Plan a Day Trip to the Secluded and Serene Egmont Key

If you are looking for a secluded beach and a destination that is a bit off the beaten path, then a day trip to Egmont Key State Park in Florida is the perfect choice. The island has gorgeous blue water, an abundance of seashells for collectors, a lighthouse, and a fort for history enthusiasts. You can even snorkel over sunken ruins!

Plus, it’s a little less known than your usual beach destinations, such as Panama City, Tampa, Miami, and others. In fact, before our vacation to Anna Maria Island, I never heard of Egmont Key. I only found it by accident when searching for Shell Island, another Florida island close to Anna Maria known for its seashells.

And the best part about Egmont Key? The island is small enough to explore in just one day, although I’d love to return and spend more time there.

In this article, you’ll find helpful tips for your day trip to Egmont Key, information on how to get there, and things to do. And if you plan to make a stop by Anna Maria Island as well, don’t forget to check out my guide to Anna Maria here.

The beach at Egmont Key State Park.
Just look at that lovely, powdery sand and blue water!

Where Exactly is Egmont Key State Park?

Egmont Key is in Tampa Bay, right where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. It is situated north of Anna Maria Island and southwest of St. Petersburg. Find Egmont Key on a map here:

When Should You Visit?

We visited Egmont Key on a weekday in early June. During this time, few people were on the island, making it very secluded for us. However, if you visit during the weekend, you may see more people, but it won’t be as crowded as other well-known beaches in Florida. And if you plan to anchor your own boat, you should arrive earlier in the day before more boats arrive.

You might also encounter more crowds if you visit Florida during the holiday season or when school is out of session. As someone who has been to Florida numerous times, I recommend avoiding popular times like spring break, typically between mid-March and April. But there are some trade-offs to consider. While the number of visitors may be higher during this time, the weather will likely be nicer, as it usually is during spring (March through May) and winter (January and February).

Florida gets pretty steamy during summer and early fall, with the added risk of a hurricane from June to November. However, if you plan to swim, you’ll want to visit during these summer months and early fall (June through October).

Seashells
There are so many seashells that you can collect on Egmont Key!

Also, you’ll want to watch out for the red tide. I recently learned about this phenomenon a few years ago, but it happens almost every year in Florida. Unfortunately, predicting when it will happen is hard, but it usually occurs in late summer and early fall. Before your day trip to Egmont Key, you’ll want to check ahead and see if there are any reports of algae blooms in the water. You can visit the status of the red tide here.

So, what exactly is red tide? It is an algae bloom that sadly kills fish and can cause harm to humans. Since red tide contains dangerous bacteria, you’ll want to skip the beach and head to the pool. Unfortunately, there are no pools on Egmont Key, but there are other things to do besides swim and snorkel.

Red tide can also cause skin and respiratory irritation, so it’s important to be cautious and avoid it!

Path to the Egmont Key Lighthouse.
The path leading up to the lighthouse on the island.

How to Get to Egmont Key

The island is only accessible by boat or kayak. Before our day trip to Egmont Key, I spent several hours researching the best affordable options. Our accommodation was near Anna Maria Island, and we hoped to find a boat close to our hotel that could take us to Egmont Key.

Luckily, through a little bit of Google research, we found a boat (a catamaran) through Flip Flops Sailing that would transport us directly to the island for a few hours. And it was only 6 minutes from our hotel. Perfect.

If you’re not staying on Anna Maria Island, you can always catch the ferry or charter a boat if you are closer to Tampa or St. Petersburg. Options depend on your departure point and your budget.

Take A Ferry

The cheapest way to reach Egmont Key is by ferry. Although you’ll have to share the ferry with other people and won’t be able to spend the whole day at Egmont Key, the cost is usually lower than chartering a boat.

The ferry is Hubbard’s Ferry (Hubbard’s Marina) and departs from Fort De Soto Bay Pier in Fort De Soto. Find Fort De Soto on the map below:

How much does the ferry and parking cost? It is $45 for an adult ticket and $25 for children ages 11 and under. There is no charge for ages 2 and under. To park your car, it is $5.

Hubbard’s Marina strongly recommends buying tickets in advance on their website. You can book a ticket and find more information about the Egmont Key ferry here.

To ensure you don’t miss the ferry, you’ll want to arrive at least an hour before it departs. The journey from their loading dock to Egmont Key State Park takes about 30 minutes. Once you arrive, you’ll have about 3 hours to explore the island before it’s time to head back.

The ferry departs most days of the year (11am on weekdays, and 10am and 11am on weekends). If you visit from March 1 through Labor Day, there is an additional departure time at 2pm.

And if you plan to snorkel, you can rent equipment on the day of the trip, but it isn’t guaranteed.

Charter a Boat or Take an Excursion

A catamaran boat in the water.
The catamaran that took us to Egmont Key.

We booked a boat excursion instead of taking the ferry for our day trip to Egmont Key, and I loved every minute of it. Although the tour we selected cost more than the ferry, being in a smaller group made it worth it. Additionally, I’ve never been on a catamaran before, so it was exciting!

Flip Flops Sailing is based in Anna Maria Island, which makes the journey to Egmont Key longer, around 1.5 hours. We had 3 hours to explore the island, with an additional 1.5 hours to return. However, the extra time didn’t stop us from enjoying the boat ride. We saw many playful dolphins, and the sail was relaxing.

How much does it cost? It is $130 per person for a public sail and requires a minimum of 2 people (max is 6 people). They also have the option for a private sail, which costs $150 per person with a minimum of 3 people. They have a 5-hour tour that costs slightly less if you prefer a shorter excursion. You can book online and see additional information on their website here.

There are other boats that offer day trips to Egmont Key, which you can find by a simple search online. But before you book, you’ll want to inquire how long you will be on the island. You don’t want to book a tour where you spend most of the time getting there with only an hour or two to spend on Egmont Key.

If you plan to snorkel, check with your boat operator to see if they provide snorkeling gear.

A woman on a catamaran.
I was enjoying the ocean breeze.

Pack for a Beach Day

Established as a wildlife preserve in 1974, Egmont Key is more primitive than other state parks. The park has 300 acres of beaches, forests, and sand dunes. It is best to remember that there are no facilities or amenities on the island, so it is essential to prepare before you visit.

So, what should you bring for your day trip to Egmont Key? Here are some suggestions to remember:

  • If your boat has no food or beverages, you’ll want to pack a lunch and/or snacks. Bring plenty of water!
  • Sunscreen with a higher SPF rating
  • A hat or head cover
  • Sunglasses
  • Bug spray for mosquitoes and gnats (we didn’t have any issues with bugs, but you’ll want it just in case!)
  • Shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and that will also protect your feet from the pathways that can get very hot (since boats cannot dock, you’ll have to jump in the water to reach the shore)
  • A small umbrella in case it rains

Important FAQs to Know Before Your Day Trip to Egmont Key

They have basic maps on the island that will help you determine your general location and find important landmarks such as the lighthouse and the fort ruins. Most of the historical sites are in the island’s northern part, where you will probably spend most of your time, as other parts are closed to the public. For example, the island’s south end is a bird refuge that is inaccessible.

You can find a map of the island here.

Other things to know before you go:

  • Is it free to visit Egmont Key? Yes, it is free! But you’ll have to pay for transportation unless you have your own boat or kayak.      
  • Can you camp overnight at Egmont Key? Unfortunately, there is no camping. The park is open from 8am to sunset, 365 days a year.
  • Are there bathrooms on the island? Nope! There are no public restrooms, but most boats and ferries have a toilet or “head.”
  • Is there drinking water? Options to purchase food? There are no sources of food, water, or retail stores on the island. As mentioned above, you will want to bring your own snacks and water, although some boats and ferries provide food and beverages you may purchase.
  • Are picnic tables available? Picnic tables are located on the north end of the island. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted.
  • Are pets allowed? No, they are not permitted on the island. But they can enjoy the island from your boat (if your boat permits them).
  • What kind of wildlife can I expect to see? You’ll encounter various species of birds, fish, gopher tortoises, and turtles! While we were there on the trail leading up to the lighthouse, we were fortunate to see two gopher tortoises, but we kept our distance as they are protected under Florida law. It is surprising to see how quickly they can move! We also spotted another one moving in the forest. The twigs were snapping under its weight as it walked by.  

Things to Do Once You Arrive

Egmont Key State Park has a variety of activities for visitors. You can enjoy a leisurely walk on the trails, birdwatch, capture stunning photographs of the island’s natural beauty, take a refreshing swim, collect seashells, picnic, visit historic sites, and fish in designated areas. My personal favorite is snorkeling!

Here are some of the highlights from our day trip to Egmont Key:

Snorkel at the sunken ruins on Egmont Key.
The snorkeling site at Egmont Key. Image shot on Superia 800 film.

See the Historic Sites

If you love learning history as much as I do, you will find Egmont Key interesting. You can walk through the ruins of Fort Dade and see the lighthouse, and if you keep moving south, you can spot the power plant ruins on the beach.

The ruins of a power plant on a beach at Egmont Key.
The power plant ruins on the beach.

The island used to have other buildings, including a hospital, coal shed, barracks, lighthouse keeper’s house, bowling alley, movie theater, and a jail. Unfortunately, most of the original structures were destroyed by fires and storms, and only a few remain today.

But you’ll see plenty of informational signs along the pathways indicating where buildings once stood and their original purpose. Even though the buildings are no longer present, it’s fascinating to imagine where they stood and what they looked like.

Egmont Key also has a disturbing and tragic history. It was once an internment camp for Seminoles at the conclusion of the Third Seminole War, which led to many of them being forced to move out West as part of the Trail of Tears.

Shortly after the Third Seminole War, Egmont Key was used by the Union Navy in the Civil War. But the fort was built in response to the Spanish-American War, not the Civil War.

Fort Dade

Fort Dade
Fort Dade.

Even though Ford Dade was built to help protect the surrounding areas against Spain’s forces in the Spanish-American War, the fort wasn’t completed until 1906, a few years after the war ended. It wasn’t in use for too long as the fort was deactivated only 17 years after the construction finished.

Today, you can walk around in what is left of Fort Dade. I didn’t venture into every section of the fort, as some parts were too dark and a little creepy. The fort has an eerie vibe, given its history. Regardless, it is still an interesting place to explore, and we spent about 30 minutes doing so.

Be careful when you walk around it, especially on the second floor. There are a couple of hazardous drop-offs. You definitely don’t want to fall to the ground below!

A woman standing on the steps at Fort Dade.
Walking around Fort Dade.
Inside the ruins of Fort Dade.
The second floor of Fort Dade.
You can walk up to the second floor.
A look down inside at Fort Dade.
Be careful where you step!

The Lighthouse

I love to take photographs of lighthouses, and I wish my home state of Georgia had more. The Egmont Key Lighthouse is a beauty and stands at a towering height of 87 feet! But it is not the original lighthouse. Storms damaged the original, and the one you see today was built in 1858. Today, it is still used as an active lighthouse to help ships navigate the water.

Unfortunately, you can’t go into the lighthouse unless it’s open for a special event. Regardless, it makes for fantastic exterior images!

Lighthouse at Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge.
The lighthouse at Egmont Key Island.

Snorkeling at Egmont Key

Did you know that Egmont Key also has underwater fort ruins? You can even go snorkeling over them!

When I saw the ruins under the water only inches from my feet, I felt like one of those travel explorers you see on TV! I’ve never done anything like this before, and it was such an incredible experience.

People snorkeling at the sunken ruins of Egmont Key.
In the water, snorkeling. We had an underwater camera. I didn’t really get that many good photos, but still fun to use.

The catamaran we took provided snorkeling gear, which was a huge plus since we didn’t have any of our own. If you plan to do the same, it’s a good idea to inquire with the boat or ferry to see if they also provide snorkeling gear.

To avoid disappointment, keep in mind that you may not be able to snorkel due to weather and current conditions. Also, the visibility of the ruins in the water is not very good, so you shouldn’t expect crystal-clear water. However, you can still see some colorful fish.

The ruins are covered in barnacles and are near the surface, so be careful not to hit them. We were warned that people had previously hit the ruins with their feet and cut themselves up pretty badly. Although I was careful, I almost did the same!

Did I think of sharks? You bet. But there were so many people snorkeling in the area (maybe about 20 people or so) that I doubt a shark would have come over. I didn’t want fear to stop me from doing this, so I jumped right in!

Fish in low visibility water.
Visibility wasn’t too great, but you can see fish. The image was shot on Superia 800 film using an underwater camera.

Final Thoughts: Is Egmont Key Worth Visiting?

Egmont Key is worth visiting if you plan and know what to expect. To fully enjoy your trip, you’ll want to spend at least 3 hours on the island swimming and exploring. And while the beach is not the prettiest beach I’ve been to, the blue-green water and the powdery, white sand are lovely.

Whether you are a lighthouse enthusiast, a history buff, a birdwatcher, a seashell collector, a hiker, or simply love to relax on a secluded beach, there is something for everyone at Egmont Key State Park!

And prepare to take many photos. It’s a stunning place!

Ruins of Fort Dade.
At the ruins of Fort Dade.

A Note on My Images

I try to keep Travel by Grain mostly a film blog, but I know this isn’t always possible. In this article, all the images are digital, taken from the iPhone! And the reason why? Our catamaran could not dock at Egmont Key, so we had to anchor in almost 6 feet of water. I am 5 feet and 6 inches. This does not work in my favor to jump into the water with my Canon EOS-1N.

I should have probably followed my advice in Protect Your Camera at the Beach with These Ten Tips and brought a waterproof case, but I didn’t think ahead. Unfortunately, it was a little too late for that.

My film camera stayed on the catamaran while my iPhone and I explored the island. I love my pictures, though, and I’m thankful I got the chance to capture the natural beauty of Egmont Key.

We also took a Fujifilm underwater camera for snorkeling, but most pictures were blurry. Nonetheless, we now have plenty of awkward photos to commemorate the experience!

Have you taken a day trip to Egmont Key State Park? What are your thoughts? Please comment below!

And if you like what you read, please share!

A Pinterest pin for a Day Trip Guide to the Beautiful Egmont Key in Florida. A boat is anchored off the beach.

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