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At Cayo Costa State Park, you live your dreams of a private island

Last updated on June 5th, 2021 at 02:52 pm

Sunset is one of the big events during a stay at Cayo Costa State Park.
Sunset is one of the big events during a stay at Cayo Costa State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Small wooden cabin on Cayo Costa State Park is as cute as a button. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Small wooden cabin on Cayo Costa State Park is as cute as a button. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.)

A view of the interior of a cabin on Cayo Costa State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A view of the interior of a cabin on Cayo Costa State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Both the camp sites and the cabins are steps to the spectacular beach and surrounded by native vegetation. (Gone are the Australian pines that used to shade the area.)

Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa State Park. As the boat approached, one passenger exclaimed: What's this? Thailand? The Tropic Star's website prefers to compare the boat to the African Queen. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa State Park. As the boat approached, one passenger exclaimed: What’s this? Thailand? The Tropic Star’s website prefers to compare the boat to the African Queen. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

The cabins are $36 a night.

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.

Gear is piled high on the Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Gear is piled high on the Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Trails on the eastern side of Cayo Costa State Park are shaded by oaks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Trails on the eastern side of Cayo Costa State Park are shaded by oaks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Visiting Cayo Costa State Park: Tips from our several visits over the years

  • If you are staying in the cabin, don’t bother with air mattresses. There are six bunk beds  and each has a plastic-covered mattress.
  • 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.
We found a live conch in the clear shallow waters along the Cayo Costa State Park beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
We found a live conch in the clear shallow waters along the Cayo Costa State Park beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • 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 ($50 roundtrip for overnight visitors, $40 for children; daytrip price is $35 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 three hours on the island; tickets are $35. (Charges for campers are $76 adults; $38 children with limits on gear.) 
  • 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.
A closer look at driftwood on the Cayo Costa State Park beach. (Photo: David Blasco)
A closer look at driftwood on the Cayo Costa State Park beach. (Photo: David Blasco)

Cayo Costa State Park useful links

Starfish on Cayo Costa island
The starfish was a treasures found walking Cayo Costa State Park beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

What’s near Cayo Costa State Park:

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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John Lay

Friday 9th of July 2021

In 2002 my wife and I were made aware of land for sale on Cayo Costa from a realtor in Bokeelia who specialized in Island properties. We were naturally tantalized by the allure of an isolated barrier island only accessible by boat so our new friend took us to view the property in question and do a little exploring. We departed the marina at the northwest end of Pine Island and skirted the rippled blue green shallow waters along the southern most stretch of Charlotte Harbor, where it meets Pine Island Sound, and made a beeline towards Boca Grand Pass, famous for outstanding Tarpon fishing. The many unique waterways of this region are dotted with an abundance of small islands, most not habitable but suited for exploring, often holding ancient secrets and the occasional Indian mound. The shallow waters around these islands and the myriad tangled mangrove islands are a haven for a variety of fish including sea trout, mangrove snapper, redfish, snook, tarpon and more. Cayo Costa lays at the southern end of the pass across from Boca Grand. As we got close we started to vere left into the protected anchorage of lovely Pelican Bay, framed by a large, mostly mangrove island on the east side and Cayo Costa to the West. We slowed to no wake in our host's 20' center console and headed towards the tangled mangrove shoreline of Cayo just south of a small accessible beautifully untouched white sand beach that curved around to the north end of the island and the quick tidal rips of the shallow gin clear waters of the Cayo end of the pass, with long contorting coconut palm trees and weather faded dead wood trunks and branches accentuating the absolute wild, primitive ambience of this pristine island. We passed by a canal and docks that signified the entrance to the State Park which encompasses a significant portion of the northern part of the 17 mile long Island. Park property extends to the Gulf side of the island where they have established very eco friendly, unobtrusive campsites and a few small bungalows with direct easy access to the amazing beaches fronting the calm, easy rolling shoreline waters of the warm, inviting Gulf of Mexico. We continued motoring along southward past the park and the shoreline became an increasingly thick, dark inaccessible tangle of mangrove roots. Looking down the considerable length of the shoreline from our perspective in the boat it appeared that there would be no more access points and I started to wonder if this guy was going to try sell 'swampland' to us ignorant yankee transplants. All of a sudden an opening through the unforgiving mangroves appeared with room enough for a good sized boat to pass into an ever widening expanse of flat calm water which, at last revealed itself as an absolutely breathtaking sizable protected lagoon. Our dream of owning a piece of paradise was coming into fruition. The adventure is just getting started. ...To be continued

Belle

Thursday 15th of October 2020

Where is the best place to do shelling on Cayo Costa Island ?

Bonnie Gross

Friday 16th of October 2020

I'm sorry, I can't recommend a specific section of the beach. In general, you want to shell at low tide where the fewest people are also shelling.

mark DeCinque

Tuesday 26th of May 2020

I have 2 boats, 27 ft and 17ft can I get close enough to beach to drop my wife and friend off then I can go fish ik ng with the bigger boat? Or do u recommend the smaller boat?

Bob Rountree

Wednesday 27th of May 2020

Yes, on the Gulf side. I drove my 19-foot center console right up on the beach, then backed off a few feet to anchor.

Margaret Brunner

Saturday 23rd of March 2019

There is the Camp Store on Cayo near the Ranger Station where Firewood, Ice, cold drinks, snacks some camp style food, personal items and Souvenirs are available along with Bike, kayak & Paddle Boards are for rent. If you spent 5 hours on Sanibel Iland it would cost you 25.00 to park plus 6.00 for bridge toll and lots of other people around so the ferry price is not so much for a beautiful day on Cayo.

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 26th of March 2019

Thanks for the update! The camp store is new since my article. That's terrific. I need to get back there and rent a kayak for exploring the island in a new way.

Top 20 Best Places to Camp in Florida | Outdoor Ratings

Wednesday 26th of September 2018

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