With mangrove tunnels, undeveloped barrier islands and fabulous fishing, Pine Island Sound is a subtropical playground.
If you want to go to the Everglades or Ten Thousand Islands, but don’t have time to vacation that remotely, the Phase 2 Blueway route is for you.
If you want a building-less horizon, Phase 2 is your map to grab.
If you want to paddle in the Calusa’s footsteps, dip into the Pine Island Sound waterways.
Think of this leg of the Great Calusa Blueway as more of a tripod. From San Carlos Bay at the south, one fork travels up the backside of the subtropical and paradisiacal Sanibel and Captiva. Another fork heads up the mangrove-laced Matlacha Pass, and then once north of the fishing village of Matlacha, it forks again. Go left to the tip of Pine Island. Go right to the wilds of the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.
Among the highlights:
- Mangrove tunnels: Both Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve and Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve offer towering mangroves, which are elegant trees with chocolate-colored legs firmly planted in saltwater. Crabs scurry on their roots. Birds stalk prey. Small fish hide from big fish.
Tip: If you see an opening in the mangroves, paddle in. You’ll find yourself moving from creek to saltwater lagoon and back. Some tunnels loop; others dead end. Almost all will feed your thirst for adventure.
- Camping: Tent sites and rustic cabins at Cayo Costa State Park draw hundreds each year, but the sugar-sand-laced barrier island at the top of Phase 2 remains remote. Want more primitive campsites? Visit Picnic Island on the trail’s south end. This island was formed when the Intracoastal Waterway was dredged, and it has evolved into a playground for boaters on overnight trips.
Tip: Don’t want to paddle both ways to Cayo Costa? The state park’s ferry service from Pineland – the Tropic Star – lets you put your kayak atop its roof.
- Lengthy day trips: If you have a friend with a car, you can do a shuttle and create a trip you’ll remember long after it’s over. Try Matlacha Community Park south to Tropical Point Park. Or head north from Matlacha to Jug Creek.
Tip: You can do the Pineland to Cayo Costa leg one-way trip in a day, as well.
- Easy loops for novices: Never been in a kayak? Never fear. Many outfitters along Phase 2 are geared toward tourists short on time or those who just want an hour or two on a slow-going nature tour. Sign up to go out with a guide from Pineland, Bokeelia, Matlacha, Captiva or Sanibel. They’ll tell you stories of the Calusas and point out everything from obvious ospreys to subtle sponges.
Tip: Make a reservation a day in advance.
- Calusa sites: The Randell Research Center is a gem for archeology fans. You can paddle up to the Pineland Historical Marker and then walk across the street to Randell for a self-guided tour that affords a view from atop a shell midden over all of Pine Island Sound.
Tip: Look closely as you walk from the historical marker to Randell and you can see the remnants of the ditch the Calusas dug across Pine Island; it’s apparent again along the trail inside Randell.
- Fishing: Pine Island Sound is an angler’s playground. "There are more famous names in Florida fishing," said the editors of Field & Stream magazine, "but few spots offer a better combination of great fishing in great scenery." So went the thinking behind naming the "Pine Island Coast" one of "America's 25 hottest fishing spots.” Whether your passion is for snook, redfish and trout or you yearn for the big boys – sharks and tarpon – you’ll find it in your kayak here.
Tip: Join the Boy Scouts of America kayak fishing tournament each May or the Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival tournament the first weekend of each November.
To learn more about the area's ecosystems, from mangrove forests to marine estuaries, click here.