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Book Excerpt Below
The Best In Tent Camping
Florida, 5th edition
“Molloy has obviously done his homework and writes knowingly about some of the best campgrounds in the state, from the Panhandle to the Everglades. Entries include directions and other information that should prove useful to families planning a camping vacation.”
–The Tampa Tribune-Times
Ocean Pond at Sunset
North Fort Myers
Barrier Islands P.O. Box 1150, Boca Grande, Florida 33921
Florida State Parks Information: (941) 964-0375
Each site has
Picnic table, fire grates
First come, first serve; no reservation
At ranger station on island
Cold showers, flush toilets, piped water
At Four Winds Marina on Pine Island
$14 per night
Restrictions – Pets
Restrictions – Fires
In fire grates only
Restrictions – Alcoholic beverages
Restrictions – Vehicles
None allowed on island
Restrictions – Other
14-day stay limit
Take a ferry to South Florida’s best seaside tent camping.
To get there: From North Fort Meyers, take State Road 78 for 16 miles to Pine Island. Turn right where 78 ends and go 4 miles to Four Winds Marina. It will be on your left. The Tropic Star will boat you out to Cayo Costa.
Cayo Costa is a barrier island that is accessible only by water. A trip here calls for a little planning, but it is more than worth it. If you like miles of unspoiled beaches, Gulf sunsets and a tent-only campground, this is the place for you.
Your first step is to get a reservation on the ferry boat Tropic Star. Call (941) 283-0015 to reserve your seat. Then bring everything you will need for your camping trip. There are no stores on the island and no way to get to a store once you are on it. Then, get to the ferry on time and enjoy the 90-minute ride from Pine Island to Cayo
Costa. Once you get there, register for your campsite. Next, a park tram will take you from the bay side of the island to the Gulf side, where the campground is located. Itís a little bothersome loading and unloading your gear on the boat and tram, but once you get set up, youíll wonder why you didnít get here sooner.
The tram drops you off at the campground. Resist the urge to run to the white beach and blue water; pick your campsite first. Follow the beachside sandy path running through a stand of Australian pines to a more open area of sea grape and other native plants. A hundred yards of sporadic sea oats divide you from the ocean. Campsites #1- #3 are in the shade of the pines and look out on the Gulf.
The remaining nine campsites are sunny overhead, but are separated by sea grapes. The skeletons of dead Australian pines above you stand testimony to the park policy of eliminating these exotics. All of these sites feature an ocean view.
A spur path goes behind the small dune at campsite #5 and contains campsites #13- #24. The sites are shielded from the wind, which make them a little buggier, yet warm during infrequent cold spells. The beach vegetation, primarily sea grape and palm, provides adequate site privacy.
The other six campsites are on a path of their own, back from the beach beneath some Australian pines with some bigger thickets of sea grape. These sites are very shady, and look out on one another, though some of the sites are tucked away in the thickets of sea grape.
Three comfort stations serve the campground and some nearby cabins. Walk toward the cabins to the first comfort station. It has a shower, but it is in the open. This can be advantageous, when that afternoon sun warms you as the cold water runs down your back. The other comfort stations have enclosed showers for each sex on the outside of the building. All comfort stations have flush toilets and running sinks for each sex.
Winter is the time to come here. The sky is sunny, the breeze is cool. The bugs are much less of a problem. It is not oppressively hot, as it can be in the summer. Bring bug repellent and a tent with fine mesh netting no matter what the season. Call ahead and ask about the insect conditions.
A sense of elation came over me as I got to the island. It was simply beautiful. Palm trees, live oaks, tall pines and beach, beach, beach everywhere. I combed the beach first. Cayo Costa is known for its shelling. After storms, the beach is littered with all descriptions of shells. Next, I went for a swim. The Gulf waters here are clear and turquoise blue.
After my swim, I rented a bike at the ranger station to explore the island. There are five island trails. A bike is the perfect way to see the old pioneer cemetery and the dense oak-palm hammocks in the center of the island. Next, I pedaled to Quarantine Point and gazed out at the sailboats in the bay. An afternoon breeze kicked up as I pedaled on the Gulf Trail, which runs for nearly 3 miles within sight of the beach.
Sunbathers took in the rays. Some campers surf-fished for flounder, redfish and snook. Others just strolled along the beach, enjoying the ocean breeze. Later that evening, I ate supper with some new friends I had met on the ferry. Then we all took one last walk to watch the sunset. As if the day hadnít been magical enough, a full moon rose, illuminating the sea in a thousand points of light, as gentle waves lapped the shore.
Remember this: On the day of your return to the mainland, the ferry doesn’t leave Cayo Costa until 3 p.m. Plan accordingly. I used my morning and afternoon to walk the trails and to visit with my new friends. There is a sense of camaraderie here on Cayo Costa, like youíre all shipwrecked together. I think everybody is extra friendly because they are so happy to be here. Come to Cayo Costa and you will have that feeling, too.