Historic / Kayak & Canoe / Southwest Florida

Mound Key: Take Calusa Blueway to archaeological island


Mound Key Archaeological State Park kayak landing

Kayak and canoe landing on south end of Mound Key

Mound Key Archaeological State Park: The view

From the highest midden, you can see a tiny slice of Estero Bay and its islands in the distance.

Calusa Blueway marker

Calusa Blueway marker at Mound Key Archaeological State Park

Mound Key Archaeological State Park goats

As we hiked through the uninhabited island, improbably, there were goats.

Mound Key Archaeological State Park: Trail

A trail climbs an ancient hill built by the Calusa out of shells.

Mound Key Archaeological State Park sign

Northern entrance has a sign-in log for visitors.

Mound Key Archaeological State Park osprey

Ospreys were everywhere.

Spider in Mound Key Archaeological State Park

Watch for giant banana spiders on the trail.

The Calusa Blueway is a 190-mile marked  kayak trail through southwest Florida waterways, and when I saw the detailed maps of the route, I wanted to kayak it all.

One place, however, particularly called out to me: Mound Key.

Mound Key has several intriguing elements:

  • It’s an island, and I love kayaking to islands I can explore.
  • It’s an archaeological state park, and I love learning about Florida history.
  • It’s right in the middle of a Estero Bay, a place where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins and roseate spoonbills and osprey and more. (And, we were lucky.)

Mound Key is an uninhabited island and state park in Estero Bay, near Fort Myers Beach, reachable only by boat.  The Calusa Indians,  a thriving civilization in Florida when the Spanish landed in the 1500s, are credited with  building the key to its towering 30 foot height with seashells, fish bones and pottery.

The Calusa started building Mound Key  2,000 years ago and used it as a  ceremonial center, historians believe. It was so important that the Spanish built a settlement and the first Jesuit mission in the Spanish New World here.

So what’s there now?

Whatever treasures may have existed have been looted. Today Mound Key is a 125-acre island, thick with native trees and plants, with two small beaches for kayak landings and a single half-mile trail weaving over its surprisingly tall mounds. There is an ancient cistern. And about a dozen goats in residence. Yes, goats.

You can kayak to Mound Key from a variety of put-in points. We started at Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero, kayaking a little more than two hours down the Estero River. While a mildly scenic paddle in one direction, the long kayak back, accompanied by a steady stream of speed boats, made us think there were better ways to do this outing.

A better option is to leave from Lovers Key State Park. Mound Key is about a 60 or 90-minute kayak from Lover’s Key over the open, scenic waters of Estero Bay.

Both routes are part of the Calusa Blueway, whose trail maps are free and easy to order here.

The kayak to and around Mound Key offered many opportunities to observe birds and wildlife. There were so many osprey, we lost count. Two roseate spoonbills (personal favorites) were visible on several occasions. Mullet jumped so close we thought we’d catch one in our canoe. And, as we sat on the kayak landing beach eating our picnic lunch and gazing onto Estero Bay, two dolphins swam peacefully past.

Ours was the only kayak on the island, and it felt like our personal kingdom.  We hiked the single trail from one end of Mound Key to the other, marveling at the novel Florida experience of hiking up and down actual hills.  That’s when we encountered one of the oddest sights we’ve seen on a Florida island: a dozen goats. Noisy but too shy to approach, the handsome goats watched us from behind their barbed-wire-protected fence.

A little Internet research on our return provided the explanation. After the Calusas, the Spanish and the inevitable pirates of Old Florida, Mound Key became a community of pioneers. Eventually, the state acquired all the land on the island except for a final tract owned by the McGhee family of Fort Myers. The McGhees want $15 million for it, according to the Naples News. The state has offered $500,000.

Perhaps as a way of occupying their property, the McGhees’ land is now home to a dozen healthy looking goats. (I must say: Stumbling upon a goat farm in the middle of an uninhabited tropical island is the kind of experience that keeps me exploring Florida.)

Mound Key has several interesting sign/exhibits explaining a bit about the Calusa civilization. I’d recommend reading up on the place before visiting, though, to appreciate what a historic site this is.

More about visiting Mound Key:

More things to do in Fort Myers Beach area:

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the good information, particularly the suggestion to leave from Lovers Key. I’m going to try and paddle out to Mound Key this March, and then maybe get in a Sox game that night!

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