WHATEVER YOU DO BRING BUG PROTECTION! I brought sawyers big lotion and 2 thermacell bug repellents and in 24 hours got 2 bug bites! Fire ants too are a big thing, aside from that the campgrounds are CLEAN. The bathrooms are brand new.
So much wildlife and clear water. Shells and palm trees and near restaraunts in Sanibel.
Not far from the mainland, this island has a wonderful state park on its northern tip. You can get there by ferry, private boat(there are slips) or kayak(about 8 miles 1 way). A trolley takes you the 1/2 from the docks to the gulf side of the island where the campground is. The sites are very spacious with fire pits, picnic table and at some sites a place to hang a hammock. There are also cabins to rent. There is a bathroom with outdoor showers. Once there you can go to the beach, collect shells, hike, fish, kayak, geocache and watch the stars at night. We were there during a meteor shower and had a fantastic show on the beach that night. I highly recommend this little spot of paradise off the Florida coast.
Bring your own boat or ride Tropic Star launch to the ranger station where a tram can take you 1 mile across the island to the beach front campsites. Fish, hike, swim and enjoy this primitive campsite area.
Options to get to this camp ground is only by boat, ferry, or kayak. We kayaked out here for a night. Some sites have designated hammock posts which is helpful. And all sites are a short walk to the beach, ocean side. The docking station does provide transportation to the campsites otherwise it would be a long walk. So many no-see-ums!! Pack lots of bug spray and reapply often!
I've visited Cayo Costa about 8 times now. I have tent camped and rented cabins. The island setting presents both positives and negatives. The biggest thing to consider is how much gear you want to have to carry. Access to the island is by ferry ( Tropic Star of Pine Island) although it is possible to kayak to it from Pine Island. This would involve some open water crossing and about a 7 mile total one way trip. Another way to access via kayak would be from the southern end of Boca Grande but this passing is across a deep channel with strong current. When you arrive via ferry you will unload all your gear at the docks and move it to the tram stop area on the island. There is a check in process and the opportunity to buy ice and wood from the camp store. The camp store is small but also offers soda, candy bars, some snacks, and some basic first aid items. They use a tram to shuttle campers from the arrival area to the camping area which is on the western ( gulf side) of the island. The tram ride is about 5-10 minutes with a stop at the tent camping area and then at each cabin. Given the tram and ferry loading and unloading processes you may want to travel as lightly as you can. The tent sites are a mixed bag, some larger than others and some with decent privacy although on the whole the separation between them is not great. Teh tent sites I liked most are 11,12,and 13 primarily because they are away from the main area and have some separation. Cabin camping is a different scenario, It's easier as it demands less equipment. The cabins have three sets of bunks, each bunk has two mattress pads. So technically they sleep 6 although i'd say 4 will be much more comfortable. Each cabin has a picnic table inside it and outside. My two cabin picks would be 5 and 7. 5 has a very large "yard area" 7 is somewhat set off from the rest of the cabins. Find more details on camp sites, cabins, pricing and booking at reserve america which is the site used to book Cayo Costa camping.
Camping on the island is wonderful. You have miles of beach with very few people and the nighttime skies are truly cosmic. The island also rents bicycles and I highly recommend doing so. There is a series of trails that run through the wooded sections of the island to explore. There are some truly great views to take in as well as an island cemetery which provides some historical contest to waht Cayo Costa was used for
The Dyrt or inside information:
Cayo Costa can book out as much as 6 months in advance. Plan your trip accordingly.
Cayo Costa in January is not like Cayo Costa in July. This may seem obvious but do not underestimate bugs,particularly noseeums on this island.
Travel light if you can. Ice & Firewood is available at the camp store.
Tropic Star Ferry typically travels to the island every day. They will upon request bring you beer from the very limited selection at the Tropic Star marina store. The Ferry also makes a trip to nearby Cabbage Key Inn and you can get a ride there too.
Want to avoid the crowds and have a heavenly beach camping experience? Cayo Costa is absolutely the best place for getting away from everything civilized!. They offer primitive camping only, bring your tent and good stakes as the wind is steady there) or rent a cabin (there are 12 of them - no a/c - no sleeps 6 - single stacked wooden bunks - no padding) and reachable only by ferry (must reserve ahead) or private boat. There are showers and restrooms but no sinks for washing dishes and you are asked to take everything you bring on the island off with you.
Can you say dark… make sure you bring flashlights and headlamps because this place is DARK at night!
No phone signals and no electricity so leave your cell phones at home unless you have a charging block and want to use to take photos. Easiest way to get there is by ferry, they will haul your camping gear and even your kayak if you reserve in advance.There are carts available to load your gear in to get it off the dock from the ferry (but you may have to wait in line to use), and a golf cart/tram or truck will take you back to the camping area.During the day the beach is busy during summer break, but many folks come out for the day only. The island is fun to explore - "At one time approximately 20 fishing families lived on Cayo Costa in the early 1900s, where they established a school, a post office and a grocery store." per the state park website
The 9 miles of beach is great! Nice and shallow for a bit (on parts of the beach) but the shelling is awesome. Lots of different shells and sharks teeth from many varieties of sharks . Usually you are able to purchase wood for fires at the ranger station. Bring all of your food and WATER. Also pack lots of bug spray for no-see-ums and mosquitos, Sunblock, Sunglasses and a hat - you will be glad you did as the reflection off the water can be brutal..You are pretty much on your own out there after the last ferry leaves for the day, enjoy a moonlit walk on the beach or an amazing sunset.
One of our top 5 favorite camps in Florida!
There is so much to do …or you can do nothing at all. Folks have mentioned a lot in the reviews I have read, so I'll just tell you my favorite "don't miss" thing to enjoy. When you are on the beach near the camp sites, and facing the water, go left and walk along the coast about a half hour + or -. You will come to a most spectacular beach spot. You'll know it when you get there. We had kayaked the other side of the island all morning going along the coast to mangroves where we shared the water with manatee and an alligator so we got a late start to the beach. It was 4:00 pm. We stayed till sunset, 8:00pm. I won't tell you everything so you can discover it for yourselves but don't miss it . It made the trip for us. Bring your head lap for the walk back. The camp site beach can be very populated but here we had it all to our selves. Spectacular! Btw we each had our own thermacell bug repelent device. Works great and is a must have. We were bug free but other campers were eaten alive, hundreds of bites.
A group of us went down for the weekend in September. There were very few people camping and we had the tent section all to ourselves. We were 1 min from the beach with easy access to bathrooms and running water. Some of us also slept on the beach which was quite a treat. Great fishing as well. There were miles of trails and it was easy to get to and from the island. Even when we took a wrong turn getting back to the ferry, the ferry man waited for us and picked us up on a golf cart. The only thing was that the sea was a little "dirty" that time of year, but it was after a big storm.
Though Cayo Costa State Park is located in SW Florida…a bustling madhouse of northerners from Oct through May…you can still find peace and quiet.
Most folks prefer to pay the $45 to take the ferry across the waterway between Pine Island and Cayo Costa…but I say save a few bucks…brave the power boaters, stuff your gear in dry bags, cram them into the kayak and paddle to/from the island. (The only downside is you have to leave your kayaks up on storage racks at the Cayo Costa Ranger Station).
Take the time to plan your paddle around, between and through the barrier islands to Cayo Costa. There is some big water, that might put your panties in a bunch if you aren't use to it. With all the skirting, figure about 5 water miles…give or take. We left Pineland Marina (overnight parking was $8 for your vehicle)…paddled across to Black Key, down through Orange Pass, around Coon Key, pass between the southern point of Useppa island and Terrassee Island and stop for lunch on Cabbage Key…at none other than Cabbage Key Restaurant (where Jimmy Buffet wrote/sang of "cheeseburger in paradise"…for real!). We are talking Old Florida here. Then weave your way north a couple mles to the Cayo Costa State Park Ranger Station/Camp Store. You'll get a rickshaw type hauler to pull all your gear the nearly one mile to the other west side of the island where the tent sites and primitive cabins are.
Remember, if you do take the ferry…know the times of arrival and departure…or you'll be staying another day.
If you paddle…know the upcoming forecast. If weather turns poorly…you'll be nervously paddling back singing the Gilligan's Island theme song.
Caveat: This is SW Florida…we are talking below the tropics line folks. It's hot. If you rent one of the primitive cabins (do so long in advance…) there is no electricity, so there is no AC, fans or what-have-you. If you are in a tent…its hot…suck it up and love it! Being SW Florida…on the Gulf…sand and all…you get skeeters and no-see-ums or chiggers. If there is no wind off the Gulf, sometimes you'll get small biting flies. I only add this, so you come prepared. Sawyer Permithrin Clothing spray works great…I spray it on my clothes and tent.
Also know, that from June through October, it'll ordinarily rain for a short duration in the afternoon. Nothing to worry about and it cools things down (just kidding…it cranks up the humidity). You'll be in your swimsuit anyways…
It seems as though you are marooned on your own little island. You'll enjoy a myriad of water birds (herons, egrets, diver ducks, anhinga, spoonbills, pelicans, sea gulls) along with osprey, bald eagles, kingfisher and kites. The beach is awesome…and sunsets like you've never enjoyed before! Stargazing is to die for…no ambient light to wash out the blackness of the night sky.
Swim, shell, explore, fish (get a free shoreline fishing license first..ya, I know…if its free why bother…but it is the law)…it doesn't get much better than this.