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Best-Kept Secret: Caladesi Island State Park (Florida)

Sandpipers on the Caladesi Beach just north of Clearwater Beach

Getting to Caladesi Island is as beautiful as the destination itself. One of Tampa Bay Area’s best-kept secrets is hidden in plain sight. It takes some knowledge and effort to get there, which makes the reward even sweeter – and the island less crowded.

Caladesi Island State Park is an outstanding natural destination in the Tampa Bay Area for nature walks, relaxing, beach-combing, birding, wildlife-watching, saltwater fishing, and playing in and on the water. Because it takes a little extra effort to get to the island, it never feels overcrowded – and always like a place you earned to enjoy. And of course, there are no cars driving around anywhere.

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico through barren tree branches
Advantage of the long walk up to Caladesi, you get to enjoy the sunset on your walk back.

Caladesi Island State Park Overview

Officially, the only way to get to Caladesi Island is via the waterways – by private boat or ferry. But those in the know and health, can also paddle over from the Dunedin Causeway or even walk up from Clearwater Beach.

Caladesi Island features big white sand beach, clear water, blue sky, trees

In some ways, Caladesi Island truly appears to be the Florida Gulf Coast’s best kept secret – that is open to the public. Granted, there may be lots of secrets we haven’t discovered yet. What makes it such a well-kept secret is that it takes a bit of extra knowledge, effort, money, or planning to get there.

Even the island’s marina (which offers food and other concessions, and several overnight boat-camping spots) is not visible if you happen to cruise by its entrance on a boat. You’ve got to know it’s there – and then follow the signs to maneuver into the canal through the mangrove.

Cormorants on sign at the waterway entrance to Caladesi Island State Park, the real Florida
You found it! If you see this sign from your boat or kayak, you’re on the channel to the Caladesi Marina.

Most visitors probably just visit the island to the north, Honeymoon Island, without fully realizing what a gem lies to the south. Actually, the two used to be one single island.

Caladesi Island seen across Hurricane Pass from the Honeymoon Island Pet Beach
Caladesi Island seen across Hurricane Pass from the Honeymoon Island Pet Beach

During a 1921 hurricane, the island then known as Hog Island was split in two: creating Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island – and Hurricane Pass in-between. It’s not totally clear where the name came from. Some have said the name means “beautiful bayou.” According to a New York Times article, the Spanish may once have called it Cayo (or islet) de Caldees after a fisherman who had a camp there in the late 18th century.

Today you cannot walk from one island to the other – even though during low tides it might almost seem like you could. The channel in-between is too deep. But you can paddle over fairly easily. That is, if you dodge all the boats, wave runners and their wakes – and are okay with paddling perpendicular to a current.

Caladesi Island State Park Map


How To Get To Caladesi Island

Ferry from Honeymoon Island

The Caladesi Island Ferry travels from its launch just inside Honeymoon Island State Park to the Caladesi Island Marina every half an hour – starting at 10 am every day. As of this writing, the roundtrip ferry ride costs $16 per adult, $8 per kid (6-12) and is free for children under 6. Pets are not allowed on the ferry. Yes, you’ll have to pay the entrance fee for Honeymoon Island as well, which is currently between $2 and $4 per adult (depending on how with whom you arrive at that island).

Caladesi Island Ferry Boat from Honeymoon Island
Caladesi Island Ferry Boat from Honeymoon Island

Paddle Over on a Kayak or SUP

You can rent kayaks and SUPs from Sail Honeymoon on the Dunedin Causeway. If you bring your own vessel, you can park along the south-side of the causeway on a modest strip of beach to launch.

With your own or a rented vessel, you can also paddle over from the Honeymoon Island pet beach. When you are heading across, PLEASE be aware that you’ll be crossing a boating channel. Some of the boats and jet ski might be going faster than you think, and all can cause a wake. If you’re going directly from Honeymoon Island Beach to Caladesi Beach, the narrower passage can also mean that there’s more of a current. Kayakers are supposed to pay a $2 entry fee.

Mangrove trees growing out of the water along kayaking trail around Caladesi Island State Park, Florida
Paddling along mangrove forest growing straight out of the saltwater.

Boat To the Caladesi Marina

If you have your own boat, cruising into the small Caladesi Island harbor is the way to go. The entrance is on the east side of the island. The first time, we found it by just following the ferry.

You can make a reservation or hope for an available slip once you get there. You will have to pay an entrance fee. Now you can enjoy the facilities, a cold beer, picnic tables, shady trails – and easy access to the vast beach on the gulf side.

If you arrive by boat, you have to pay a $6 entry fee at the marina. Additional charges to stay overnight.

Caladesi Island State Park Marina and Cafe
Approaching the Caladesi Island State Park Marina

On Foot

This is not the official way to reach the island – nor is it necessarily the easiest or most convenient. It’s just: you can. And it happens to be the way we have visited “the island” most times.

Because, you see the, the landscape along the gulf coast keeps on changing – with storms, beach reclamation – and even just the tides. So currently and during low tide, Caladesi isn’t totally an island. These days, you can walk along the shore from North Clearwater Beach into Caladesi State Park. But you’re going to have to navigate around some scratchy trees and – depending on the tides, you’ll probably have to get in the water for a bit.

And “walking from North Clearwater Beach” means you’re going to have to walk north on the beach for over 3.5 km (over 2 miles) from the last public parking spot. Lucky if you’re staying at one of the few houses along NCB. This long walk is one of our favorites, because leashed dogs are allowed on North Clearwater Beach. However, pets are not allowed on Caladesi Beach – only on the trails and in the marina.

Caladesi Island State Park sign on the beach walking up from Clearwater Beach
Caladesi Island State Park sign at the “entrance” coming up from Clearwater Beach. Depending on the circumstances, you may not be able to get further into the park from this point. But you did just have a nice long walk up Clearwater Beach, right? Surely, you wore sunscreen and brought water.

What To Do On and Around Caladesi Island

We have to emphasize the “around” Caladesi Island because our favorite activity has been paddling along the east side of the island – facing St. Joseph sound and the mainland. Here the water is so shallow and clear that you get to see all kinds of wildlife, like stingrays, sharks, crabs and lots of fish. There’s an abundance of birds along the sandy shore (e.g., great blue herons, snowy egrets, sandpipers), in the mangrove trees (e.g., roseate spoonbills, pelicans) and plunging down into the water (e.g., osprey) or diving down (e.g., cormorant) to catch fish. And if the timing is right, you’ll get to see manatees grazing and dolphins jumping.

East bayside of Caladesi Island
View from SUP paddling along Caladesi Island’s east bayside – entrance to marina is somewhere ahead – and lots of amazing wildlife visible below.

Of course, there are the miles of vast white sand beach along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico on the west side and at the northern tip, facing Honeymoon Island across Hurricane Pass. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. The beach is accessible by elevated boardwalk – and beach wheelchairs are available for free.

The state park maintains 3 miles of trails through the wooded center of the island.

The Mangrove Kayak Trail invites you to explore the unique landscape and wildlife of saltwater mangrove forest. You can do a shorter or the full 3-mile trail. There are even ruins of the 1800s Scharer Homestead to be discovered. It’s possible to rent kayaks at the marina for $25 a person.

Bring or make your own food! Besides having your entire picnic ready because you followed some of the Happier Place outdoor food and drink recipes, you can also reserve picnic tables with grills and cook on the island.

The marina houses a café – offering food, souvenirs, and drinks. Cheers.

Take a break, go outside, have fun, Happier Place canvas ready bag, Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island, koozies, beer, french fries
Take a break, go outside, have fun, and get some fries and beer at the marina café.

Hours, Fees, Location, Contact, and Other FAQs

HOURS: The park is officially open from 8am until sundown, every day of the year.

FEES: The entrance fee all depends on how you arrive. It’s $6 per boat for up to 8 people – $2 per additional person. If you arrive by paddling, it’s $2 per person.

If you arrive by ferry from Honeymoon Island, you’ll have to pay the Honeymoon Island entrance fee ($2 per pedestrian/cyclist, $4 for single-occupancy car, $8 per more crowded car) and the ferry ticket ($16 per adult, $8 per child over 5).

As always, we recommend for everyone local to the state to purchase an annual individual or family pass. First of all, having a pass encourage you to go to these awesome state parks more often. And you either safe money, if you go often enough – or you know that the extra money you spent supports the fantastic state park system.

LOCATION: Offshore Island near Dunedin, FL 34698

CONTACT: 727-469-5918

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

DOGS: Non-service dogs and other pets are not allowed on the Caladesi Ferry or the beach. Anywhere else on the island, dogs are allowed on a 6-foot leash.

ACCESSIBLE AMENITIES: The ferry, café, restrooms, picnic facilities – and even the beach are defined as accessible. An elevated boardwalk leads to the beach – and free beach wheelchairs are available. Service dogs are allowed on the island. Find out more.

Wooden, elevated board walk to Caladesi Beach
Elevated boardwalk to the gulfside beach.

Nearby Attractions

Honeymoon Island – The neighboring island with more amenities and the ferry that you might take to reach Caladesi.

Dunedin – A quaint town featuring Florida’s oldest microbrewery (Dunedin Brewery) and lots of restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors and more breweries.

Pinellas Trail – Over 25 miles of the rails-to-trails asphalt bike trail covering the entire Pinellas Peninsula runs through Dunedin and close the Causeway.

Clearwater Beach – If you’re looking for more people, parties, and a place to stay on the beach this is where it’s at.

Three Rooker Island and Anclote Key Preserve State Park – If you’re traveling by boat, cruise up to these islands for more skinny-water fishing and bird watching.

Other Florida State Parks

Natural Beach Paradise: Honeymoon Island State Park (Tampa Bay Area)

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (Key West)

Florida Keys Highlight: Bahia Honda State Park (The Keys)

Anastasia State Park on Anastasia Island (St. Augustine) + VIDEO

Take a break, go outside, have fun, Happier Place cotton shoulder bag hanging from beach shack, on the beach where Clearwater Beach changes to Caladesi
Take a break, go outside, have fun, and hang your Happier Place cotton shoulder bag in a shady spot while your rest a while.

Related Happier Place Products

Products featured in photos taken around Caladesi Island State Park.

More Photos From Caladesi Island State Park

Protected sea oats grow along the dunes on Caladesi Island
Protected sea oats grow along the dunes on Caladesi Island
Cactus with red fruits on Caladesi Island, Florida
Cactus fruits
trees growing on the beach and into the saltwater, Caladesi Island State Park
If you try to walk from Clearwater Beach to Caladesi State Park, you’ll encounter several of these spots that force you to walk in the water. And yes, those are shells people hung in the branches. It’s a thing.
gin clear skinny water rippling in the sunshine along the gulf beach
white sand Gulf Coast beach with trees and blue sky
Tree and shadow along Caladesi Beach, Florida
Sunset sky over gulf of Mexico
Cormorants on a Caladesi Island State Park channel sign with the Dunedin Causeway in the background.
Cormorants on a Caladesi Island State Park channel sign with the Dunedin Causeway in the background.

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Caladesi Island State Park, Tampa Bay Area's Best-Kept Secret, Unspoiled Gulf Coast Island

All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal.

Let’s Inspire Each Other

Have you been to Caladesi Island or anywhere around that area? Please share your tips.
How about where you live: can you recommend a “best-kept-secret” location that is accessible to the public but takes a little effort to reach?

Please leave a comment below – inspired by these questions or whatever you’d like to share…

Best-Kept Secret: Caladesi Island State Park (Florida)

13 thoughts on “Best-Kept Secret: Caladesi Island State Park (Florida)

  1. Wow! This place looks so beautiful and serene. My aunt was actually talking about this as they are planning to visit next week. I totally agree with you this is one of Florida’s best kept secrets making it more charming since it is not super crowded.

  2. that State Park looks very inviting! I’d LOVE to go there these days (I’m in need of a vacation). The water looks crystal clear and beautiful next to the white soft sand. Awesome!

  3. Not to much visitor. Cozy and beautiful beach. Really good for relaxation. I wish someday visit this place .

    1. Yes, it really is a great place for relaxation – especially because it’s not too crowded.

  4. The white sand at the Caladesi Island is superb. And the hiking trail is pretty fun, too.

  5. I like visiting less crowded places and this Caladesi Island looks so beautiful I’d love to go there somedayโค๏ธ

    1. That’s why we like it so much as well. Hope you get to visit one day.

  6. Gosh, what a beautiful place! Somewhere I would love to visit. I live in the UK and miss beautiful beaches like this so much.

    1. We moved to Florida – and near the beach because we were missing these kinds of places. Haven’t regretted it yet ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you get to see a lot of beautiful places, too.

  7. Such a pity that it’s so far away, because that looks like a perfect spot to relax and take some stunning pictures ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Sorry to tease you with something so far away. Maybe it’ll inspire you to daydream or plan a trip somewhere nice…

  8. Sounds like a great getaway to me! The seawater looks so clear, and the food looks delicious.

    1. Thank you for your comment. The nearest town south is actually called Clearwater because of the clear seawater.

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