By Mike Hammond
With cooler weather here, camping along the Calusa Blueway becomes a delight.
One of our favorite campgrounds is Caloosahatchee Regional Park (CRP), which just recently reopened after being closed due to Hurricane Irma damage. In addition to shady primitive campsites, this 768-acre park has hiking trails, off-road cycling trails, a fishing pier, floating dock, kayak rentals and other amenities.
If you would like to rent a kayak or launch your own, you need to call at least 24 hours in advance to make arrangements. Park staff is often busy in the field and can be challenging to locate if not scheduled to meet you.
The launch has a small beach and floating dock for paddlers. While standing on the dock, I have seen tarpon, snook, bass and stingrays. Back when I was involved in Lee County Parks & Recreation’s summer camp program, I took many kids paddling from here and they became experts at catching catfish, which is always fun for camp counselors and parents.
As with many of my paddling trips, the wind or current decides which way I start my paddle from this park. To the east, there is Cypress Creek, Bedman Creek and a large oxbow to explore. Oxbows are what is left of the original path of the winding river before it was dredged relatively straight. On busy weekends, these often offer some solitude from the motorized watercraft. Live oak branches covered in Spanish moss extend across the water, creating shade for the paddlers. These are some of the best areas to observe wildlife on the river.
To the west lies more oxbows and their islands and Hickey Creek. It is about a 1.7-mile paddle from CRP to the mouth of Hickey Creek. From there, it is a little under 2 additional miles until you get to the Hickey Creek Mitigation Park (HCMP) takeout. Many paddlers navigate here from CRP to hike and explore the 2,600-plus-acre preserve before returning to CRP. Because the HCMP takeout is far from the parking lot, we do not recommend beginning or ending your trip here.
Whether you are going out for a day trip or making a weekend out of it, paddling from Caloosahatchee Regional Park is a fun way to take a paddling mini vacation in your own backyard.