Central Florida

Caladesi Island: As Nature Intended

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Imagine a pristine Florida island before the existence of homes, condominiums, crowded beaches, traffic and parking lots. Got a picture? If not, let me help. At one time, Florida’s barrier islands were fringed with miles and miles of glistening white sandy beaches and surrounded by bluish-green water. Add native flora and fauna, tropical birds and wildlife, all thriving in their natural habitats. Sound delightful?


Caladesi Island beach

Well, if you think those days are gone forever, take comfort - all is not lost. Real Florida awaits you at Caladesi Island State Park. North of Clearwater and south of Tarpon Springs. Caladesi Island is part of the chain of Florida’s coastal barrier islands and is one of the very few remaining in its “natural” state. And here’s the best part - it’s accessible.


The Caladesi Connection shuttle

The Caladesi Connection, a boat shuttle service at Honeymoon Island State Park, north of Caladesi, runs daily from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. Honeymoon Island, once connected to Caladesi, was split by a 1921 hurricane, creating a pass between the two. To get to Honeymoon Island, take the Dunedin Causeway off Alt. Hwy. 19. There’s a nominal park fee to get on the island. Look for the ferry service on your left after passing through the gate. Or if you would rather paddle or sail the half-mile water route between the islands, try a rental (kayaks, sailboats, paddleboards, etc.) from an outfit called Sail Honeymoon, which is on the Dunedin Causeway across from Caladesi, before you get to the park gate.  Of course, if you have your own boat, follow Marker #14 and the signs.

The ferry service will drop you off at the Caladesi Marina. Equipped with plenty of boat slips, a ranger station, bathing facilities, picnic pavillions and concessions (kayak and bike rentals), Caladesi offers most everything you need. Be sure to ask the ranger for the available (nature trail, mangrove) island maps.


Caladesi Island: Miles of beach

From the marina, most visitors follow the boardwalk to the beach. Named #1 beach in the country in 2008, its unspoiled beauty will mesmerize you. Dolphins are usually spotted off shore, shelling is popular and wooden benches provide a place to relax and enjoy the Gulf beach view. Opposite the beach, cabbage palms, palmettos, sand dunes, sea oats and beach morning glories face the Gulf of Mexico.


Rare pine flatwoods on Caladesi Island


Caladesi Island's Hammock Loop

Also, don’t miss the self-guided nature walk. The 2.5-mile island trail is well worth the trek. In particular, be sure to visit the delightful and rare coastal hammock loop. The shaded pine flatwoods, live oaks and bromeliads provide a nice shady respite from the sunshine while hiking on the cushioned pine needle pathway.


Reddish Egret

You may see gopher tortoises, armadillos, rabbits, a great horned owl’s nest and more. Part of the trail is considered “coastal strand” characterized by sandy trails, prickly pear cactus, wildflowers, palmetto and Florida’s state tree, the sabal palm. Cat’s Eye Pond provides a nice stop for wading birds, especially reddish egrets, herons and ibis.

Another highlight is the three-mile mangrove trail which starts near the marina. A canopy of white, red and black mangroves provide a shady and cool paddle while enjoying the serenity of one of Florida’s most unique outdoor experiences. Tropical mangroves serve as nurseries for fish, crustaceans and mollusks. It’s also said that 75% of the game fish and 90% of commercial fish in south Florida depend on the mangrove habitat.


Birding is a primary attraction on Caladesi (American Oystercatcher)

The north end of Caladesi is where you’ll find an amazing plethora of birds. If you are walking from the marina to the north end, follow the trail or walk north along the beach and don’t forget to bring your camera. American oystercatchers, plovers and terns, yellow-crowned night-herons and loads of shore birds run the beaches on this part of the island. In fact, it's part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.


Great Blue Heron

Much of the north end is restricted as a critical breeding ground, but the beach walk is open. Turtle nests are cordoned off and marked with stakes from May through October. Tidal mud flats on the bay side provide a home to an array of wading birds such as great egrets, herons and ibis. Ospreys are everywhere, diving for their food in the St. Joseph Sound.

So, for an authentic Florida day, grab your hat, camera and sunscreen - Caladesi State Park is one for the bucket list.  

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About the Author: Robin Draper is a Florida native and blogger devoted to the simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. This article is connected to Robin’s profile.

Talk About This Post on Authentic Florida
You can reach the Island by foot, just walk about an hour north on Clearwater Beach.
Posted by Robin Draper on July 27, 2015 at 2:43 pm
 
I would like it better without the man-made bench
Posted by Floyd Longwell on July 21, 2015 at 10:50 am
 
Thank you everyone for your comments. So grateful that you enjoy these getaways. This one is especially wonderful. A real, unspoiled island!
Posted by Robin Draper on July 20, 2015 at 9:47 pm
 
Hi Robin,Your site is great. The only problem is that after living in Palm Beach County for the first 30 yrs. of my life,now in NC ,Your blog makes me miss Florida real bad .I am a water person and miss every thing about The Old Florida.
Posted by Dan Friberg on July 20, 2015 at 9:42 pm
 
Definately on my list of Beautiful Get Get Away Weekend Trips.. Looks Amazing!!
Posted by debra Foss on July 20, 2015 at 10:26 am
 
Thanks for your website, always enjoy reading your reviews.
Posted by Beverly Mathias on July 20, 2015 at 9:44 am
 
Wonderful description and beautiful pictures of a fun place to visit.
Posted by Jim Rowsey, MD on July 20, 2015 at 7:43 am
 
Robin,
Thank you for the info. Looks like a nice weekend photography getaway.
Posted by Kevin Boldenow on July 20, 2015 at 6:32 am
 

More Authentic Travel

 

Location

Caladesi Island State Park
Dunedin, Florida 34698

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If You Go

Caladesi Island State Park

Caladesi Connection

Sail Honeymoon

To watch a Caladesi video, enjoy this one from Randy Johnson, of Johnson Art Works.