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Caladesi Island: Kayak to a wild paradise with a pristine white-powder beach

Caladesi Island State Park is the wild and natural Florida beach of your dreams — isolated, uncrowded and unspoiled.

I’m not alone in loving it: It was named the fourth-best beach in the United States in 2024. On the much quoted ranking by “Dr. Beach,” it is perennial winner: It was the No. 2 beach in America for 2022, No. 4 in 2023 and No. 1 in 2008.

How has it escaped the plight of so many crowded, highrise-lined Florida beaches?

Caladesi Island State Park, located off the urban coast of Clearwater Beach and Dunedin, is reachable only by boat and was never developed.

Its powdery fine white sand extends for miles along the island’s wild western shore without roads or buildings or leaf blowers to spoil its beauty and peacefulness.

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

You can arrive on Caladesi Island by ferry and pay a $16 round-trip per person for a ticket on top of the $8 per car entry fee to Honeymoon Island State Park.

Or you can truly make getting there half the fun by kayaking to Caladesi Island State Park.

Kayaking to Caladesi Island lets you experience not only the spectacular beach, but also the scenery and plentiful wildlife along the way. It’s not cheaper if you rent a kayak; it’s just a great way to spend a day.

The northern tip of Caladesi Island State Park is a magical place. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The northern tip of Caladesi Island State Park: Kayking here is magical. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On our first visit on a sunny May morning, dolphins surfaced nearby, magnificent frigate birds flew overhead and we saw roseate spoonbills in the mangroves. On a recent March visit, we admired the flocks of royal terns lined up on the soft white sand and were awed by the clarity of water in the fish-filled mangrove tunnels.

Like with all natural spots, every visit is going to be different.

Caladesi Island State Park kayaking takes you through St. Joseph Sound, the body of water between Dunedin and Caladesi Island. (Photo: David Blasco)
Caladesi Island State Park kayaking takes you through St. Joseph Sound, the body of water between Dunedin and Caladesi Island. (Photo: David Blasco)

Kayaking to Caladesi Island State Park

You can paddle to the northern tip of Caladesi Island in 20 minutes from the Honeymoon Island Causeway. You do need to be vigilant as you are crossing a boating channel where wave runners zip by and power boats may generate waves. (Remember to face the front tip of your boat directly into the path of the approaching wave so that you’re perpendicular to it.)

If you bring your own kayak, you can park for free and launch from the Honeymoon Island Causeway Beach.

Caladesi Island State Park: Look for the tiki hut and bright kayaks and SUPs at Sail Honeymoon on the causeway tp Honeymoon Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Caladesi Island State Park: Look for the tiki hut and bright kayaks and SUPs at Sail Honeymoon on the causeway tp Honeymoon Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

If you want to rent kayaks, head for Sail Honeymoon on the south side of the causeway, where you can rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards.

How long should you rent a kayak? You can have a great experience with a two-hour rental, reaching Caladesi Island and walking on the beach. But to reach the central area of Caladesi Island, spend time on the beach and/or paddle the mangrove trail within the island, you’ll need at least four hours.

Roseate spoonbills were among the plentiful wildlife on Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
Roseate spoonbills were among the plentiful wildlife on Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

There are some special environments to explore here: The eastern edge of Caladesi has clear shallow water averaging two to five feet deep and is protected grass flats where motor boats are not allowed.

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

The boardwalk leading to the main beach on Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The boardwalk leading to the main beach on Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Exploring Caladesi Island State Park

Hurricane Pass, which separates Caladesi Island from Honeymoon Island, was formed in 1921 when a powerful hurricane came ashore. What had been one barrier island was split in two, separated by what was named Hurricane Pass.

After you’ve crossed Hurricane Pass, reached the northern tip of the island and watched for shore birds like American oystercatchers, black skimmers, royal and least terns and plovers, paddle about mile south along the island’s mangrove shore.

caladesi island state park caladesi shells Caladesi Island: Kayak to a wild paradise with a pristine white-powder beach
The beach at Caladesi Island State Park is good for shelling, as this display at the marina created by a volunteer attests.

When you’re close, you’ll spot 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 a dune crossover to the beach, which extends in glorious wildness for miles, lined with sea oats, dune sunflower and beach morning glories.

Caladesi Island has a natural beach: The sea grass is allowed to stay on the sand.

Dr. Beach, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal ecologist who studies and rates beaches each year, praises “the white beach composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting you to take a dip in the sparkling clear water.”

caladesi island state park caladesi shore birds Caladesi Island: Kayak to a wild paradise with a pristine white-powder beach
Caladesi Island State Park: Shorebirds at the northern tip of the island. (Photo: David Blasco)

Hiking trail at Caladesi Island State Park: There’s a three-mile loop hiking trail south from the marina through virgin pine flatwoods and the historic Scharrer Homestead. Watch for the trail sign for Island Trail as you head toward the beach. Be prepared with bug spray and then watch for Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. Here’s a map of the trail.

Amenities at the park: You can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks at the gift shop and cafe on Caladesi Island. The cafe has a surprisingly varied menu for the location. Details about concessionaire.

caladesi island state park caladesi mangrove tunnel Caladesi Island: Kayak to a wild paradise with a pristine white-powder beach
The kayak trail at Caladesi Island State Park winds through mangroves where the shallow clear water is full of fish. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The kayak trail inside Caladesi Island State Park

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

Incidentally, there are plenty of other kayak trails in the area. Here’s a map of Pinellas County paddling trails.

At Caladesi, 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.

The Caladesi Island kayak trail is a three mile loop, but after a half mile through the mangrove tunnels, you emerge in St. Joseph Sound after Marker 6 and you can shorten the trip by paddling back to the start or over to the causeway. If you continue on the trail, you head back into the mangrove forest for a three-mile loop to the Scharer Homestead Ruins, which date to the early 1800s.

Note: You also can take the ferry (see below) and rent kayaks on Caladesi Island from the marina concession there. Kayak rental costs $25 per person for four hours.

Umbrellas can be rented at the main beach on Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Umbrellas can be rented for use at the main beach on Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The details on reaching Caladesi Island State Park

Renting kayaksSail Honeymoon, 61 Causeway Blvd., Dunedin, rents single kayaks for two hours for $35, four hours for $45 or all day for $60. Two-person kayaks are $45, $60 and $75, respectively. They don’t reserve kayaks, but they have a large supply. Stand up paddle boards are $30 for one hour; $45 for two.

Horseshoe crabs mating in the shallows at Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
Horseshoe crabs mating in the shallows at Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

Bringing your own kayaks. The causeway that leads to Honeymoon Island has beaches with parking on both sides. We parked near Sail Honeymoon — parking is free! This is a good place to put in your kayak and there is also a restroom here. 

Taking the ferry to Caladesi Island State Park: 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 20-minute ferry trip, which is scenic and often includes seeing dolphin.

Walking to Caladesi: This is a LONG way, but if you just want to walk for a miles on a beautiful beach, 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.) You cannot access the interior of the island from here. Also: Depending on the tide, you maybe wading in the water around vegetation part of the way.

Caladesi Island State Park map
Caladesi Island State Park map

Caladesi Island State Park camping

Camping here is limited to boat camping at the marina equipped with water and electric for overnight boat stays. (The marina has 108 slips but appears to rent out only 37.) 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 by calling 1-800-326-3521 or first-come, first served in the marina. Fees are $24 per night, plus tax, or $1 per foot, plus tax, at the marina.

There are no cabins at Caladesi Island State Park. (I sure wish there were!)

The northern tip of Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
The northern tip of Caladesi Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

Caladesi Island State Park 

Caladesi Island State Park website

Fees: $6 per boat; $2 per kayaker

The ferry from Honeymoon Island: $18 per adult; $9 for children ages 6 to 12; children 5 and younger ride free.

Alcohol: Not allowed.

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

Friends of Caladesi Island State Park

Caladesi Island State Park FAQs

Does anybody live on Caladesi Island? No, but in the 1880s, a homesteader Henry Scharrer and his daughter Myrtle lived on the island. At the age of 87, Nyrtle wrote a book about life there called Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise.

Are pets allowed on Caladesi Island State Park? Pets are not allowed on the beach. They are permitted in the rest of the park as long as they are on a six-foot hand-held leash and must be under the owner’s control at all times. Pets are not allowed on the ferry to Caladesi Island.


NOTE: See our updated Florida Red Tide Report.


The top 10 best beaches in America in 2024

1. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

2. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

3. Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii

4. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

5. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

6. Main Beach, East Hampton, New York

7. Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

8. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, Florida

9. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

10. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

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Priscilla Ireson

Saturday 12th of November 2022

If you are a Veteran entrance into Honeymoon Island is free with proof of serving.

Jessie

Tuesday 14th of June 2022

It's a little confusing to complain about the cost of Honeymoon parking plus ferry, but then recommend renting kayaks for even more money. For a single person, parking is $4, plus the ferry, for $20 total for four hours. It's more than double to rent a kayak for those same four hours. Not that kayaking doesn't have its own benefits, but saving money isn't one of them.

Julie

Thursday 24th of February 2022

We used to boat over from Honeymoon Island and spend the day at Caladesi Island at the northern beach…had a thunderstorm roll up on us one time and all we had was a tarp that we all pulled down and got under…afterwards the water was warmer than the rain that fell and as we were swimming a huge manta ray lept out of the water and then 2 dolphins swam by… I loved walking the beach almost to Clearwater Beach and then back to our beach set up collecting shells along the way…We spent 7 yrs living in Clearwater and are now in California but still have very fond memories of Clearwater and Caladesi Island… I grew up in NJ and spent a lot of time at Island Beach State Park which Caladesi Island reminds me of. If we ever managed to get back to Pinellas County, Caladesi Island will be on our trip list for sure.

Judy Schosser Barrett

Thursday 3rd of June 2021

There are 48 boat sites, not 108 at Caladesi State Park.

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 3rd of June 2021

Thanks. The park's website lists 108 boat slips. But I see in the website for reserving campsites that only about 40 slips are listed as available to be reserved.

Diane Cain

Monday 16th of November 2020

Another note, it is only possible to walk to the southern edge of the park from Clearwater Beach. There are no trails through the mangrove anywhere on that edge. Unless you just want to walk for several hours up and down the beach - which is very beautiful - don't try to walk to Caladesi Island from Clearwater.

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