Typically when I think of Florida I visualize theme parks, beaches lined with condos, and lots of development in general. Nature isn’t really something that comes to mind.  But on a recent family trip I had the opportunity to do some kayaking on the Little Manatee River, a small river southeast of Tampa. Not only was it fun, as kayaking tends to be, but it was interesting to see a natural side of Florida I really didn’t know much about. We rented from a place called Canoe Outpost and they were very friendly and did a good job of explaining how to get to the somewhat difficult to find take out point.

In some ways kayaking Florida is similar to Missouri.  For starters, they use old school buses to transport people and gear, just the same as us Ozarkers. The outfitters are pretty much the same as well, a plain backwoods shack – although the moss draped Live Oaks shading the campground does add a nice touch in Florida.



But that’s about where the similarities ended. One of the first things I noticed about this stream was the brown stain to the water. It wasn’t muddy brown, it was a clear brown, kind of like tea. I didn’t drink it so I am not sure if there was a big tea party protest up river or if there was some other natural cause. I think it’s a natural effect of the Live Oaks that are so common in the area. I remember noticing the same “tea” looking water in streams and bogs in Ireland.



The first few miles of the Little Manatee were very narrow and shallow.  The type of stream that in rocky Ozark terrain might not be considered a float stream. However Florida has basically no terrain whatsoever, so while it was very shallow, there weren’t really any rocks, ledges, debris, etc to make passage difficult.



Most of the first several miles had a complete canopy of Live Oak, some kind of Willow, and several other tree species I did not recognize. The light shining through the trees created gold pools of light in the shallow water. It was pretty neat!



Just as in Missouri, down trees create obstacles in the river. However in this case it was a Cabbage Palm rather than a Silver Maple or Sycamore, two species that frequently fall in Ozark streams.



Once escaping the cities, the natural environment in Florida was very fascinating to me. It’s a very interesting mix of Oak, Palm, and Pine. I think the pines were mostly Longleaf Pine and Slash Pine – neither of which grow in Missouri, though they are somewhat similar in appearance to our Shortleaf and Loblolly Pines – in fact they are all grouped together as “southern yellow pine”.



This was a really pretty spot where a small tributary called Cypress Creek flows into the Little Manatee. This stream was clear and more similar to Missouri streams, except for the sand. You can see the contrast where the clear water meets the “tea” water. Kind of reminds me of that place in the Amazon where the two different colored rivers meet. I’ve never been there but maybe it looks like this on a larger scale?



We stopped at this spot about halfway into our trip to have a snack under the shade of this mossy oak tree. From here, the water was pretty slow as we were probably nearing sea level and the backwater of Tampa Bay.




I thought it was kind of neat to paddle along side palm trees in the river!



The last mile or so was more of a swamp or estuary with no discernible current and dense vegetation in place of the sandy bank that we saw during most of the first part of the float. If you had to go to the bathroom, I am not really sure how you would do it along this part of the river!



Here is another thing you don’t see along rivers in Missouri!  We saw 3 of these towards the end of the float, all just hanging out in the sun. I thought it might be scary to see an Alligator but they just sat and watched us float by. It was pretty cool! I was hoping we might see a manatee but no such luck today. Maybe another time!