Swim at a Secluded Beach in Florida: Egmont Key

If you are planning a vacation and looking for a secluded beach in Florida, you should add Egmont Key to your list of places to visit. A beautiful and historical island, Egmont Key is a state park in Florida. All in one day, you can see a lighthouse, walk the entire island, visit a lighthouse, explore the remains of Fort Dade, collect seashells, and swim at a beautiful beach.

I found Egmont Key State Park by a fortunate accident. In my pre-planning travel phase, I tried to find a boat to Shell Key, another gorgeous island in Florida known for its seashells.

While researching, I came across the words “Egmont Key Island.” Puzzled, I looked further to see what is on this island, to determine if it was worth a visit. I immediately determined that it was as soon as I saw “secluded beach.” If you travel in the summer, finding a secluded beach in Florida is a gem to avoid the crowds.

And as soon as I saw that you could snorkel over sunken ruins, I was sold. Learning some history, swimming, and snorkeling over ruins – yep, I knew it was going to be a fun day.

Technically we were visiting Anna Maria Island for the week, but I made sure to squeeze in Egmont Key for a day trip. I had to make the hard decision between the two: Egmont Key or Shell Island.

Egmont Key State Park became the winner, and I decided to save Shell Key for another day. It was a good decision. Read more below on how you can add Egmont Key to your next Florida vacation.

The beach at Egmont Key State Park.
You can find a secluded beach in Florida at Egmont Key State Park. Just look at that lovely sand and blue water!

Where is Egmont Key State Park?

Egmont Key is located in Tampa Bay, right where it meets the Gulf of Mexico.  It is almost North of Anna Maria Island and southwest of St. Petersburg. You can view where the island is located here.  

The island is only accessible by boat or kayak! Since I can’t kayak at all (I mean AT ALL), we chose the boat.

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

When Should You Visit

Now I know I mentioned that Egmont Key has a secluded beach in Florida, BUT I do think it also depends on when you visit that determines the crowd levels. 

We went to Egmont Key in early June on a weekday. There were not many people visiting the island during this time; so, it was very secluded for us. I imagine the weekdays to be slightly less busy than going on the weekend.  

Also, if you visit during the holiday season or when school is out, you might run into more crowds visiting this island. Having been to Florida several times, we always try to avoid popular times such as spring break, usually mid to late March and early April.  

Hurricane season runs from June to November in Florida; so, if you rather not risk it, then this might not be the time to visit for you. 

Some of the seashells you can collect. There are so many.

You also don’t want to visit during red tide. I recently learned about this a few years ago, but it happens almost every year in Florida.  It is hard to predict as it can happen anytime in the year, with late summer and early fall being the most likely time.   

What is red tide? It is an algae bloom that sadly kills a lot of fish and can be harmful to humans.  You definitely don’t want to jump into the ocean with red tide and dead fish as this is not only gross but has so many bacteria. Red tide can also cause skin and respiratory irritation, not something to risk.

If red tide occurs during your Florida vacation, then you can pretty much guarantee you will be at the pool instead of the beach. At least that is still fun, right?

Important FAQ for Visiting

Established as a wildlife preserve in 1974, Egmont Key is more primitive than other state parks.  It consists of 300 acres of beaches, forests, and sand dunes.   

They have basic maps on the island that will tell you your general location and where you can find the battery (fort ruins) and the lighthouse. Most of the historical sites are located in the northern part of the island, which is where you will probably spend most of your time, as other parts of the island are closed to the public. 

  • Is it free to visit Egmont Key? Yes, it is free, but you will probably pay a fee getting to the island unless if you have your own boat or kayak.   
  • Can you camp overnight at Egmont Key? Nope! I was slightly bummed about that because it sounds like it would be a really cool experience.   
  • Are there bathrooms on the island? Also, nope! There are no public restrooms, but most boats and ferries have a restroom on board.  On boats, the toilet room is called the “head.” Never heard of this term until our boat ride.
  • Is there drinking water? Options to purchase food? There is no drinking water, food, or stores.  You will want to bring your own snacks and water; although some boats and ferries provide on board food and drinks that you might have to purchase.
  • What kind of wildlife can I expect to see? You can expect to see lots of birds, fish, gopher tortoises, and turtles!  We saw two gopher tortoises but kept our distance.  They are protected by Florida law. And wow, they can move faster than you think. We had one that was giving us a “tour” on the trail up to the lighthouse.  There was another one that was moving in the forest.  I could hear the twigs snapping under its weight as it walked.   
  • Suggested items to bring to Egmont Key? As mentioned above, you will want to bring food and water if your boat or ferry does not have the option to purchase food and drinks.  Also, bring lots of sunscreen, a hat, and whatever you need to enjoy your day here.  I didn’t have any issues with gnats or mosquitoes when we visited, but you might want to bring bug spray just in case. And whatever you do – don’t forget shoes! If you plan on walking to the fort and lighthouse, you will want shoes as the ground can be very hot.  Egmont Key has sandy, dirt, and red brick paths that get so hot, especially in the summertime.  

How to get to Egmont Key State Park

I spent several hours researching the best affordable options to get to Egmont Key State Park. I also cannot make up my mind, so I probably spent too many hours doing this. Can anyone relate?

We were staying near Anna Maria Island, and our ideal scenario was to find a boat near our hotel that would 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 take us right to the island for a few hours.  And it was only 6 minutes from our hotel. Perfect.

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

Take A Ferry to Egmont Key

The cheapest way to get to Egmont Key is to take a ferry. Typically this means being with more people, but it is usually cheaper than chartering a boat.  

I originally planned to take the Hubbard’s Ferry, departing from Fort De Soto near St. Petersburg.  Since we cut St. Petersburg out of our trip due to time constraints, I decided not to book the ferry despite the recommendation of this ferry from Florida residents.  

It only takes 30 minutes from their loading dock to get to Egmont Key State Park.  From there, you get to spend about 3 hours on the island exploring until time for the ferry ride back.   

It is 30 dollars for an adult ticket and $15 for children.  Not a bad price for a four-hour boat and island excursion!  

You can visit their website to book a reservation or see what other tours and boat charters they offer.

I normally don’t suggest things that I personally don’t experience, but Hubbard’s Ferry came as a recommendation. There are additional ferries that you can book online if you decide to select a different ferry.   

Charter a Boat

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

This is the option that we went with, and I loved every minute of our tour.  The tour we selected is more expensive compared to a ferry.  But it was worth it to be with a small group of people instead of a larger group. Plus, I’ve never been on a catamaran before. How cool is that!

We booked through Flip Flops Sailing based in Anna Maria Island. We paid $125 per person for the Public Egmont Key XL tour.

It takes a little bit longer to get to Egmont Key from Anna Maria Island – a total of about 1.5 hours. It left us with 3 hours to explore on the island, allowing an additional 1.5 hours to return.

The longer tour allowed us to enjoy the boat ride and see some dolphins too!

Other boats take you to Egmont Key, and you can search online to see which tour works best for you.

As a side note, make sure you ask how long you get to spend 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, also check with your boat to see if they provide snorkeling gear.

Things to Do Once You Arrive

There are tons of things to do at Egmont Key State Park. You can walk around on the trails, watch birds, photograph all the amazing things on the island, swim, collect seashells, have a picnic, visit the historic sites, and fish in specific spots. The best in my opinion: snorkeling!

Snorkel at the sunken ruins on Egmont Key.
The snorkeling site at Egmont Key. 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. There is a lighthouse and the ruins of Fort Dade that you can walk around in. Further south is the power plan ruins which you can see on the beach.

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

The island used to have other buildings, including a hospital, coal shed, barracks, the lighthouse keeper’s house, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a jail. Unfortunately, many fires and storms destroyed most original buildings, so you only see very little of it today.

But you’ll see plenty of informational signs along the pathways indicating where buildings once stood and the purpose of the buildings. Even though the buildings are no longer there, I love to visualize where they stood and what they looked like.

Egmont Key has some ugly and terrible history as it was once an internment camp for Seminoles at the conclusion of the Third Seminole War. Ultimately, this led to many Seminoles being forced to move out West as part of the Trail of Tears.

Shortly after the Third Seminole War, Egmont Key was us by the Union Navy in the Civil War. But the fort itself, Fort Dade, was built in response to the Spanish-American 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. This was a few years after the war ended. And it wasn’t in use for too long as the fort was deactivated only 17 years after the construction was finished.

Today, you can walk around in what is left of Fort Dade. It has a slightly eerie vibe to it if you think about its history. I didn’t walk into every section of the fort as some sections had little light and were a little too creepy for me. But it is definitely fun to explore for a little bit.

But be careful when you walk around it, especially on the second floor. There are a couple of drop-offs to the ground, and you don’t want to fall off.

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 lighthouses, and I wish Georgia had more of them. The Egmont Key Lighthouse is a beauty and is tall – standing at 87 feet.

It is actually not the original lighthouse. Storms damaged the original lighthouse, and the one you see today was built in 1858. It remains an active lighthouse today!

You can’t go into the lighthouse unless they have it open for a special event. Regardless, it makes fantastic exterior images!

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

Snorkeling at Egmont Key

Do you know that Egmont Key also has fort ruins underwater? And the best part: you can snorkel 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 have none. If you plan to do this, you will definitely want to ask the boat or ferry that you reserve to see if they provide snorkeling gear.

Also, even though you can see the ruins in the water, it’s not the best visibility. Don’t expect crystal clear water. You can still see fish, however.

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

The ruins have barnacles all over them. And they will literally be right there, so be careful not to hit them with your body. We were warned that some people hit the ruins with their feet and cut themselves up pretty badly. I almost did this, even though I was careful.

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

Final Thoughts: Is Egmont Key Worth Visiting?

Yes, Egmont Key is worth visiting if you plan ahead and know what to expect. As I said before, it sold me as being a secluded beach in Florida, but the historical sites, along with the snorkeling was a bonus.

I would at least try to spend 3 hours on the island to swim and explore. And be prepared to take lots of 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!

I debated strongly about putting this post onto the website because most of the images here are digital and straight from the iPhone. It’s okay, though. The main thing is to enjoy taking photos and document my travels.

And ultimately, I decided to post it because I wanted to share our fun experience visiting Egmont Key State Park. I made the right choice! Plus, this was exciting to write.

The reason why my pictures are mostly digital is that our catamaran could not dock. We had to anchor in almost 6 feet of water. I am 5 feet and 6 inches. As you can tell, it 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 of this in advance. A little too late.

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

We also took a Fujifilm underwater camera for snorkeling. It did the job even though most of the pictures didn’t come out great. Regardless, I got a lot of awkward photos to commemorate the experience!

Have you been to Egmont Key State Park? What are your thoughts? Please comment below! And if you like what you read, please share!

A woman on a catamaran.
Enjoying the ocean breeze.

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