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Updated: 12/20/2013

Little Manatee River

The Little Manatee River flows 40 miles from near Fort Lonesome, FL, to Tampa Bay and includes a 10-mile designated paddling trail near Ruskin. The Designated Paddling Trail from the US 301 bridge to Wildcat Park is a generally easy paddle though the current can get strong at high water. The river north of 301 is more technical, and  inexperienced paddlers are not encouraged to tackle this section.  (Detailed map, photos and more description below.)



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Distance: 10 mile Designated Paddling trail between US 301 bridge and Wildcat Park, Ruskin, FL; 40 miles total from Fort Lonesome to Tampa Bay.
Location:
Hillsborough County (Ruskin)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Partial, as the river approaches Tampa Bay
Launch points: US 301 bridge, Little Manatee River State Park, 24th Street, Wildcat Park (See map, left)
Kayak/Canoe Rentals: Canoe Outpost (link, above right); at the State Park
Nearby points of interest: Little Manatee River State Park, Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve

The tannic Little Manatee River is generally shallow with a sand bottom and many places to pull over to stretch or picnic. Upstream the river is more narrow and twisty, through cypress, willow, sand palm, cedar and oak forest. Downstream it widens as it approaches Tampa Bay and includes large areas of tidal marsh. Motorboats are more common in this area. The river is popular for fishing, with mullet, trout, snook, reds and other fish. Alligators, otters, turtles, deer, bobcats, assorted birds, and other wildlife are seen. Manatee can be found near the southern end at Tampa Bay.

Stretching from Tampa Bay and bordering Little Manatee River State Park, part of the river is encompassed within the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. Designated as Outstanding Florida Water, this is one of the most unspoiled areas in Florida. The State Park has parking, restrooms, picnicking, camping, playground, fishing, hiking and equestrian trails.

paddle Little Manatee River, kayak, canoe
Paddling at Little Manatee River
(hover over photo for larger view)
Launches - Little Manatee Designated Paddling Trail
Wildcat Creek 24th Street
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Launch at the boat ramp. Parking, no restrooms, picnic.  A short drag from the parking area to launch. Parking (limited), no restrooms. 
Little Manatee River State Park US 301 Bridge - Canoe Outpost
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The boat landing (left) is at the end of a flight of steps with a steep drop at the end. A better choice is the launch at the youth group campsite (right). There's a drop off under the bridge, the better launch (parking, restrooms, water) is at Canoe Outpost nearby (fee applies).
SR 579 Bridge Downstream to Canoe Outpost/US 301
We used the outfitter shuttle to put in at the SR 579 bridge and paddle the 6.5 miles downstream to the US 301 bridge. This section is more technical than the paddling trail - watch for tight turns, submerged objects and low branches. At low water, there are areas where it will be necessary to drag your vessel.
First, we paddled upstream from the SR 579 bridge for about 1.5 miles
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Put-in at SR 579 bridge
SR 579 bridge downstream to FP&L Intake Station
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FP&L Intake Station
Intake Station downstream to Orange Blossom Special Train Trestle
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  Approaching the trestle
Orange Blossom Special Trestle downstream to Canoe Outpost/US 301
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The famous "Orange Blossom Special" passenger train once crossed the river on
this trestle. We found a good beach to stretch and snack near the old trestle.
This is a popular area for local ATV riders
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US 301 bridge Canoe Outpost
Designated Canoe Trail - US 301 to 24th Street Launch
This section is wider and less technical than the section above Canoe Outpost, better suited for the novice paddler. We saw more wildlife here. Exploring scenic side creeks is fun in this section.
Canoe Outpost/US 301 Downstream to State Park
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Canoe Outpost Picnic spot
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Boat dock at the State Park Pavilion at the State Park from the river State Park launch at youth group campsite
State Park Downstream to 24th Street Launch
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    Manatee zone
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    Paddling around Manatee Loop where we saw a great spot for a home, and the best dock ever (grab the bars to pull yourself up)
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24th Street Launch We paddled downstream from 24th Street and explored some of the side creeks. We found a great beach to stretch and snack, and saw these boys having fun.

Also check out paddling at Cockroach Bay

More information on paddling at Little Manatee River (opens in a new window):

- Florida Office of Greenways and Trails - Little Manatee River Paddling Trail (pdf)
- Florida State Parks - Little Manatee River State Park

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Little Manatee River

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Canoe Outpost


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