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What It’s Like to Visit Egmont Key in Florida

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Shells found at Egmont Key in St. Pete, Florida.

Egmont Key State Park, located in St. Pete at the mouth of the Tampa Bay, offers a primitive island feel mixed with history, a lighthouse, and gopher tortoises.

Egmont is actually an island that’s a little over 200 acres and only accessible by boat. It’s about a 15-minute boat ride from St. Pete’s Fort De Soto Park (see here for our article on Fort De Soto) and a short distance from Anna Maria Island in Manatee County.

Egmont Key has some pretty cool history behind it. You may want to visit because of the lighthouse or because you have friends who’ve gone there to hang out for the day to shell or snorkel. However, you may stick around longer to check out the island’s history:

  • It was first charted by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.
  • The lighthouse was built in 1848 to help guide ships going to Tampa.
  • Confederate and Union soldiers occupied Egmont during the Civil War.
  • It was briefly home to Seminole Indians who were defeated in war.
  • More than 70 buildings were constructed between 1898 and 1916, including a hospital, school, and post office, all as part of Fort Dade. Fort Dade was built to defend Tampa Bay during the Spanish American War. What remains on the island now from that era are brick roads, gun batteries, and the cracked foundations of several buildings.
Interesting angles at Egmont Key.

Those who support the island, including both the Florida state park system and groups like Egmont Key Alliance, are protective of Egmont Key’s nature—and that’s not always easy to do because of “the eroding forces of nature and the contemporary tide of politics,” as an Egmont Key Alliance brochure describes. Part of the island is closed to the public because it’s a shore bird refuge (nesting birds like royal and least terns make their home there, along with brown pelicans, ibis, and others). The island is also home to the largest population of gopher tortoises in the Southeast U.S. There are also box turtles that call the island home and loggerhead sea turtles who lay eggs there in nesting season.

What It’s Like to Visit Egmont Key

So, you’ve probably figured out by now that Egmont Key is off the beaten path. Just what is it like to visit there? Here’s the scoop—and make sure to read till the end of this article for a few tips for your visit.

The ferry that goes from Fort DeSoto to Egmont Key.

First, if you or your friends and family don’t have a boat, you’ll need to find another way to get there (swimming there would take a long time, LOL). There are private boat tours and ferries that go there. One company we like is Hubbard’s Marina, which also led our ferry ride to nearby Shell Key Preserve. We took the ferry out of Fort De Soto Park—there’s a $5 entrance fee to the park, and the Egmont Ferry is $25 for adults, $12.50 for kids. You may also have to pay for parking inside Fort DeSoto, depending on where you park. You can buy your ferry tickets online or in person. Online or by phone may be better as the ferry ride does fill up – the original time we wanted to go was all booked until a cancellation pushed us to the time we originally wanted.

The ferry itself fits about 50 people—if you’re social distancing and concerned about COVID-19, you’ll want to wear a mask as it’s a bit of tight squeeze. That said, it’s a short ride to the island and the captain and other staff aboard are pleasant and funny. We listened to reggae music playing in the background and had wind whipping all around us.

The lighthouse at Egmont Key.

It was a particularly windy day when we visited, and the crew from Hubbard’s suggested that we go to the other side of the island, where it would be calmer. Once off the ferry, we marveled at the lighthouse right in front of us (we couldn’t go inside due to COVID-19 restrictions), and then we followed the masses to the other side of the island, which was a 5- to 10-minute walk through palm trees and pathways.

It sure enough was calmer on the other side and hidden-island beautiful. There were people, but it wasn’t packed like some Southwest Florida beaches can get. A few jet skiiers were hanging out, and some snorkelers stayed in the water with their snorkel gear on just about the whole time we were there.

Beach views at Egmont Key.

The water was turquoise-green and comfortable, and we spent some time both hanging on the shore and in the water. During our visit, the shelling was OK. We’ve read of people making spectacular finds, but like any place, it may depend on when you’re visiting and what you’re used to. We’ve visited many area beaches and found bigger shells at places such as Shell Key Preserve. That said, you may get shell-lucky at Egmont. The captain also told us to look out for shark teeth, which have washed ashore over many years. (Our article about searching for shark teeth in Venice shares some tips on best ways to search for shark teeth.)

We knew the ferry ride return trip would give us about three hours on the island, so we wanted to take advantage of our time there. Although we could have stayed longer on the beach, we decided to check out the rest of the island. We took pictures at some of the gun batteries—older, white-gray, asymmetrical structures that have no doubt been used in modern times for photo or video shoots. We also lost our way briefly, although we did get back on track just in time to grab our stuff on the beach before it rained.

A gopher tortoise making its way on a path at Egmont Key.

During our walk, we saw signs that showed the gopher tortoise and then were tickled to see one coming toward us from afar. She stopped in her tracks when she saw us, and we crouched to the ground, off to the side, to get photos. She scurried fast us—as much as a tortoise can scurry—and we snapped away. She looked like she was in a hurry to get her Saturday errands done. You’re not supposed to touch or approach the gopher tortoises on Egmont Key, so just keep that in mind when you’re getting any pics.

One of the old gun batteries at Egmont Key.

Heading back toward the lighthouse, we stopped to eat a light lunch at some picnic tables under the cover of a few palm trees—which was perfect because it started to pour down rain, but we only got minimally wet. We then walked past the park ranger office to the historical area with brick roads where there were remnants of the hospital, officers quarters, mess hall, and other buildings. Some are no longer there, but there are signs to give you some information about them.

Sky meets sky–at Egmont Key, looking toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

It had started to rain harder so we cut our walk short to wait for the return ferry, along with many of our fellow passengers. During our wait, we looked toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and watched an imposing gray sky start to eat up blue and white sky.

Our ferry ride back to Fort De Soto Park was uneventful, although it was obvious that everyone felt more wet and tired. It was also even windier at that point. The staff had to help us all step off the boat and onto the dock so we wouldn’t (oops) fall in the water.

Tips for Your Visit to Egmont Key

If you want to explore Egmont Key, here are a few tips we recommend:

1. Use the bathroom in advance. There are no public restrooms on the island!

2. Pack carefully. We saw some people with a lot of beach gear. You can bring it, but it takes more maneuvering, especially on a boat when it’s windy and there are a lot of people. One easy thing you can bring or buy: a mesh bag to hold any shells or shark teeth.

3. Bring water/drinks and any food you’ll want. As you can probably guess, there are none for sale on Egmont, although the ferry has some snacks and drinks.

4. Snag a brochure if you can. We got one of the few brochures available on the ferry.

5. Bring a few extra bucks to tip your captain and crew.

A water-torn Egmont Key Map.

Written by floridaculture

September 17, 2020 at 1:25 pm

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