shallow Cut entrance to Tarpon Bay, part of the renowned Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Putting the kayaks in the water, everything was calm and the water was glass, we were excited to have the opportunity to paddle Tarpon Bay and the adjacent Commodore Creek Kayak Trail.

The Great Calusa Blueway at Shallow Cut, entering Tarpon Bay.  The pelicans liked it too.

The Great Calusa Blueway at Shallow Cut, entering Tarpon Bay. The pelicans liked it too.

Entering Tarpon Bay at the Shallow Cut entrance, we came upon a  marker indicating this was a portion of the Great Calusa Blueway, billed as “the finest paddling trail in the country, a meandering 190 miles through estuaries, mangrove mazes, sheltered bays and lush creeks allowing paddlers access to watch dolphins and manatees play and brilliant roseate spoonbills stomping through the shallows”.

Just under the compass rose N and you'll see Shallow Cut Off, just off of Tarpon Bay.  Just off this area is the best anchorage.

Just under the compass rose N and you’ll see Shallow Cut Off, just off of Tarpon Bay. Just off this area is the best anchorage.

The portion of the Great Calusa Blueway that we paddled was only about 5 miles, but as we paddled, the only sounds were the squawking of birds, and splashing of pelicans and dolphins.  Shortly into our paddle, we were privileged to observe a dolphin feeding frenzy up against the mangroves.

A lone pelican scans the water for his next meal.

A lone pelican scans the water for his next meal.

The first time we saw the dolphins thrashing so violently against the mangroves was in Belize.  We were scared that one of them was very sick and relieved as we drifted closer to see that they were merely enjoying a game of throw and catch with a rather large fish they had captured.

The entrance/exit for the Commodore Kayak Mangrove Trail, Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel

The entrance/exit for the Commodore Kayak Mangrove Trail, Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel

After paddling the western shore of Tarpon Bay, we entered the marked Commodore Trail – a trail through a mangrove maze, marked with arrows and numbers so there’s no way even novices to mangroves can get lost, thus enhancing their paddle by not worrying if they”ll ever emerge from the maze.

David nears Marker 17 on the Commodore Trail - nice that the markings keep even novices from getting lost in the mangrove maze, allowing almost anyone to enjoy the nature and solitude.

David nears Marker 17 on the Commodore Trail – nice that the markings keep even novices from getting lost in the mangrove maze, allowing almost anyone to enjoy the nature and solitude.

Entering the maze, other than on occasional other group of paddlers, we heard nothing from the outside world, just our paddles and kayaks gliding effortlessly through the mangrove roots, still reflective waters and birds.  Very relaxing and enjoyable.

Paddling into the reflective maze of the Commodore Creek Kayak Trail, Sanibel Island.

Paddling into the reflective maze of the Commodore Creek Kayak Trail, Sanibel Island.

Even the birds are reflected in the calm still waters of Tarpon Bay and the kayak trail.

Even the birds are reflected in the calm still waters of Tarpon Bay and the kayak trail.

Never forget however, that the kayak that goes out, must get back to the boat.  As we left the serenity of the Commodore Trail, we couldn’t help but notice that the wind had built and was directly on our nose.  By the time we made our way out the cut to paddle back to the boat, the waves were breaking over the nose of the kayak, making for a wet, challenging paddle.  And just think, a couple of hours earlier, I told David that kayaking definitely did not count for our aerobic activity for the day because it doesn’t get my heart rate up enough…  but let me tell you, after paddling the half mile back to the boat, I was exhausted.  At one point I might have even contemplated just hanging onto the sign marking the Ding Darling refuge boundary and letting David come back and pull me back to the boat with the dinghy.  I finally made it and no worries about my heartrate exercise for that day!

Anyone else enjoy the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge or Tarpon Bay from our anchorage on Sanibel?  Please leave a comment and share what you did and if you found a spot to leave your dinghy to rent a bike or go hiking.  Cheers!   Jan

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