Just 1.6 miles long, Egmont Key sits to the southwest of Tierra Verde’s Fort De Soto Park, at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974, this 440-acre island extends the allure of history and nature via a pristine, undeveloped landscape and relics of a former military installation.
Getting to Egmont Key
Adding to its charming appeal, Egmont Key is only reachable by ferry or private boat. St. Petersburg/Clearwater visitors have two easy options for getting there. Both the Egmont Key Ferry, departing from Fort De Soto Park, and the Dolphin Snorkeling Cruise, which has several departure locations, typically leave in the morning and return in the early afternoon to give you plenty of time to explore the island and surrounding waters. Along the way, your guides will share facts about the area as well as offer tips on spotting wildlife, such as dolphins and cormorants. Fishing, shelling, snorkeling and swimming are all favorite activities here. While exploring the island’s trails and beaches, you’re likely to encounter nesting sea birds, sea turtles, box turtles and gopher tortoises among the palm trees and beach grasses.
When planning your visit, keep in mind that Egmont Key is a secluded refuge. There's no mini-mart here, so pack what you need – food, drink, sunscreen, bug repellent and a camera – before you head out. And, to keep the island in pristine condition, remember to take back everything you bring with you. Picnic tables are available for your use.
Wildlife-Filled Beaches and Trails
Once you arrive on the key, it will quickly become clear that Egmont is an ideal place for experiencing some one-on-one time with Mother Nature. The beaches here are prime places for shelling, and the shallow surrounding waters are perfect for snorkeling and fishing. You'll also want to wander the nature trails.
While humans have to make a special trip to visit the remote island, it's the native environment for numerous creatures, including an entire colony of gopher tortoises. You’ll spot them strolling across the island’s brick and cement walkways, and among the island’s shores, palm trees and beach grasses, you might encounter some nesting sea birds, sea turtles and box turtles. Of course, dolphin watching is always a highlight of any trip to and from the island.
Signs of a Vibrant Past: Fort Dade and a Lighthouse
You may be surprised to find brick and cement walkways in such an isolated spot. They're remnants of a time when Egmont Key was home to a bustling (by barrier island standards) town that housed Fort Dade as well as a movie theater, tennis court and bowling alley.
Fort Dade was built in the late 1890s as the United States prepared for the Spanish-American War. Previously, the island had served as a camp for captured Seminoles during the Third Seminole War and as a Union Navy base during the Civil War. The fort remained active until 1923, and today, you can still see ruins of the structure and trek through them.
Not all of the island’s historical structures are in disrepair, though. Egmont Key's 87-foot-tall lighthouse, originally constructed in 1858, still guides water traffic in and out of Tampa Bay.