Trips on the Little Manatee River
The Little Manatee is one of Florida’s unspoiled river gems. Designated by the State as an “outstanding Florida water”, it is also part of the Florida State Canoe Trails system. Included in the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, it flows through over 8,000 acres of protected lands including the 2,600 acre Little Manatee River State Park. These lands and the river’s waters provide a relaxing escape from development and city life to Florida’s wilderness.
The Little Manatee begins in eastern Hillsborough and western Polk counties and travels 40 miles to empty into Tampa Bay at Bahia Beach. The upper 28 miles is mostly wilderness, narrow and winding, making for great paddling with new scenery around each turn.. The river is ever changing and reshaping itself. With each raise and fall in the river level, nature rearranges the landscape and paddling path. Canoe Outpost strives to maintain 17 miles of this section so that there are no carry overs or portaging required. Our goal is to make the river passable to all paddlers while preserving the natural canopy and habitat as much as possible. West of 301, Trips 1 or 2 , we trim more extensively and it is naturally more open to accommodate a wider range of paddlers, families and groups at various water levels. East of 301, Trips 3 & 4, the river is narrower with many tight turns, faster moving water and a more extensive canopy and so is more challenging. These factors restrict the range of water levels we paddle on for these sections.
Since it drains a watershed of over 140 square miles, rainfall is the biggest factor in what conditions you will experience on any given day and each level has it’s charms. The quality of the water is always rated very high but it is the clarity, depth and current speed which changes with the rainfall. When we have not had rain for some time, the river becomes a shallow stream with clear water flowing over many expanses of sugar sand. The trade off for this beauty is a reduced current and perhaps a few areas that may be to low to float a fully loaded canoe. This might require you to step out of your boat and float it over a shallow area for a short distance. When the river is higher, the water flows brown and is more turbid, faster currents reduce your paddling exertion and can test your skills. Higher water also brings the option of tubing on trips 1 & 2.
Whenever you paddle, we hope you’ll agree that the Little Manatee River truly is an “outstanding Florida water”. Call us for the most current river conditions report and to discuss which trip is right for your experience level and interests..
Trip 1 - Canoe Outpost to primitive camp:Our most popular trip. Start at the Canoe Outpost and paddle downstream with the current for 5 ½ miles or about 2 ¼ hours of paddle time. You’ll pass through the Little Manatee River State Park under a canopy of oak and willows. Along the way, park facilities are available for you. Picnic pavilions with grills, rest rooms, nature trails and a playground help make this a great trip for families or group outings. Depending on water levels, in the first half of this trip there may be several shallow sand bar areas to visit if you want to get out of your boat. On the second half of the trip, there are rope swings to use if you choose to. Those looking for increased paddle time may choose to go beyond the pick up point and explore either of the Manatee Loops which can add up to 2 hours to your paddle time before returning to the same pick up point. Exploring the loops can also enhance your chances of seeing Manatees. Most commonly seen are a few birds and fish, an alligator or two and many turtles. We launch this trip continuously from 9:00 - 2:00 daily. Pick ups at primitive camp are at 1:15, 2:30, 3:45 and 5:00 or by special arrangement.
Trip 2 - Canoe Outpost to the State Park canoe steps: A shorter version of Trip 1, you start at the Outpost and paddle downstream with the current for about 2 ½ miles or about 1 hour of paddle time. Trip 2 covers the first half of Trip 1 in the section which is more narrow and shaded. Depending on water levels, there may be several shallow sand bar areas to visit if you want to get out of your boat. This is a great trip for those with limited time or endurance. We launch this trip continuously between 9:00 - 3:00 daily. Pick ups at the park steps are at approximately 1:15, 2:30 3:45 and 5:00 or by special arrangement.
Trip 3 - 579 bridge to the Canoe Outpost: Come paddle the upper river and experience a more challenging wilderness trip. More narrow and winding with a generally faster current, this trip covers 6 miles in about 3 ½ hours of paddle time. You will pass by the FP&L intake station and the 1903 Orange Blossom Special train trestle. An extensive canopy of oaks and willows is present. No facilities are available on this section but picnicking and camping spots can be found along the banks. You begin with a bus ride from the Outpost at either 9:30 or 11:00 daily and set your own pace to return to the Outpost by 5:00.
Trip 4 - Leonard Lee Rd to the Canoe Outpost: Extend your wilderness paddle of Trip 3 by adding this section from Leonard Lee Rd. to St. Rd. 579. This very remote section will add 4 miles and 2 hours to your trip for a total trip of 10 miles or 5 ½ hours paddle time back to the Outpost. This trip is available only in conjunction with Trip 3 except by special arrangement. Begin your trip with a bus ride from the Outpost at either 9:30 or 11:00 and set your own pace to return to the Outpost by 5:00. ( Due to the trip length, we recommend the 9:30 bus except for overnight campers or speed paddlers.)
You can view a map of the Trip 1 – Trip 4 river sections here.
Additional Services: We will work with you to design your trip. If you are a river camper or want to paddle other sections of the river, we can service other access points to get you where you want to be. Just ask.
When the river is at higher water levels, tubing on the Little Manatee is great fun. Starting from the Canoe Outpost, we tube on Trips 1 & 2 giving you a 2 or 4 hour tube run with return bus transportation included in your tube rental. Call ahead to check river conditions.