Explore The Lido Key Mangrove Tunnels
Updated: Feb 18
A Self-Guided Tour
The Ted Sperling Park, located in the southeast area of Lido Key at 190 Taft Drive, offers a distinctly Floridian experience. Go on a little adventure into the mangrove forest and explore this unique ecosystem by kayak or stand up paddleboard. When you enter the mangrove tunnels you will gently glide into the shaded, cooler, otherworldly realm. The tunnels are magical and mysterious. The immense quiet, stillness, and sacredness makes you intensely aware of your surroundings and you’ll want to take it all in. The only sound is the soft lapping of your paddle in the brackish water and the breeze in the upper boughs. This activity is one that focuses you on the present moment and it’s fun and interesting.
“ For an unforgettable, pure Florida experience, take a paddling trip through the Lido Key mangrove tunnels.”
This ecosystem contains a vast array of wildlife in and above the water. Some common wildlife encounters are:
The water around the tunnels and Brushy Bayou are too shallow for dolphins and manatees. You are most likely to encounter them with a paddle around Otter Key. Otter Key is a mangrove island located to the north (to the left as you leave the launch site).
The depth of water in and around the mangroves is shallow. In most places the water is barely knee high. Therefore it’s best to venture through the tunnels at high tide. If you are navigating the tunnels on a stand up paddleboard be careful of the low hanging branches. You can check the tide levels at Tide-Forecast. If you rent a kayak or take a tour, the operator will instruct you on the best time to go through the tunnels.
The launch site is hidden. You can’t see it from the parking lot. As you walk past the restrooms that will be on your right, turn right at the outdoor shower and cleaning station and follow the short, dirt path to the bay. The launch is accessible to kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. This site is open to the public and you can use your own equipment. The launch is free of charge. The parking is also free; however, parking is limited. If you have a kayak or canoe, there are 2 spaces close to the launch site reserved for loading/unloading which is very convenient especially if you can’t find a parking space near the launch site.
20 minute loading Kayak rinse station Path to the launch Launch site
& unloading zone & outdoor shower site
The mangrove tunnels are to the right as you
leave the launch sight. The tunnels are
numbered and the signposts are marked with
an arrow indicating the direction of traffic. It’s
best to follow the arrows because the tunnels
are very narrow and not designed for two-way
traffic. See the photo of my map which was
recorded using my Garmin 920. Each tunnel
is not very long and the maze of tunnels is
not extensive so there’s no fear of getting lost
but gives you a sense of adventure.
For a self-guided tour, follow the instructions
Mangrove Tunnel Path Directions:
Sign Post #1:
The Kayak Launch at Ted Sperling Park is designated #1. As you leave the launch site and enter Sarasota Bay, turn right. There will be a small alcove, Little Lagoon, immediately to your right. Pass this cove and stay to the right. You will enter into a larger cove. Circle the perimeter counterclockwise looking for birds and other wildlife. About ¾ of the way around this circular cove, there is an offshoot on your right that looks like a dead end. Turn here. You will have to paddle very close to the mangroves to see the next sign post. The post, #2, is hidden a few feet in the tunnel entrance.
Sign Post #2:
The post is hidden in the entrance of the tunnel. This is a straight, relatively short tunnel but it will be your first immersion into the tunnels so go slowly and enjoy your time in this tunnel.
As you exit the tunnel, turn to your right. You will pass a hidden beach on your left which is a good place to stop after your exploration of the tunnels. As you pass the entrance to the beach on your left, you will see Sign Post #3 with a very faded arrow pointing to your right. Turn right into a very large cove area known as Big Grass Lagoon. Stay to the right. As you slowly paddle counterclockwise around the cove you will see a wooden platform on your right. As you pass the wooden observation deck, the opening in the mangrove forest will slowly emerge. You basically have to enter the tunnel before you will be able to see the directional post. There is a sign post labeled only with an arrow pointing straight ahead inside the entrance of the tunnel on the right side. Stay to the right and then you will see Sign Post #4.
Sign Post #4:
Now you are getting into the heart of the mangrove forest. This tunnel is curvy making you anticipate what lies around the next bend. It’s so pretty and unique so paddle slowly to allow time to take it all in. Look for wildlife above and below the surface of the water. Also take time to check out the intricate and unusual root system of the mangrove. As you exit this tunnel, you enter the very still water of Brushy Bayou. This secluded bay has water smooth as glass allowing you to see the reflection of the clouds and several high rise buildings located along the Gulf coast.
Paddle to your left to find the next tunnel & sign post #5. There are several open spaces in the forest that look like possible tunnels. Don’t let them fake you out. You will know you are close to the next tunnel when you see a wooden platform ahead. Sign post #5 is easily visible from the bayou. This is another long and slightly windy tunnel. Enjoy the scenery, silence, and shade. At the first “y” split in the path, stay to the left. At the second “y” split, stay to the right.
After your tour of the tunnels, it’s a good time to stop at the hidden beach for a walk (and give your upper body muscles a rest). In the summer, you may wish to take a dip in the water to cool off. Be sure to pack a bottle of water with you to stay hydrated.
Otter Key Path Directions:
If you are ready for more paddling, you can check out Otter Key which is to the left (north) of the launch site. The owners of the very first house you come upon on the left do not want kayakers close to their property. There are two wooden poles marking the distance from the shoreline and paddlers need to stay to the right of these markers. You can travel around Otter Key clockwise or counterclockwise. I’m partial to the counterclockwise route. The depth is shallow on the bay side of the island and there are grass flats here where the cormorants like to fish. If you’re lucky, cormorants will fish under your kayak/paddleboard and may even hitch a ride on your kayak. Photo op! I like to paddle across the grass flats close to the demarcation where the water gets deep in the bay channel because there is a higher probability of seeing dolphins and manatees.
When you are about 2/3 of the way around Otter Key, there is a channel leading to St. Armands Circle. This major channel starts after you pass the waterfront home with a sculpture of stick figure person painted in red snapping a photo. There is a good chance that you will see manatees in this channel. Also throughout the year, the spectacular seasonal colors and flowering foliage are very picturesque. After scouting for manatees in the channel you continue counterclockwise. I have often seen dolphins in this area so keep watch for the dorsal fin of these playful marine mammals. On your left, close to Otter Key, you will see a rusty scrap of metal that looks sort of like a bridge. It’s the barge remaining from the dredging of the channels done by John Ringling. The dirt and debris from the dredging was used to form Bird Key. You will often find all kinds of birds roosting on the barge. Now you will head back to the launch site.
After your exploration of the tunnels, you will be hungry. You can head to St Armands Circle for a meal or you can enjoy a picnic under the trees where there are a few picnic tables.
I have explored the tunnels on numerous occasions and have never had a problem with mosquitos. So no insect repellant is needed. However, I do advise wearing sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses and to bring a bottle of water with you.
free, public kayak launch site
kayak and paddleboard rentals onsite
tour companies onsite
kayak rinse station
free parking on paved lot
"For an unforgettable, pure Florida experience, take a paddling trip through the Lido Key mangrove tunnels."