Most folks will agree that Caladesi Island State Park is a beach paradise.
The isolated Caladesi Island State Park, located off the urban coast of Clearwater Beach and Dunedin, is reachable only by boat. It has been named among the best beaches in the United States. (It was the No. 2 beach in America for 2022 and No. 1 in 2008, as rated by much-quoted Dr. Beach.)
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.
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 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.
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. Every visit is going to be different.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The kayak trail at 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 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 can paddle 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.
The details on visiting Caladesi Island State Park
Renting kayaks: Sail 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.
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 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.
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!)
Caladesi Island State Park
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.
NOTE: See our updated Florida Red Tide Report.
Top 10 beaches in 2022
- Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina
- Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida
- Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
- St. George Island State Park, Apalachicola, Florida
- Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
- Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks, North Carolina
- Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
- Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii
- Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
- Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Florida Rambler stories about the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg region:
- Dunedin: Delightful biking, breweries, beaches & more
- 7 things to do in St. Petersburg for an Old Florida flavor
- Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin
- Fort DeSoto Beach, Tampa
- Fort DeSoto Park for camping, Tampa
- Camping near Tampa
- Tarpon Springs: Visit dazzling island of Anclote Key on boat from Sponge Docks
- Best camping near Tampa Bay: 9 choice campgrounds
- Florida’s all-time best beaches, a list that includes Caladesi Island.
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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.