The Calusa Blueway

By: Mike Hammond

With the Calusa Blueway Challenge in full swing, I thought it might be a good time to write about a paddle with a couple check-ins along the trail where you can earn points. The Imperial River has several of these check-ins along its historic shoreline.  You can visit Riverside Park, Depot Park, the Imperial River Boat Launch, or rent a kayak from CGT Kayaks.

Depot Park and Riverside Park are separated by railroad tracks. I recommend launching from Depot Park if you have your own paddlecraft.  There you can park in the shade near the primitive launch and drive past public bathrooms on your way through the park.  If you are renting kayaks, you will park in Riverside Park and rent from CGT Kayaks.  CGT Kayaks occupies the artist cottage closest to the river and uses a nice floating launch for paddlers to get in and out of the water.  Parking is free in both Bonita Springs parks located in the heart of town off Old 41.  There are several unique places within walking distance to grab lunch, a snack, or drinks after your paddle.

The Imperial River Boat Ramp is located on South Tamiami Trail just north of Bonita Beach Road.  Parking is $5 a day.  This ramp is almost two miles downstream from the previous launches.  This is the favored launch if you want to put in closer to the bay or back in a trailer.

Personally I prefer to launch from Depot Park and paddle up the river  heading east. This way will often be shaded by a live oak canopy and provide a more natural experience.  There is also little, if any, boat traffic in the upper Imperial.  Heading west, the river becomes more open.  If you paddle west far enough, you’ll reach Calusa Blueway marker 1.

Don’t forget to bring a camera!  The Imperial is a “blackwater” river.  Meaning, vegetation stains the color of the water which creates a mirror-like reflection on calm days which is ideal for photographers.

Whether you’re fishing or just taking a relaxing paddle, the Imperial River is a fun trip for everyone.

Don’t forget to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Calusa Blueway with the Calusa Blueway Challenge.

The Calusa Blueway Challenge is a gamified passport that participants can play all year long. Setting up your passport is free and easy. Just go to to get started.  When you open your passport, you will see a list of “Places To Go.” Checking in with your mobile phone at each place or experience will earn you points for chances to win prizes. Sign up today!