Beaches / Kayak & Canoe / Southwest Florida

Caladesi Island: Kayak to a wild beach

Beach of the Week: Caladesi Island

Caladesi Island State Park

The northern tip of Caladesi Island State Park, a great kayak destination. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Caladesi Island State Park

The northern tip of Caladesi Island State Park is a magical place.

Most folks will agree that Caladesi Island State Park is a beach paradise. After all, the isolated Caladesi Island beach, located off the urban coast of Clearwater Beach and Dunedin, was named the No. 1 beach in America by Dr. Beach in 2008.

Caladesi Island State Park

Kayaking St. Joseph Sound, the body of water between Dunedin and Caladesi Island. (Photo: David Blasco)

Where people will disagree, however, is whether it’s worth the $14 round-trip ferry ticket when, to reach the ferry, you first have to pay an $8 entry fee to Honeymoon Island State Park, itself home to a great beach. (There’s lots of griping on TripAdvisor and Yelp about pricey Caladesi Island.)

Caladesi Island State Park

Horseshoe crabs mating in the shallows at Caladesi Island State Park.

My answer: Don’t take the ferry. Paddle to Caladesi Island on your kayak or a rented one, and you can experience not only the spectacular beach, but also the plentiful wildlife along the way.

That’s what we did on a sunny May morning, and I can’t decide what we liked better:  Kayaking with dolphins nearby, magnificent frigate birds overhead and roseate spoonbills in the mangroves, or walking and swimming on the three miles of Caladesi Island beach with soft, white sand, many shells and clear turquoise water.

Caladesi Island State Park

Roseate spoonbills were among the plentiful wildlife on Caladesi Island.

We arrived at Caladesi Island without our own kayak, so we rented one from Sail Honeymoon.  (See rates below.)  Located on the south side of the causeway to Honeymoon Island, they rent sailboards and stand up paddleboards as well as a single and double kayaks.

You can paddle to the northern tip of Caladesi Island in 20 minutes from here, so you can have a great experience with a two-hour rental. But to reach the central area of Caladesi Island, spend time on the beach and/or paddle on the three-mile mangrove trail within the island, you’ll need at least four hours.

Caladesi Island State Park

The boardwalk leading to the main beach on Caladesi Island.

The northern tip of Caladesi Island, where Honeymoon Island  is just across Hurricane Pass, is a magical spot, with white sand, shallow tide pools full of tiny fish and natural vegetation that is off-limits in spring when shorebirds nest here.

We saw mating horseshoe crabs in the shallow water, a ray, hermit crabs and live shells all within a few feet of each other. In the water, so many mullets jumped together that we suspected they were training for a circus act.

As we paddled along the mangroves in St. Joseph Sound, we saw many birds, including my favorites, four roseate spoonbills.  Coming from Fort Lauderdale, we think ospreys are special. We saw so many of them on Caladesi and Honeymoon islands that after an hour or two, we barely mentioned them.

About a mile south of the Caldadesi Island’s tip you reach the entrance to the marina and concession area, a shady area with a snack bar, changing rooms, showers, a playground and picnic tables. A short walk through the woods leads you to the beach, which extends in glorious wildness for miles, lined with sea oats, dune sunflower and beach morning glories.

Birders should watch for American oystercatchers, black skimmers, royal and least terns and plovers.

Caladesi Island has a natural beach: The sea grass is allowed to stay on the sand. (If that’s not your style, then maybe Caladesi Island is not your style either.)

Caladesi Island State Park

Umbrellas can be rented at the main beach on Caladesi Island.

There’s a three-mile trail south through virgin pine flatwoods. You can take it through the woods  one way and then cut over to the beach for your return.  (Watch for Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and gopher tortoises.) There is also a three-mile kayak trail through the mangroves.

We spent four hours paddling and exploring and ended up wishing we’d rented our kayak for the whole day.

Places this delightful, even in Florida, are rare.

Planning your visit to Caladesi Island State Park, one mile west of  Dunedin.

Sail Honeymoon, 61 Causeway Blvd. Dunedin , rents single kayaks for two hours for $30, four hours for $40 or all day for $55. Doubles are $40, $55 and $70. They don’t reserve kayaks, but they have a large supply. Stand up paddleboards are $25 for one hour; $35 for two.

 

Caladesi Island State Park

Kayak rentals on the causeway to Honeymoon Island. That’s the shore of Caladesi Island is distance.

Caladesi Island Ferry, (727) 734-1501, departs from Honeymoon Island beginning at 10 a.m. Trips run every half hour February to September and hourly the rest of the year. To make sure everyone doesn’t try to take the last boat back, your return ticket is for four hours after you arrive.  Print out a $1 off coupon here. Despite some grousing about price, many visitors love the ferry trip, which is scenic and often includes seeing dolphin.

Walking to Caladesi: Another alternative to the ferry is exploring Caladesi Island by walking north on Clearwater Beach. While Caladesi was once a separate island, a few years ago sand deposits connected it to Clearwater Beach. There’s no public parking at the north end of Clearwater Beach, however, so you’ll need to either arrive by bicycle and lock up at a northern beach-access point or walk several miles on the beach. (If you start at Clearwater Beach Pier 60, it’s about three miles.)

There is no camping at Caladesi, but the 108-slip marina is equipped with water and electric for overnight boat stays. To access by boat from Marker 14 on the Dunedin Causeway Channel, which runs parallel to the causeway between Hurricane Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway, follow a compass heading of 212 degrees for approximately one mile. Follow the channel markers into the Caladesi Island State Park marina. Reservations can be made online at ReserveAmerica or first-come, first served in the marina. Fees are $24 per night, plus tax through ReserveAmerica or $1 per foot, plus tax, at the marina.

Caladesi Island State Park Beach

Best asset: A spectacular rare natural beach, one of the best in the state.

Fees: $6 per boat; $2 per kayaker

Alcohol: Not allowed.

Location: Caladesi is an island reachable only by boat. There is no access by car.

Florida Rambler stories about the Tampa/St. Petersburg region:

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. A word of advice to other ramblers: As of Memorial Day 2017 the kayak pier inside the marina is in disrepair and closed to kayaks. This effectively means you cannot dock anywhere south of the Honeymoon/Caladesi channel as its all mangrove for a solid two miles each way. Also keep in mind that’s 2 miles of potentially strong tides, wind and wakes. You can still explore the mangroves in there however. Just don’t expect to get out of your boat for a few hours if you set out south of the channel to explore the island.

  2. Hey Bonnie,
    love your articles about kayaking. would love to share some of them on my own website if you don’t mind. Also, if you have a logo jpeg you’d like to use just email it to me and I will create a link on my site to yours. Paddle On!

    Ed Higgins

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