Located just a quick 20-minute drive from St. Petersburg, Weedon Island Preserve has a lot to offer nature lovers visiting Florida!
At 3,190 acres, there’s so much to explore when visiting this pretty nature preserve. Whether you’re looking to kayak, do some light hiking, fish, or learn about the natural area and history of the land, Weedon Island has something for you.
In this insider’s guide we’ll cover everything you need to know when visiting. Including some of the top things to do while visiting Weedon Island, insider tips, as well as things to be aware of when preparing for your trip.
The Area: Nature and Wildlife in Weedon Island Preserve
The nature and wildlife in this preserve is a sight to see. Seemingly endless forests of mangroves are spread throughout the preserve, made up of three different mangrove species: red, white, and black.
The mangroves’ spindly roots make an intricate pattern as they reach into the water, and make up an ecosystem in themselves. Shellfish, sponges, snakes, jellyfish and more live in the root systems. Feeding of these are wading birds, so keep a look out for waders like Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Roseate Spoonbill all year round!
Above in the canopy you will find where some of those birds love to hide and roost. In the winter months keep your eyes peeled for seasonal visitors like the American White Pelican, Northern Shoveler and Hooded Merganser.
There are ample amounts of fish and marine life to observe while you’re there too. We’ve got more on fishing later in this article.
Insider’s tip: Bring binoculars with you so you can spot the wading birds!
Are there Alligators or Crocodiles in Weedon Island Preserve?
Thankfully for kayakers, there are no alligators in Weedon Island Preserve. Alligators actually prefer freshwater rivers and lakes, and are rarely found in saltier habitats. Because Weedon Island Preserve is surrounded by the slightly salty Old Tampa Bay, this is not an ideal environment for alligators. That said, an alligator could find itself in the preserve but it would be a rare occurrence.
One large reptile that doesn’t mind saltwater environments is the American Crocodile, and while there have been rumors for years that a small population of crocodiles live in Tampa Bay, there’s no proof (yet) that any have made their way to Weedon Island Preserve.
Some of the best things to do in Weedon Island Preserve
Next, lets cover some of the best things to do when visiting Weedon Island Preserve.
Kayaking in Weedon Island Preserve
One of the most popular activities is kayaking through the preserve. This is a great way to observe the mangroves and wildlife up close. You can choose to kayak, canoe, or even stand-up paddle board your way through the paddling trails.
You can choose to bring your own kayak if you have one, or rent one from a local company. Sweet Water Kayaks is a popular choice due to their close proximity to the preserve.
There are two main paddling trails in Weedon Island Preserve. The north paddling trail runs through mangrove tunnels, eventually landing at Gandy Beach. The distance of the north trail is approximately two miles, making it the shorter option for those looking for a quick kayak excursion.
The south paddling trail, on the other hand, is a longer option for those looking to spend more time on the water. At a total distance of approximately 4 miles, this paddling trail is great for those moving at a leisurely pace. Its best to allow up to 3-4 hours to complete this trail. You can get a free map of this trail here.
Insider’s tip: Check the tides before planning your kayak trip as the mangrove tunnels are best explored at a high tide so you can easily float along.
Hiking in Weedon Island
The preserve has 4.7 miles of boardwalks and trails for visitors to enjoy, and six trails in total.
The two boardwalks are the premium spots to observe nature and wildlife within the preserve as they cut directly through the mangrove forests and tidal flats. Subsequently many birds, fish, and aquatic wildlife can be seen directly from them. At approximately two miles long, these boardwalks are family friendly and suitable for everyone. They’re even accessible for those in a wheelchair.
Another popular walking trail in the preserve is the Boy Scout Loop. This trail is short and easy, and suitable for all ages. Enjoy some time meandering through the preserve whilst observing the wildlife and nature.
You can see all six trails, including the two boardwalks, on this map.
Insider’s tip: While the summer months are often the hottest, they’re some of the best for hiking if you want solitude as this is one of the least busy times for hiking here. Get up early to avoid the heat and enjoy having the trails all to yourself!
Fishing at Weedon Island
Fishing is another popular activity for visitors. You can only fish off of the pier or by boat in the waters around the preserve. Just be aware of kayakers as some areas have both kayaking and fishing permitted. There’s plenty of fish you can catch, such as sea trout, snook, and sheepshead.
However shell fishing is prohibited within the reserve. All regulations around fishing for the state of Florida apply within Weedon Island Preserve too – you can find some of those regulations here.
Before visiting if you plan to fish, it’s worth referring to the preserve’s website to ensure you’re compliant with the regulations.
Swimming at Weedon Island Preserve
Swimming at Weedon Island Preserve isn’t prohibited but we wouldn’t recommend it as you can find sting rays, mangrove salt marsh snakes, and other animals living in the water here. Rather it’s better to kayak. The water isn’t very clear anyway, and is quite brackish.
Cultural and Natural History Center
The Cultural and Natural History Center is another one of the main attractions of Weedon Island Preserve. The land within the preserve has a long and rich cultural history which you can learn about at the center!
Here you’ll find information about the Native Americans that lived in the area. Many artifacts have been excavated from Weedon Island and are now on display.
Additionally, there are often lectures and exhibits run regularly at the center, so check the preserve’s website before you go for any special events while you’re there, or the center’s Facebook page. The center is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday every week so keep that in mind when planning your visit.
Plan a Picnic
Visiting the Preserve can often be a full day trip. While there, you’ll likely be hungry at some point during the day – so why not take a picnic! There are several picnic areas and pavilions within the preserve where you can relax and enjoy a meal.
There are some rules and restrictions within the preserve to keep in mind though. For meal planning purposes, alcohol and portable grills are not allowed within Weedon Island Preserve.
Guided Tours and Additional Events
There are special events and guided tours run regularly within the preserve. Guided tours are held every Saturday for free for visitors. These tours provide insights into the natural and cultural features of Weedon Island.
Lectures and hands on events such as archaeology labs to learn how the area is excavated are held regularly as well. There are kid-friendly activities designed for families visiting the preserve. Many of these programs require reservations, so be sure to check Weedon Island Preserve’s website when planning your trip.
Weedon Island Preserve: Planning Your Trip
There are a few things to be aware of when planning your trip. First is the preserve’s hours. Weedon Island Preserve opens daily at 7am, but the closing time will be roughly 15 minutes before sunset each day. When you pass the entrance check for the exact closing time for that day.
The other consideration are the rules while in the preserve. These shouldn’t hinder your experience, but they are worth being aware of. For instance, pets are not allowed in the preserve. So no dogs in Weedon Island Preserve, even if they’re on a leash.
Additionally, plants within the preserve are protected, so you can’t pick plants while hiking or enjoying nature.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, things like alcohol and portable grills are prohibited within the preserve as well.
For a full list of rules, check out the Weedon Island Preserve FAQ page before visiting.
Our Final Note: Weedon Island Preserve
Weedon Island Preserve has something for everyone and many of the activities are appealing for all ages!
Whether you’re interested in hiking, kayaking, learning about the area’s nature and history, or just relaxing outside, there’s plenty of options for everyone. If you’re visiting the St. Petersburg, FL area, Weedon Island Preserve is well worth a day trip.