One of the activities that Shirley and I have discovered that we love to do together is to find an area that we haven’t visited before and go discover it. I can’t remember a drive somewhere that we didn’t come across something interesting and simply relax and enjoy our time together. Earlier this year (2020) in April, we jumped in the car and drove south across the Skyway Bridge to Bradenton, FL. This is how we stumbled across the Robinson Preserve.
We first stopped off at the Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton. Riverwalk is a 1.5-mile park along the Manatee River. For people who live in downtown Bradenton, this is a great place to come and hang out. There’s a beach volleyball court, fishing pier, outdoor gym, family fun zone for the kids, a small amphitheater, and skate park. One guy had hung a hammock between two palm trees to chill out for the afternoon. We took a nice walk along the river for about an hour.
Then Shirley discovered the Robinson Preserve, another of the Bradenton Parks, on her Google Maps app. We knew nothing about it. We were only 7 miles away to the west. Let’s go check it out. A note about using Google Maps to get to the entrance. It will direct you to continue driving west on Manatee Ave W over Palma Sola Bay. But at that point, you’ve gone too far. You need to take a right and go north on 75th St NW. Then left on 17th St NW to get to the north entrance to Robinson Preserve.
But once you get there be prepared for a wonderful place to hike, bike, and kayak. Also, be prepared that the parking lot is a bit small and appears even more so when you first get there. Just know there is more parking than you can see behind the first few rows of cars.
On this trip, we didn’t bring our bikes or kayaks. We didn’t know we’d run into this little piece of paradise. So, we hiked a few miles and saw enough to decide that we would be back. And, this time we’d be outfitted with the kayaks and bikes. Which is exactly what we did two weeks later.
Robinson Preserve Information
One of the Manatee County preserves, Robinson Preserve consists of 487 acres (expanding to 682 acres through acquisition and new habitat restoration, see note below) of saltern, marsh, and mangroves. There are 3 miles of paved trails for hiking, biking, and rollerblading. The paved trail in Robinson Preserve is wide enough where bikes and people can coexist nicely. There is an additional 1.5 miles of unpaved trails only for hikers. See information about the ‘rubber trail’ below. You can also take the stairs up a 40-foot observation tower to get an amazing view and gain perspective on your location and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Manatee River, and Tampa Bay. Check the Robinson Preserve Map below.
Robinson Preserve hiking trails have been expanded with the addition of a ‘rubber trail’ that winds around the interior of the preserve. It’s a rubber surface much like you would find on an athletic track facility. It’s of course very flat and smooth and easy on the joints. So, it’s perfect for those in wheelchairs, older folks, kids, and also joggers. I’ve never seen anything like this in a preserve or park before. Although I did see a strip of this next to the paved portion of the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, SC.
Starting Tuesday, May 26, the South Entrance Parking Lot on 9th Ave NW and associated trails (including the rubber trail) will be closed for habitat restoration on 135 acres in the expansion area of Robinson Preserve. The NEST grounds will remain open as will the North Entrance, North Parking Lot, and associated trails and the kayak launch. This restoration project will last approximately seven months.
This project will enhance fisheries habitat and install native plants. There will also be the construction of new pavilions, restrooms, kayak storage tubes, benches, and trail-side shade structures. None of this expansion should greatly affect the great hiking and biking at Robinson Preserve. Kayaking won’t be affected at all.
The view, the various ecosystems, and the tranquility make hiking, biking, and kayaking at Robinson Preserve a great outdoor Florida experience. And, one that you would be inclined to do multiple times because you really can’t absorb it all in just one trip.
Kayaking at Robinson Preserve
Let’s talk about kayaking at Robinson Preserve. Immediately upon entering the north parking lot off of 17th St NW that we show in the map above, you’ll see the kayak/canoe launch to the right. There is a small semi-loop that you can pull into to drop off your kayak or canoe. But it’s small. So, drop off your equipment and go park your vehicle allowing for others to access the launch area. There are a water spigot and hose available to wash down and rinse off your kayak when you come back.
Kayak and Paddleboard Rental at Robinson Preserve
If you don't own kayaks or don't want to transport them, you can rent kayaks or paddleboards at Robinson Preserve from Kayak Jack's Bradenton.
Single Kayak- $30.00 4 hours
Tandem Kayak- $50.00 4 hours
Paddleboard- $30.00 4 hours
Guided Eco-Tours- $50.00 per person 2 hours
Kayak Jack's is great for Bradenton kayak rentals because they deliver the kayaks to you. So if you're kayaking Bradenton or the surrounding area visit kayak-jacks.com.
We are not paddleboarders but we saw a few in the water. If you're paddle boarding Bradenton, FL, or paddle boarding Sarasota, you should consider Robinson Preserve.
Two Great Kayaking Routes
Admittedly we are new kayakers and perhaps don’t have the stamina just yet to kayak the whole of Robinson Preserve. But we had a great time kayaking where we did. The kayak trail is well marked and, in most areas very wide. All kayakers will head north through the mangroves and then southwest until it opens into a large area where you can choose to continue straight ahead. That route will turn south and then southwest all the way to Palma Sola Bay. Or, as we did, you can head north once again under some bridges and then out to Tampa Bay!
This was the highlight of the kayaking adventure at Robinson Preserve for me. You paddle under a bridge through a narrow waterway and then you see it. The aqua blue of the Bay. Even the novice kayaker will feel safe to paddle out about a hundred yards from shore. There is a sand bar about 50 yards out where kayakers stop and gather, have a snack, and take photographs either in or outside their kayak.
Robinson Preserve Alligators
When on or near Florida waterways, you should always expect that alligators could be present. Robinson Preserve is no exception although we didn't see any on either of our trips there. However, we did see fish jumping everywhere and Cormorants were plentiful too.
Alligators and Inflatable Kayaks
Speaking of alligators, you may have noticed that we have inflatable kayaks. We are not going to venture into areas where alligators are very plentiful and where there aren't a lot of other kayakers. When there are lots of people alligators will tend to be more cautious and less aggressive. But we are careful at all times.
The reason we have inflatables is that they are much easier to transport. They fold up into a carry case and fit nicely into our small Kia Soul. One other reason is that kayaking is a new sport for us. We didn't want to spend too much on kayaks until we knew that we would use them a lot. Our Intex inflatable Explorer 2-man kayaks (we each have a tandem for the added storage space) cost less than $90.00 with the paddles.
Shirley loves hers. I had a challenge with the inflatable seat not giving my back enough support. So, I purchased a kayak seat with a higher back to it. Otherwise, they serve the purpose until we decide that kayaking is something we want to do long term. Then we'll be getting standard kayaks and decide how to transport them.
If you’re adventurous and have more strength and stamina, you can paddle west along the shoreline of the Bay. You could also eventually turn south into Perico Bayou. Just know that you’ll have to paddle back the same way you came if you parked in the north parking lot. However, you may be able to find a place to park a 2nd vehicle somewhere along Manatee Ave W (Route 64). We biked to this area but can’t specifically recall if there is a parking area and kayak launch area there. But it’s quite possible there is.
Bring Your Bikes Too!
We got our fill of kayaking and then, after stowing our kayaks, broke out the bikes. We biked every inch of the Robinson Preserve and enjoyed every minute of it. And, for someone like me that lived in California for over 30 years, here’s what’s so amazing to me about Florida. Not only did we not feel that there were too many people around. And, that we just stumbled upon this place instead of it being a common tourist attraction. That it was easily accessible, and we could find a place to park. But it was completely free! That fact that cities, counties, and the state of Florida make it a priority to preserve and make available the myriad of ecosystems for people to enjoy is absolutely priceless!
Enjoy your day at Robinson Preserve, one of many Bradenton, FL parks. Another great Florida Road trip!