Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Robinson Preserve kayak tour, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Paddling through tidal creeks at the Robinson Preserve, near Anna Maria Island, Florida. 

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Florida is a long way from the Adirondacks that I usually write about, but since this blog is about adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, I'll let this post fall into the "beyond" category.

For the past several years, we've spent a week's vacation in the spring on Anna Maria Island, at the mouth of Tampa Bay on Florida's Gulf Coast. Although I don't generally associate Florida with an abundance of protected natural landscapes - outside of the Everglades at least - we discovered a small gem just a couple of miles from Anna Maria during our vacation last week: the Robinson Preserve.

Surfer Bus at the Robinson Preserve beachhead, near Anna Maria Island, Florida. 

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

We rented kayaks for a half day exploration of the preserve from the Surfer Bus, which parks each day at the preserve's beachhead on Manatee Ave., the roadway connecting Anna Maria Island with the mainland. Shawn, a native Floridian and owner of the Surfer Bus, got us geared up with boats, life jackets and map and gave us a quick rundown of our 5-mile out-and-back, self-guided paddle to the preserve's 40' tall observation tower.

Gearing up at the beachhead

Beth and Daniel on the water

Mangrove tunnel

Our route began with a short paddle through a mangrove tunnel, and then took us through tidal creeks and basins to the observation tower, which is just a few hundred yards from the expanse of Tampa Bay. All sorts of wildlife was abundant along the way. A network of trails for biking and hiking winds through the 500-acre preserve, and we passed under 4 or 5 bridges as we paddled.

White Heron

One of the several bridges we passed under along our route

Approaching the observation tower

The paddle to the observation tower took us about an hour and a quarter each way, including plenty of stops along the way to observe birds, fish and other wildlife. Daniel and Sylvie - ages 8 and 4, respectively - were particularly thrilled with the abundant jumping fish (Mullet - we must have seen hundreds of them) and Fiddler Crabs (thousands and thousands). The view from the tower was expansive, sweeping across our paddling route and out to Anna Maria Island, Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway bridge. We could have paddled a short distance further from the tower out into Tampa Bay, but opted to turn around at the tower since we Northerners were getting sun baked.

The Robinson Preserve observation tower

Looking down at the designated landing site

A short paddle from the tower leads out to Tampa Bay

Mudflats, mangroves and salt marshes lined the paddling route

Robinson Preserve has only been open to the public for a few years. The land had been farmed since the early 1900s and was slated for development as yet another waterfront golf course community when Manatee County purchased it from the developer nearly 10 years ago. A partnership of County, State and Federal agencies then spent several years and millions of dollars restoring the wetlands, removing invasive species and installing bridges, boardwalks, trails and the observation tower. The Preserve opened to the public in 2008.

An Ibis, one of many bird species we saw

Fiddler Crabs literally covered the beaches

Back at the Surfer Bus

Our trip was a great break from a week of beach and pool time. In my opinion, if there's one thing Florida doesn't need it's another golf course. Kudos to those responsible for creating Robinson Preserve for feeling the same way.


  1. This sounds fantastic. We had a great time a few years ago farther down the west coast of FL (near Fort Myers) at the wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island. We only went to Florida to visit family - we're not beach people at all - so it was definitely the highlight of our trip.

  2. Robinson Preserve is a real treasure. You can explore it on foot, cycle one of the many trails, or kayak -my favorite!

  3. Thanks for the information. We have traveled to Anna Maria before and have been looking for something like this!

  4. I hope you find time to explore Florida more. There are many, many wonderful wildlife experiences to be had. Yes, there's concrete and neon, but so much more as well.

  5. The true entrance to robinson preserve is 1704 99th st west Bradenton. Call Kayak Jacks paddle sports to get a delivery. Great prices and friendly customer service. I tried "the bus" he wanted to put us out in the rain told us no refunds. Kayak Jacks is the better local choice.