Retreat into Nature at Weedon Island Preserve
By Kevin Mims
We all dream of a little island escape every now and then, when we just need to get away from it all and retreat to nature to rejuvenate and relax.
When those times come, paddling peacefully through a scenic island wilderness or walking along a boardwalk over a tangle of mangroves at Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg can be just the ticket.
Weedon Island by land
Find serenity — and plenty of wildlife — on the trails and observation tower of Weedon Island Preserve, 3,190 acres of protected coastal wilderness. Three species of mangroves— black, white and red — are some favorite trees among visitors, who can see their spindly roots reaching into the water from a boardwalk above.
From the boardwalk, expect to see mullet swimming in saltwater ponds and wading birds along the way. Hiking trails here provide some of the best wildlife viewing anywhere.
The preserve also has a long fishing pier that brings anglers close to a wide variety of saltwater species, including snook, jack and sheepshead.
Get better acquainted with this scenic preserve and its inhabitants during special events that happen throughout the year, including the Annual Gopher Weedon Trail Run, a seven-kilometer race through the uplands. The race offers spectacular views of Tampa Bay.
Despite its name, more than 1,000 acres of Weedon Island Preserve is made up of dry land, where ancient Indian mounds can be found. Evidence of the property’s history as an early Native American community was reinforced back in 2011, when a prehistoric Native American canoe was discovered submerged in saltwater there.
The Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and History Center offers exhibits and educational programs that teach about the preserve’s land, water and history.
Weedon Island by water
There’s nothing quite like paddling through a tunnel of mangroves, watching the sun fade away as you paddle under the mottled shade of the canopy. Whether by stand-up paddleboard, canoe or kayak, exploring the waters of the preserve is an unforgettable experience.
Though it’s no longer a true island but rather a low-lying peninsula, the land mass is surrounded by small islands that paddlers can see close up. Visitors can explore the unspoiled areas similar to the way it was before the first European settlers arrived in Florida.
Two paddling trails are available to explore the waters of Weedon Island. The North Paddling Trail takes paddlers through mangrove tunnels and wider channels and eventually to Gandy Beach over a distance of two miles. The South Paddling Trail offers a leisurely four-mile paddling loop that typically takes about three hours. Markers along the trail ensure you stay on course along the way. And fishing is allowed here, so don’t forget your fishing pole. Tip: Make this a mid- or high-tide trip.
Bring your own craft or rent a one from Sweetwater Kayaks, located at the preserve.
If you go …
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center
1800 Weedon Drive NE
Center hours: Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m
Preserve hours: Open daily, 7 a.m. to time posted (approximately 15 minutes before sunset).
Admission: Free (donations welcomed)