Kayaking the Cotee River in the James E. Grey Preserve: New Port Richey, Florida
One of the great things about the west coast of Florida is that you can always find a quiet secluded area to go kayaking even in the midst of a relatively crowded urban area. In our continuing effort to discover the best locations to kayak in the general Tampa area we recently found our way to the Pithlachascotee River, otherwise known as the Cotee River, in New Port Richey.
For those of you not familiar with the central gulf coast of Florida, New Port Richey is located about 30 miles north of Tampa on the gulf coast in Pasco County. The community has a population of about 15,000 residents and is fairly densely populated. The Cotee River, while not particularly long, runs for approximately 23 miles from its source near Crews Lake through the Starkey Wilderness Park and the James E. Grey Preserve right through the heart of New Port Richey before entering into the Gulf of Mexico near Miller’s Bayou in Port Richey.
While you can kayak or canoe through the populated sections of the lower Cotee River for this outing we headed inland to the peace and quiet of the James E. Grey Preserve. As one of the few remaining undisturbed areas in New Port Richey the Preserve makes for the perfect setting for a quiet afternoon on the Cotee River.
The James E. Grey Preserve encompasses over 80 acres of old Florida wilderness and was first established in 2003. It was extensively renovated in 2007 with the assistance of state grant money. In addition to the kayak/canoe launch the park added three picnic areas, a covered pavilion, restroom facilities, a new parking lot and a beautiful boardwalk that takes visitors to a new fishing pier. The park also has over two miles of trails for hiking. Future plans call for the construction of an education center complete with a resident ranger although no timetable has been set for this future expansion.
The James E. Grey Preserve is located off of Plathe Road, which runs off of Rowan Road in New Port Richey, Florida.
So what can one expect while kayaking the Cotee River? If you depart from the launch at the James E. Grey Preserve and head down river you will follow the twisting turns of the Cotee River that is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. The river, depending on the season and water level, can be shallow in areas and the water is brackish and generally dark with sediment. The currents are mild in the Preserve but are apt to increase as you get closer to the gulf but should rarely be of concern. Along the way there is the possibility to see a variety of wildlife including wild boar, deer, manatee, turtles, alligators, and over 100 species of birds.
Would you kayak or canoe in a river if you knew there were alligators there?
On our leisurely trek down the Cotee River we saw a number of large turtles, a bald eagle circling overhead, turkey vultures, osprey, kingfisher, and a number of other water birds. The river narrows in sections through the Preserve and for the most part is bordered on both sides by thick forest and swampy areas. There are a number of overhanging trees and limbs, which in addition to providing some shade make for a very picturesque setting. And above all else, while in the heart of the James E. Grey Preserve you can hear nothing but the sounds of nature.
After about a mile and a half or so heading down the river you will exit the Preserve and approach the Francis Avenue Park launch site. At this point the river widens and the scenery changes. You will now be paddling through a residential area with houses on both sides of the river, still scenic but in a different sense. You can turn around here and head back to the launch area where you started or you can continue down river toward Sims Park and then on to Nick’s Park and Miller's Bayou where the Cotee River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. This section of the Cotee River is apt to have more traffic as both of these parks have a boat ramp and this lends itself to more recreational boating. The total distance from the launch in the James E. Grey Preserve to Nick’s Park on the gulf is approximately six miles.
For our trip we turned around shortly after leaving the James E. Grey Preserve and retraced our paddles back up the river to where we started. The entire trip took us approximately two and a half hours. I must say if you are familiar with the New Port Richey area then you will be pleasantly surprised at the wild and pristine nature of the Preserve, which is embedded in the midst of otherwise busy New Port Richey. It's nice to see that you can still experience the beauty and serenity of nature even in a busy urban setting.
If your travel plans are taking you to the west central coast of Florida and you are looking for a kayak adventure check out the Cotee River and the James E. Grey Preserve. If you are visiting from outside of the area and you need to rent kayaks check out Gill Dawg’s, which offers rentals and self-guided tours on the Cotee River for a reasonable rate.
Other interesting and scenic locations in the Tampa area for a day of kayaking include the Weeki Wachee River located about twenty miles north of New Port Richey. The Weeki Wachee River offers crystal clear spring fed water and is a favorite winter spot for manatees.
For a little more adventurous trip head southeast from New Port Richey to the Hillsborough River with outfitter Canoe Escape. Located on US 301 in Thonotosassa just fifteen miles north of Tampa and forty miles from New Port Richey you’ll see an amazing variety of wildlife on your trip down the Hillsborough River.
© 2015 Bill De Giulio