Paddle Through Time Along the Great Calusa Blueway

    Named for the Native Americans who thrived in southwest Florida centuries before the Spanish explorers arrived, the Great Calusa Blueway flows through Gulf of Mexico coastal waters and inland tributaries, along back bays and mangrove shorelines, encompassing 190 miles of kayak and canoe trails.

    Paddlers of all experience levels, including those who have never held a paddle, can choose a trail and explore the unspoiled beauty, history and abundant natural habitats along the Great Calusa Blueway.

    Mysteries and Shell Mounds

    Discover the mysteries of the Calusa, Florida’s first fishermen and shell collectors. They were the “water people” who lived off the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico and built cities from shells.

    The Calusa spiritual beliefs centered on the number three, as does the pathway to exploring these waters today. Starting in the Fort Myers Beach area and south to Bonita Springs, the first segment of the Great Calusa Blueway centers on Estero Bay, where there are plentiful stops along mangrove-laced keys to view the shore birds catching a meal. It’s common to encounter a group of playful dolphins or inquisitive manatees in these shallow waters. Here, paddlers pass through open water, sheltered by small keys, and along mangrove pathways.

    A glimpse of the Calusa civilization can be found at Mound Key Archaeological State Park in Estero Bay, a good stop after paddling over from Lovers Key State Park. A self-guided trail on the island describes how the Calusa lived, building shelters and pyramids of shells, canals and dugout canoes for traveling the waterways. If paddling with a local guide in this area, you’re likely to hear a few good stories of Calusa and Spanish encounters.

    Miles of Marked Waterways

    Just north of Fort Myers Beach, along Pine Island Sound, the second segment of the Great Calusa Blueway flows along Pine Island, reaching west to the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva. From open water to tidal creeks, and the protected waters within the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, these trails are a million miles from modern-day hustle and bustle.

    Tributaries and Trails

    The “river of the Calusa” was a main waterway for this civilization, and today, the Caloosahatchee River is the third segment of the Great Calusa Blueway. Here you’ll connect with Old Florida as you paddle creeks and feeder rivers leading to moss-draped oaks, nature preserves and waterlife. From spotting freshwater turtles and rare birds fishing, nature’s surprises are around each bend in the river.

    Exploring the Blueway

    To navigate the Great Calusa Blueway, trail maps detail the three segments, including areas of interest, parks, outfitters and access points. Markers are posted in the Estero Bay and Pine Island Sound trails. The Caloosahatchee River has GPS coordinates for the mouth of each tributary noted on the trail map.

    Information on outfitters and guides, places to stay, trail maps, and tips and recommendations from experienced local paddlers can be found at

    The Spirit of the Calusa

    With so much water to explore, the Great Calusa Blueway offers visitors an opportunity to experience its natural beauty and enjoy fishing, bird watching and surprise sightings of the amazing marine life that makes the waterways home. As you dip your paddle and glide silently through these waters, you too may feel the spirit of the Calusa.

    To plan your trip to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, go to