Note: They eye of Hurricane Ian made landfall on Cayo Costa on Sept. 28, 2022, bringing great devastation. The park is closed. The park system may not rebuild the cabins at Cayo Costa and has canceled all future cabin reservations. This article was written before the storm.
No matter how lovely the day or how idyllic the beaches, you won’t find crowds at Cayo Costa State Park.
It is accessible only by a boat and it is a one-hour ferry ride from Bokeelia, itself a remote spot on Pine Island west of Fort Myers. There are only a few boats a day and the $35 daytrip fare makes it an expensive option if you just want to go to the beach.
That means you can almost guarantee you can walk miles on a perfect beach and have Cayo Costa State Park almost to yourself.
We were lucky enough to snag two nights in one of the 12 rustic cabins for a weekend and thus we re-visited Cayo Costa State Park, one of our most loved spots in Florida, with our two daughters visiting from the north. (The cabins and campsites fill up far in advance so if you want to visit, you need to plan ahead.)
Cayo Costa State Park: An island for wild and solitude
Cayo Costa State Park is Florida in the raw, featuring all its natural beauty and wildlife, from the manatees you may see on the boat trip over to the dolphins playing in the surf to the osprey nesting in the tree snags along the beach.
There’s no wifi. The bugs can get bad. And if snakes bother you, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Yet I am not alone in considering Cayo Costa State Park a slice of paradise — partly for those very reasons.
Cayo Costa State Park’s beaches and shelling are among the best in the state and the 2,426 acre park also features thickly wooded trails for hiking and mountain biking.
Mostly, though, you come here for the solitude and the wildness.
There just aren’t many places like this left.
Cayo Costa State Park camping & cabins
Cayo Costa Sate Park offers a campground with 30 sites and 12 small wooden cabins without water or electricity.
Camp sites are steps to the spectacular beach and surrounded by native vegetation. (Gone are the Australian pines that used to shade the area.)
The sites have drinking water, cold showers and flush toilets. A mile away, on the dock side of the island, and easy to reach via the tram that circulates back and forth, you can buy ice, cold sodas and charcoal.
On our visit to Cayo Costa State Park, highlights included many sightings of osprey including on a nest adjacent to the campground, a dolphin quite close playing in the Cayo Costa boat-dock area, a large living conch shell found in the shallow water, views of several stingrays in the shallow surf plus so many fish jumping in the water they looked like popcorn popping.
Trails at Cayo Costa State Park
Once on the island, be sure to walk the beach in both directions. There are nine miles of wild beach here, and this is one of the highlights of any visit.
To the north, as you reach Boca Grande pass, the beach is studded with trees turned to whitened driftwood. To the south, a large saltwater lagoon parallels the shore and provides stunning views.
Don’t miss the inland trails. The eastern end of the island is a lush hardwood hammock with more shade.
The pioneer cemetery makes a great destination. (It’s located, not suprisingly, on the cemetery trail.) When they were young, we took our daughters on a spooky flashlight hike to the pioneer cemetery.
Harbor pilot Captain Peter Nelson, who died in 1919, is buried here with a stone that reads, “After Life’s Fitful Fever He Sleeps Well.”
It seems an appropriate message on this island, where for at least a few hours, we escape the fitful fever of our modern life.
Visiting Cayo Costa State Park: Tips from our several visits over the years
Keep in mind you will be loading all your gear onto a boat (often over a railing) and then onto a tram on the island and then out of the tram to your cabin on campsite. This means you want all your items securely packaged to make them easy to move by hand. Don’t make any package too heavy. We found multiple smaller bundles were easier to handle than the folks who packed one trunk-sized duffle bag that could barely be lifted.
- Bring folding chairs, even in the cabins. Without them, your only place to sit is a picnic table or beach towel.
- You can rent kayaks and mountain bikes on the island.
- Be sure to book ahead for the Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa ($65 roundtrip for overnight visitors; daytrip price is $47 adults.) Also: Be prepared to pay $10 per night for parking. An alternate is King Fisher Fleet out of Punta Gorda. The King Fisher docks are a few minutes off I-75 and offer free parking. The day trip gives you 2.5 hours on the island; tickets are $48.
- At Tropic Star, camper gear is limited to 50 pounds per person, additional gear and oversized items will have additional charges. There is an extra transport fee for kayaks and bicycles. Dogs are $20, must have advance reservations and must be caged or leashed and muzzled.
- Tropic Star also offers water taxi service to Cayo Costa State Park by advance arrangements. Details: (239) 283-0015
- If you’re seeking nearby lodging before or after your Cayo Costa outing, you can rent cabins from the Tropic Star folks for $90-$100 a night. They’re small, very rustic efficiencies that sleep four to six.
Cayo Costa State Park useful links
- Cayo Costa State Park
- Cayo Costa State Park map
- To make reservations in Florida State Park cabins including Cayo Costa State Park: Visit the parks reservations website or call tel:+1-800-326-3521
- Tropic Star ferry
- King Fisher Fleet
Cayo Costa FAQs
How hard is to reserve a campsite at Cayo Costa State Park? Quite. You can book 11 months out and spring dates are snagged as soon as they become available, as are holidays weekends. Accessibility is better in summer, but, of course, summer is hot and bugs can be fierce. On a date in mid-January, I checked and saw a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday night block available in a cabin in a week, which is probably a cancellation. If you’re determined and flexible, “vulturing” for cancellations can work.
Can you live on Cayo Costa? Yes, some people do. On the southern end of the island, there are a ffew homes “off the grid.”
How far is Cayo Costa from Pine Island? Four nautical miles (about 4.6 miles on land.)
What’s near Cayo Costa State Park:
- Mound Key, an archaeological island that makes a great paddling destination
- Lovers Key, good for paddling and manatees
- Get copies of the Calusa Blueway paddling maps.
- Kayaking Sanibel and Captiva
- What makes Sanibel so special
- Bicycling Sanibel Island
- Fort Myers beach, an old school beach town
- Matlacha FL: Delightful, artsy, Gulf spot for kayaking, nature
- Pine Island: Step back in time without a tourist in sight
- Barefoot Beach in Bonita Beach
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The information in this article was accurate when published, but changes may occur.
The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.