On the popular Florida Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island State Park is the antithesis of the build-up throughout the Tampa Bay area. The undeveloped barrier island harbors pristine white sand beaches, native habitats, and wildlife make the most of a rare bastion of nature in Pinellas County.
Caladesi Island can be found west of Dunedin and promises to be a memorable day trip for all kinds of travelers. The range of adventures covers young and old, solo travelers, couples, and families.
Not sure what to do at Caladesi Island State Park? Create the perfect itinerary with this complete Caladesi Island State Park guide.
What to see & do
Caladesi Island has a rare stature as one of just a handful of untouched islands along the Gulf Coast. The only mark of human history in the state park is the ruins of the Henry Scharrer Homestead, tucked away in the south end of the park.
The homestead was developed by Henry Scharrer, a Swiss man who settled here in the late 19th century. Caladesi Island State Park ensures its pristine nature will remain this way into the future while providing a fantastic list of things to do.
The beautiful island is home to hiking trails, white sand beaches, picnic areas, and waterways where manatees roam. After ticking off the adventures within the state park, you can paddle across Hurricane Pass to a separate island, which was attached to Caladesi until a hurricane created the pass in 1921.
RELATED: What to Do in Dunedin, FL
Across the channel lies Honeymoon Island, home to its own state park. At Honeymoon Island State Park, you’ll find more serene beaches, hiking trails, and untouched nature. The island is also known as Hog Island because of the animals that were once kept there.
Hang out on the beautiful beach
With many travelers drawn to the ease of Clearwater’s fun tourist attractions, this leaves the beautiful white-sand beach at Caladesi Island State Park without large crowds.
Those that make the journey to the island will have much of the coast to themselves. Bring along all you need for a comfortable day on the beach and enjoy the views out to the sparkling blue water. Trade your time sunbathing with a swim in the balmy water, keeping your eye out for sea turtles.
As Caladesi Island Beach is within a state park, you can expect plenty of wildlife on dry land as well. The beach is a fun spot to go shelling and you may even come across some interesting sand dollars. Flying around are a number of shorebirds with gopher tortoises pottering in the coastal habitats.
Go for a hike
You could spend all day working on your tan and swimming alongside turtles, but you’d see very little of Caladesi State Park. The island has a loop path that will help you explore in far greater detail.
The 3-mile path is called the Island Trail and begins close to where the ferry arrives. The nature trail will take you through salt marshes and onto the mangrove swamps before snaking by the beach and into the coastal scrub.
The trail helps showcase Caladesi Island’s native flora and fauna, which will help grow your appreciation for this diverse ecosystem. As you walk by virgin pines and marshland, keep your eyes peeled for the abundant wildlife. Species include snowy egrets, great blue herons, and roseate spoonbills—not to mention the shy gopher tortoises.
Before heading off, get a picture of the state park’s trail system. There are several side trails where you can extend your hike if you wish.
Paddle the waterways on a kayak
One of the three major ways to reach Caladesi Island State Park is on a kayak. This will involve a paddle across the protected Saint Joseph Sound. The trip will last around 20 minutes.
As much of the park is marshland and mangroves, there’s only so much that you can reach on the Island Trail. A kayak will come in handy to explore the inaccessible sections of Caladesi Island.
The beauty of the experience is that much of the water around the island is crystal clear. This makes for a scenic ride as you meander through the shallow turquoise inlets. On the water, you’ll be in a splendid spot to see pelicans and stingrays plus shore birds and herons playing in the mangrove trees.
The best section of the park to kayak is the calmer eastern coast. Here, you’ll have access to another 3-mile trail called the Mangrove Kayak Trail.
Enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch
Halfway into your adventures through Caladesi Island State Park, you’ll have worked up quite the appetite. When it’s time for lunch, you’ll be happy to know that the park is home to a picnic area. It’s the perfect spot for taking a break and hanging with friends and family.
With a loaded picnic basket, spread out on the lawns that feature picnic tables and picnic pavilions. After lunch, the young ones can blow off some steam on the playground before you start the afternoon activities.
If you haven’t brought any food, not to worry: The state park is home to Cafe Caladesi, which serves casual fare, from fish and chips to burgers and refreshing smoothies.
Just south of the picnic area are public amenities, including restrooms and showers that’ll come in handy after a few hours scrounging through the sand for a memorable shell.
How to get there
There are three popular ways to get to Caladesi Island State Park. These include the Caladesi Island Ferry, using a private boat, or renting a kayak. For travelers up to the task, you can also walk to the park. But keep in mind that it’s a 4-mile one-way journey from North Clearwater Beach.
The simplest way is to jump on the Caladesi Island Ferry. The trip departs from Honeymoon Island State Park and lasts for 20 minutes. The ferry runs each day, except Christmas and leaves every half an hour from 10 am until 4 pm. A round trip ferry ticket costs $16 for adults and $8 for children aged 6 to 12.
Weather permitting, an adventurous way to get to the island is on a kayak. You can rent single or double kayaks from Sail Honeymoon. The rentals last for 2 or 4 hours. It takes around 20 minutes to reach the island and the kayak trail, which starts at Dunedin Pass.
Those arriving on a private boat can make use of the island’s marina. You can rent a slip for overnight docking at $24 per night.