It is a thriving portrait of old Florida, a freshwater stream surrounded by cypress and palmetto trees and thick grass, pouring clear water into mangrove jungles, then into Terra Ceia Bay, then into the Gulf of Mexico.
Go north out of Palmetto on U.S. 19 toward the Skyway Bridge. Just past the Crab Trap Restaurant the four-lane highway crosses Terra Ceia Bay.
Launch at the beach on the north end of the bridge and the west side of the highway. Go under the U.S. 19 bridge and paddle east. Less than a mile away, near the end of the bay, look to your left and you'll see a small bridge that carries Terra Ceia Road over the neck of the bay.
Stay to the far right as you paddle under the bridge, due to the rocks and shells in shallow water at low tides.
Yes, you could launch by this bridge, but the bank is steep, there is a narrow path, and it would be easy to slip and break a leg while carrying a canoe or kayak.
Beyond the bridge you will see the dual bridges for I-275. Again stay to the right, and be alert for turbulence as well as rocks.
You should start this trip during a three-hour window of one hour before high tide and two hours after high tide. That way you will be riding an incoming or outgoing current, and it will be easier for you to locate the stream in the mangroves. I use Egmont Key tide tables as a guide.
Terra Ceia Bay is under I-275 at the bottom left corner of this aerial view; just right of the compass symbol. Notice the thin thread through the very dark mangroves, then the changing vegetation as you get further upstream.
In my very slender kayak, I paddled from I-275 to U.S. 41 in 50 minutes on an incoming tide. When my son Rob was visiting we covered the same distance, by canoe, in about an hour and a half against an outgoing tide.
The white East-West line in the middle, under what looks like the snout of pig, is Bishop Harbor Road. Local fishermen park their pickups here and launch their boats from the grassy bank, but I am not sure it is public property.
There are many birds, including vultures, ospreys, penguins, coromants, herons and egrets. On Terra Ceia Bay you may see dolphins. In the saltwater ponds among the mangroves you may see mullet jumping and redfish rolling. Along the way you will see markers for crab traps.
While paddling the narrow channels in the mangroves you will often need to duck under spiders on their webs. When you can't seem to locate the current, look for pink ribbons tied to branches. One who went before us understood how easy it is to become confused.
As you get further upstream the vegetation changes and the ground level is higher. Frog Creek transforms from saltwater mangrove trail to freshwater stream, with much of it brackish.
Snakes -- you may see include thin mangrove snakes, which are non-poisonous. Further upstream you could see moccasins and alligators. You might see gators in brackish sections too.
During four trips upriver here I have not seen a gator, but I am certain they are there as you get closer to U.S. 41. Expect them. If you see gators tap your paddle on the edge of your boat to alert them to your presence.
Then, exactly where I experienced an incoming tide suddenly becoming a stream with no current, you come to the cypress trees with low hanging branches and magnificent shadows...just like swamps and inland rivers.
Then you see, through the cypress moss, the first bridge inland from I-275, and you regret finding concrete and steel so soon.
This is one of the most peaceful places for paddling I have discovered, but the changing currents also make it a challenge.
The sense of adventure is present as well, especially when you can't find the current in the stream and you are certain you will wander aimlessly forever in the mangroves.
One note of caution: You can't see approaching afternoon clouds, so keep an ear open for thunder in the distance. That will energize your stroke as you paddle downstream.
Go north out of Palmetto on U.S. 19 toward the Skyway Bridge. Just past the Crab Trap Restaurant the four-lane highway crosses Terra Ceia Bay. Launch at the beach on the north end of the bridge and on the west side of the highway. Go under the U.S. 19 bridge and paddle east.
- Trip Duration: Day Trip
- Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: Open Water/Ocean