An hour south of Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Myakka and Peace Rivers deposit fresh water into the salty Gulf of Mexico forming Charlotte Harbor, one of Florida’s richest, most vibrant and important estuaries. Mangrove forests, salt marshes, and sea grass meadows awash in the pristine water, creating ideal conditions for this maritime nursery.
Charlotte Harbor is known as a premier fishing destination, and the “Tarpon Capital of the World.” But Charlotte Harbor offers more than an angler’s dream. There are many hidden treasures among its nine coastal and four island communities, all making it one of Florida’s top eco-tourism destinations. And for good reason: Eighty-four percent of Charlotte Harbor’s shoreline is protected from development.
The area is alive with old Florida charm, and among its treasures are many lesser-known gems waiting to be discovered. Pristine natural areas with small historic and artsy fishing villages provide a secret stash of places you’ll want to visit. Here, life moves at a slower pace letting you soak in outdoor amenities like beachcombing and watching the glow of a tangerine pink sunset.
Devastated in 2004 by Hurricane Charley, the Charlotte Harbor area has been rebuilt. Thankfully, community leaders wisely reevaluated its ecological assets and created a plan centered on a sustainable economy rooted in natural resource preservation.
Charlotte Harbor is also part of the Florida Greenways and Trail System with nearly 200 miles of stunning Blueway Trails mapped for kayakers. There’s even a county sponsored free bike loan program that extends along the Peace River in historical downtown Punta Gorda — perfect if you love a good view while on a bike.
There are so many things that make Charlotte Harbor one of Florida’s best destinations, so here are some ideas to ponder while you pack your bags:
On the southern end of Manasota Key lies Stump Pass Beach State Park where shark teeth and seashells wash ashore. And during nesting season, huge sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand in the dark of night. Nature trails wind through the park and you may encounter a gopher tortoise crossing your path or even a great blue heron perching on a shady trailside bench.
A diversity of native plants flourish along the pathway and are highlighted through the ranger-led (winter) park tours. You’ll learn to identify and distinguish coastal plants like sea grapes, cocoplums and even the prickly pear cactus. Water sport fans can launch a kayak or SUP and paddle around the nearby mangrove islands to the east, all part of the Stump Pass park. Ospreys soar overhead and mullet jump as anglers fish from their boats or from shore. Keep your eyes open for Florida manatees as they graze on the sea grasses below the water’s surface.