A paddle on the wild side: Canoe through Florida’s natural past at Collier-Seminole State Park

Collier County is known for many things. The area is a golf mecca, a shopping destination, and a gourmet restaurant lover’s delight. The beaches of Naples and Marco Island are world-class.

But there is another side to Collier County, one that even many who have lived here for decades never experience. For a taste of nature beyond the beaches and a feel for what this land was like before development transformed it, take a canoe down the Blackwater River in Collier-Seminole State Park.

Taking canoes, and canoeists, down the Blackwater River is what a group of dedicated volunteers do in their work at Collier-Seminole. John Walsh coordinates the roughly three hour trips, which are offered Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday now through April 18. The daytime trips go out at 9:30 a.m., and return by 12:30.

The guided trip costs $30 per person, with all proceeds going to support the park, through the Friends of Collier-Seminole State Park, a citizens’ support organization. Reservations are required, and may be obtained by visiting the park, whose entrance is located just east of State Road 92 on US 41 (eight miles toward Miami from Collier Blvd.), calling (239) 394-3397, or going online tofriendsofcollierseminolestatepark.com.

During the daytime trips, the guides bring the canoes together several times during the trip to share tidbits of natural history and answer questions. Volunteer guides point out the crucial role mangroves play in keeping our ecosystem healthy, mention the area’s role in the Third Seminole War, and explain the difference between fiddler crabs and mangrove crabs. A great way to find these (little, harmless) crabs in your boat, by the way, is to repeatedly thrust the bow of your canoe into the mangroves along the river.

But the best part of the experience for most guests is just seeing unspoiled Florida, looking for birds, fish, and crustaceans, and steering their canoes through the twists and turns of the channel, here in the largest mangrove forest in the western hemisphere. Kingfishers dart from bank to bank, turkey vultures soar overhead, and herons watch bright-eyed from the branches along the river or unfold their massive wings and take flight.

For a little extra adventure, sign up for a nighttime canoe paddle, offered around the time of the full moon. This season, those will be offered Feb. 3 and 4, and March 5 and 6, said Walsh.

“The nights just before the full moon are ideal, with enough light to see,” he said. Moonlight trips run from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Even if you’ve never paddled a canoe before, the volunteers will show you the basics, and get you out and back. For complete beginners, daytime is probably a better choice for the first time. There is a minimum age limit of six, and pets are not permitted. Participants should bring their own snacks, drinks, bug spray and sun protection, and volunteers suggest sealing electronic devices in waterproof containers.

Many more people are probably shunted through the Jungle Cruise at Disney World on an average morning than will canoe down the Blackwater River all year. One of those groups of people gets a close-up look at the real natural Florida, and here’s a hint – it’s not the folks wearing the mouse ears.

If you go

Collier-Seminole State Park Guided Canoe Trips

20200 Tamiami Trail East



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