Cayo Costa beach thru Part Island
Lee County Florida has 190 miles of marked kayak trails. The area is so big it's on three different maps available online or free from the County. This trek is located in the Matlacha-Pine Island section.
I'm writing about this trip because it is an off-the-route journey.
It's an open water paddle, so wind and weather forecasts are a good indicator of how much you'll enjoy the trip. The winds seem to peak in the afternoon. So if you paddle out in the morning and back in the later afternoon the sea is usually more calm. Sometimes flat calm, like a mirror. And that's when I like it best. This is a trip across Pine Island Sound. Which is protected by the barrier islands from Sanibel Island to the south thru Cayo Costa Island to the north. That's the destination, the Gulf of Mexico beach on the other side of Cayo Costa Island.
The trip begins at Pineland. Which has a tiny beach and parking for about 6 vehicles. If it's full, unload your kayak and park in the wide spot in the road you came in on. Standing on the beach and looking at what appears to be due west you'll see fishing shacks on stilts in the water on the horizon. Look 45 degrees to your right and see the roofs of buildings an an island. Paddle toward those roofs. Halfway there is an island to your left. You'll see new boat docks and an abandon house on Part Island. There's a tiny beach at the abandon house. The house is also marked with giant long needle pine trees that tower above the mangroves looking like green flames reaching into the sky. Beach your kayak there. Look back along the way you came. All you'll see is the big white building of Pineland Marina. That view will be key to helping you find your vehicle again.
Back into your kayak paddle around the boat dock into the cove inside Part Island. Turn left and paddle to the end. When you get there you can see to your right is a waterway thru the mangroves. That's your route. It's the "part" thru Part Island.It leads to the bay on the other side of the island. You'll be looking right at the fishing shacks. Make a 90 degree right turn. Head toward the same roofs you saw from Pine Island. It's Useppa Island. It's not your destination. Pass just to the west of Useppa Island. Not visible until you pass the southern tip of Useppa is Cabbage Key. When you round the tip of Useppa you can see the marina & restaurant of Cabbage key. There's a nice spot to beach your kayak. To the left of the beach is a marked hiking trail. It is very worthwhile. It features being able to climb the stairs up the old wooden water tower and view the bay.
Leaving Cabbage Key paddle due west along the northern shore of the key. The mangroves on the horizon are Cayo Costa Island. When you reach the western tip of Cabbage Key you'll get a glimpse of a gold roof. It's the only landmark you'll see. It marks the inlet into Cayo Costa Island. Paddle to the end of the inlet keeping to the right. Find another passage into the island. follow this passage until it opens into a bay. At the far end is a beach. Beach your kayak and hike over the dune and you're on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. About a mile to the north is Cayo Costa State Park. A word of caution! At the edge of the Park is quicksand! And the signs all face the park. So don't make the mistake I did and try to wash your hands in the little pool you find at the park.
The return trip is pretty much the same in reverse. Unless it's a particularly flat calm day. On those days, when I emerge from Cayo Costa's inlet I'll head straight for the fishing shacks. There's no land to stand on when you get there, but the water's only ankle deep. From there it's due west to Pine Island. Your launch site will become apparent when you figure you started just south of Pineland Marina.
It's not a particularly difficult paddle. Like I mentioned watch the weather report. I've taken several novice (but fit) paddlers on this trip. The nice thing is the stops along the way. Some have only made it as far as Cabbage Key but all of them had a good time. It's about a 5 mile trip. Each way.
If you return via Cabbage Key-Part Island route, you'll see the giant pines you used for navigation to get there. Don't be fooled into paddling straight toward them. They're on the other side of the island! Paddle southeast as if you were to go around the southern tip of the island. The inlet is located just south of 3 little mangrove islands about 2/3 of the way south on the island.
Restaurant & bar on Cabbage Key has restrooms. A ferry docks at Cabbge Key and Cayo Costa State Park. Some can accommodate kayaks.
Free parking is limited. But the marina will let you park for a small fee. Or the nature preserve lets you park if you make a donation. Or you can do like me and park along the road.
From North Ft. Myers or Cape Coral, take Pine Island Road west to the end. Turn right go a couple of miles to the big sign that shows Pineland to your left. Turn left and another mile or so just past the Pineland Post Office is the launch site. If you get to Pineland Marina you've gone too far.
Lee County Parks.org
The Matlacha-Pine Island Calusa Blueway Paddling map issued by Lee County Parks, for free.