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Everglades Challenge
Sea Kayaks, Canoes & Small Boats

CP1 - Grande Tours

Roughly 60 miles along the coast from Tampa Bay you will come to Boca Grande Pass into Charlotte Harbor.  The Grande Tours checkpoint is located a few miles north of the pass at Placida, Florida adjacent to the inland waterway

Placing the checkpoint north of Boca Grande means that you will have a "safe haven" to wait out the weather if the pass is dangerous.  If you're not too tired and the conditions in the pass are good, just check in, cross the pass, and camp at Cayo Costa.  But if conditions are bad or you are not in condition to continue, you will have a nice place to stay and recover or wait for weather to clear.  

Finding Grande Tours

Grande Tours is tucked just a bit out of the way from Intercoastal as you approach the Boca Grande area.  You will need your chart to interpret these directions.  I'm using Maptech Number 31 Edition 1.


Click to get larger views.

Thanks SansSouci.

An aerial shot of Grande Tours.  The always open railway bridge is shown.  Looking south.  The swinging bridge is just out of the picture on the right side. 

Contact and Operating Info:

Open 7 days 08:30 to 16:00;
Launch Fee $5;
Additional Parking $5 per day;
Bunk House $20 per day, 2 per room, has A/C, & hot showers;
Day use of showers at $5.

Note that during a challenge WaterTribe has full use of the bunkhouse and restroom facilities.  Challengers can claim a bunk on a first come, first served basis without paying any fees.

Grande Tours has kayaks for rent, eco tours, bikes, and nice pontoon boats that make stable photography platforms.

Access to Grande Tours is easy.  Just find Placida north of Boca Grande pass on a Florida map and go there.  They are very close to the corner of 775 and 771 on the east side of 775.

Grande Tours
12575 Placida Road (775)
Placida, Florida  33946.


Thanks AndrewsCanoes

Here is another view showing the route in red.

If you approach the area from the outside you will see the fixed bridge as you enter Gasparilla Pass. Unfortunately there isn't a clearance gauge on the bridge pilings so you will have to eyeball the clearance. Bird Key offers a beach that you can use if you need to step your mast. Stay on the causeway side of Bird Key or shoals will get you. Kayakers -- no problemo. You can also pass between Bird Key and the causeway and go on down to the swinging bridge between Placida Harbor and Gasparilla Sound. There are two clearance gauges here one for the lowest point of the bridge (left side of southbound channel) and one for the highest point of the bridge (right side of southbound channel). Note that the swinging bridge has a south bound channel and a north bound channel.  My sailing kayak would be able to scoot under the highest part of the bridge at low tide but not at high tide. It all depends on mast height.

After you get by the bridges you have to pass through the old railway bridge. This section is always open since the rail system isn't used any more.

Just after you pass through the railway cutout you will see two channels on your left. Take the second channel. They aren't very far apart. The channel is off the Intercoastal flashing red marker number "20".   The channel leading to your left will have markers "1 green" and "2 red"  but remember, it's the SECOND channel leading to the left.  The first channel has the same numbers so it's easy to get confused especially at night.  

Follow the second channel almost to the marina that you see dead ahead but turn left just before you enter the marina.  

While paddling in using the second channel, keep looking left and you will immediately see a low bridge. Vertical clearance is only about 6 to 8 feet. The distance between the 771 bridge pilings is about 12 feet. Grande Tours has a couple of pontoon boats that are 10 feet wide that go through all the time.  Squeeze between the bridge pilings and you will see another spur of railroad ending in the water. Go around the end where there is a channel, but STAY CLOSE TO THE END OF THE RAILROAD BRIDGE. There are some nasty pilings just under the water on the right side.

Now stay close to the left bank of mangroves. Not too close or you will run aground. But not too far away either or you will run aground. the channel isn't marked but stay 10 to 15 yards off the left bank and you should be OK. This whole area has lots of oyster bars. Be careful if you have an inflatable or a pretty boat.

Grande Tours is less than 5 minutes from the railroad spur. Bear left always. If you go to the right you will get lost.

From the Intercoastal after the swinging bridge it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to get to Grande Tours, and I was lollygagging.

Fresh Water

Grande Tours has fresh water available.  They also have an outdoor shower, restroom, a bunkhouse, and a bivouac area. 

Physical Check In Station

An ORANGE LOCKBOX will be located on the picnic tables next to the canoe ramp at Grande Tours

In the ORANGE LOCKBOX you will find a logbook.  You must sign the logbook and fill out each section adjacent to your name.  

Landing Waypoints for Grande Tours and Cayo Costa

The canoe landing at Grande Tours is on a deep water channel just around the corner from the intercoastal waterway.  

Lat/Lon Checkpoint 1
Grand Tours Kayak Landing

026° 50.13 N
082° 16.11 W

The lockbox is on a picnic table next to the landing.

The outside north end of Cayo Costa has a nice beach that is usually easy to land on.  If the weather is contrary, you may also pull in on the inside of the island.  

Lat/Lon of Cayo Costa
Beach Landing 

026° 41.21 N
082° 15.54 W

This at the beach in front of the campground.  Due to surf conditions you may have to pick a different landing point.  Just up the beach from this point you will find the next position given below.

Lat/Lon of Cayo Costa 
Campground Trail 

026° 41.21 N
082° 15.52 W

This point is standing on the beach just at the start of the trail leading into the campground that passes right by the restroom.

Accommodations at Grande Tours

Grande Tours is (or has) remodeling its bunkhouse.  The information below is from last year.  This year there will be hot showers and A/C in the bunkhouse.

Grande Tours has a bunkhouse with four bunks.  These bunks will be reserved for our use Saturday and Sunday night.  They are on a first come first served basis.  You must provide your own bed roll.  There will be a sign up sheet outside the bunkhouse that will let you know if there is room.  If there isn't room, stay out so you don't disturb the lucky (and faster) ones.

In addition to the bunks there are a few picnic tables that can be used as platforms for bivvy bags.  Don't use the table that has the lockbox on it because it will also serve as the kitchen table for cooking and eating.  There is plenty of room to pitch tents as needed.

The bunkhouse has a single restroom with its own door.  Anyone can use it even if your don't have a bunk.  Please keep it clean.

The canoe landing shows attention to detail.  The bivouac area would be to the right in this picture in front of the pontoon boats.

The restroom is on pilings.  There is a wheelchair ramp that spirals to the balcony.

Four large bunks are inside.  There is also a microwave.

After Grande Tours Checkpoint 
Crossing Boca Grande and Cayo Costa Camping

Some challengers may want to leave noise and activity at CP1 and cover a few more miles before camping at Cayo Costa.  The following is for information only.  There are no checkpoints at Cayo Costa.

Tide Rips

There is a very strong tide into and out of Charlotte Harbor through Boca Grande pass.  If you are close to shore, be sure your ferry glide technique is perfect.  In some places I've been traveling backwards while paddling as if my life depended on it.  If you are a little outside, the current is not as strong but be advised.

Big Fish and Big Boats

Boca Grande Pass is famous for tarpon fishing.  Stay well away from large groups of boats that are fishing the pass.  They don't give a darn about you and they have a short temper.  Also, watch for boats "drifting" through the pass.  They are worse.  Also, watch for boats running the pass to get to the head of the drift line.  They are the worst.  The bottom line is -- be careful.  Many kayakers traverse this pass all the time so I don't mean to be an alarmist.  Just be alert.

Did I mention tide races and rough water?

Cayo Costa Ranger Station 

If you decide to take the inside route, you can land at the ranger station.  Note that from any distance it is difficult to see the ranger station from a kayak.  There is usually a group of boats anchored between Cayo Costa and an adjacent mangrove island called Punta Blanca Island. If you are paddling down the inside of Cayo Costa, you can't miss it.  There isn't a public phone at Cayo Costa.

Lat/Lon of Cayo Costa 
Ranger Station Dock 

026° 41.16 N
082° 14.72 W

This point is standing on the dock in front of the ranger station.

Lat/Lon of Cayo Costa 
Ranger Station Landing for Kayaks and Canoes 

026° 41.17 N
082° 14.76 W

From the ranger station dock look to your right and see a small inlet with a wooden boardwalk/dock on the left side and mangroves on the right side.  This is a short inlet -- maybe 50 yards long.  Just a bit before the inlet comes to a dead end look on the right side for a small sign indicating the kayak and canoe landing.

After landing, follow the trail around to your left to get to the ranger station.

A little further and you will find a restroom.  The wide road in front of the restroom leads straight to the campground.  Don't take any turns along the path at night or you will get lost.

If you land on the ranger station side, you will have to carry all your gear over to the other side of the island for camping.  There is a tram available but it only runs a few times each day.  In the 2001 Challenge some racers were allowed to bivouac at the canoe landing, but don't count on it.

Fresh Water at Cayo Costa

Fresh water is available at Cayo Costa.  In the campground on the beach side of the restroom building you will find a shower.  On the opposite side of the building you will find a wash tub and a spigot.  The water is fresh and potable.  If you are particular about taste, you might want to filter it.  Many people clean fish in this area.

Be Quiet At Night

If you come in at night, be respectful of the other campers and the rangers.  Be as quiet as possible while setting up your camp.  The other people in the campground are looking for peace and quiet.  If we disturb them, we may not get to use this checkpoint in future events.  But on the other hand don't expect all the campers to be quiet for you.  You may end up next to a bunch of party animals.

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