This relatively easy day trip ended our recent 10-day tour of Florida, beginning and ending in Tampa. We had previously made reservations with the local outfitter, www.canoeescape.com, who sent a brochure, which was not really necessary, as their website is very thorough and answered all questions I had prior to actually taking the trip.
One neat aspect of this outing is that you can customize your paddle according to the amount of time you have available - basically in 2-hour increments. We had driven up to Tampa from Ft. Myers that morning, where we spent the previous night, and it was an easy 2-hour drive. Canoe Escape rents both canoes and solo / tandem kayaks (me in a solo, wife and son in a tandem), and is just off Interstate 75, and very easy to find. We opted for the Trip 4, which is a combination of trips 1 & 2.
From what I saw, you are just about guaranteed to see gators at numerous points on this trip. The put-in was easy and painless, and offered a small side-trip right at the start, up a small creek. The river was clean and slightly tinted with tannins from vegetation, although at numerous points where the bottom was sandy, we had no problems sighting turtles, fish and at times the aforementioned gators. Lots of fallen trees in the river, and occasionally you would bump over one slightly. Only a couple of times did I miscalculate my crossing point, and grounded the kayak to the point where I had to push off and make another approach. At some points the rivet narrows down to maybe only 10 feet or so across, but in most places there is a good 1- or 2-knot current, so the allotted times for each segment still allow lots of loiter time for viewing wildlife, photography, etc., so you don't feel forced to keep on a "schedule".
Maybe it was just luck, but we pulled up to the first take-out point right on schedule, where my wife and son opted to take the shuttle back, and I continued on to the final take-out, again right on time for the shuttle. One neat aspect of this trip is that with this portion of the river flowing through fairly dense forest, there is a lot of shade, and even on a hot day like when we were there, many point on the river were cool and an estimated 10 - 12 degrees less than in open areas. Many varieties of bird life, and it was easy to take some fairly close-up photos. The halfway point of our trip, which was Morris Bridge Park, offered picnic tables and restrooms, and a chance to stretch our legs. According to Canoe Escape, the water level at this time of year was about as low as it gets, so possibly other times of the year would offer fewer groundings. They weren't a problem, anyway. A highly recommended trip for almost anyone, and kudos to canoeescape.com.
Wide variety of hotels / motels in area.
On Fowler Avenue just off Interstate 75 in northeast Tampa.