If you live anywhere near Clearwater, Florida, you might have already visited Caladesi Island. If you haven’t, or if you’re visiting the area for the first time, now’s the time to make the short hop over. Located off Florida’s Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island is an uninhabited paradise. A state park famous for its unspoiled beauty and stunning shoreline, it’s a must-visit for anyone who wants to escape the crowds and experience their own little slice of heaven. Dotted with palms, studded with peaceful trails, and blessed with gorgeously serene beaches, it’s as far away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland as you can get. Sure, it’s got a concession stand, and sure, it welcomes over 200,000 people to its shores each year, but its complete lack of commercialization is a breath of fresh, ocean air. If you’re not sure whether or not it’s worth the trip, here are ten very good reasons to convince you.
10. It’s cheap as chips
Craving some first-class beach action but have less money in your wallet than holes in your socks? Caladesi Island is your answer. Admittedly, it’s not free, but as it’ll only cost you $2 to enter the park, it’s not exactly going to break the bank either. The cost of the journey over will depend on how you do it. Walking will cost you in water and sunscreen only. Take the 20-minute ferry ride, meanwhile, and you can expect to pay around $14 per adult and $7 per child aged 6-12. Kids aged 5 years old and under go free.
9. You can walk there
Want to save on the cost of taking a ferry to the island? You’re in luck. As staceyhomemaker.com notes, the walk over from Clearwater Beach is by no means short, but it’s definitely manageable. Start by heading for Clearwater Beach. Once you’ve hit the sand, keep walking north until you see a sign that says “Welcome to the State Park!” That’s your signal that you’ve arrived. If you’re badly in need of refreshment by that time (the walk should take around 90 minutes, depending on how fast you move), follow the sign for the Caladesi Cafe to grab a glass of something cold and refreshing before hitting the beach.
8. The Secret Shell Trees are amazing
If you’ve never seen (or heard) of a Secret Shell Tree before, don’t panic. They’re not a new species and they’re definitely not something you’ll have ever encountered if you haven’t visited Caladesi Island… which kind of makes them even more special than they already are. Located around half a mile before the entrance to the State Park, the trees are strewn with a series of shells that people have collected from the beach over the years. Their decorative branches are a sight to behold, and definitely worth a few pictures.
7. You can go shelling
If you’ve never been shelling before, now’s your chance. Caladesi Island is littered with shells of all colors, all sizes, and all varieties. As you’re collecting, keep your eyes peeled for shark’s teeth as well. Just be mindful that live shelling is frowned upon, so be sure to put anything you find with something living inside back where you found it.
6. You can kayak through the mangroves
if you’re up for something slightly more adventurous than a hike across the trails, be sure to bring your kayak along. Kayaking from the Dunedin Causeway across the Hurricane Pass is a great, easy way to explore the island and its mangrove trails. If you don’t have your own or left it at home, don’t give the experience up as a lost cause- rentals are available from Caladesi Island Kayak for a very reasonable $25.
5. It’s great for hiking
As you’d expect of a state park, Caladesi Island doesn’t disappoint when it comes to hiking opportunities. Before you hit the beach for an afternoon of sun, sea, and shelling, give your legs a workout by hiking the beautiful nature trail that cuts through the center of the island. It’s an easy 2.5-mile loop that will take you back to your starting point at the entrance to the park in less than a couple of hours. If you prefer, you can cut down onto the beach and begin exploring the shoreline instead. Just be aware that mosquitos can be a problem, so bring along plenty of bug spray. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes too.
4. It’s incredibly peaceful
Clearwater Beach is beautiful, but there’s no denying it can get crowded. Despite being such a short distance away, Caladesi Island feels like another world. There’s a cafe and some restrooms but other than that, there’s nothing to pull in the type of people who prefer their beaches to come with entertainment, bars, and volleyball competitions. The result? Complete and utter serenity. If jostling for space among a sea of towels and beach umbrellas is your idea of hell, Caladesi Island is going to be heaven.
3. You might see some dolphins
As wild-hearted.com advises, if you make the trip over to the island by ferry, keep a keen eye out for dolphins riding alongside you. Once you’re on the island itself, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in a bit of wildlife spotting. Along with the legions of birds that nest in the park, there are also rattlesnakes, tortoises, and a variety of other critters.
2. It’s dog friendly
If you hate the thought of leaving Fido home alone, you’re in luck. Providing they’re well behaved and don’t pose a threat to any other visitors, the island welcomes dogs with open paws.
1. It’s got one of the best beaches in America
As tampabay.com reports, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. “Dr. Beach,” is a Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami with a Ph.D. in environmental science. In other words, he’s a man who knows a good beach from a bad one. When he says a beach is great, we’re inclined to believe him. This year, he ranked Caladesi Island seventh on his top 10 list of the best beaches in America. Seventh position may not sound great shakes, but when you consider it was beaten to the top spot by such world-famous stretches of sand as Hapuna Beach and Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Hawaii, it’s kind of remarkable.