This article is part of a series called “Detours" designed to take you a little off the beaten path from the beaches and attractions of St. Pete/Clearwater, to discover other, lesser-known local favorites like family-run stores, unique galleries, and tantalizing restaurants. Read on and take a Detour into authentic St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida!
Go Off the Beaten Sand at Egmont Key
There ought to be more days like this. 82 degrees and sunny with ribbons of wispy clouds painted across a brilliant blue sky.
A gentle breeze cools our faces as we ride the ferry from Fort De Soto Park to Egmont Key, one of St. Pete/Clearwater’s most pristine and charming getaways. The banana-shaped island is a state park, a large portion of which is a wildlife refuge.
Egmont Key also serves as a personal refuge. Accessible only by boat, it’s an ideal half-day trip via the Egmont Key Ferry, operated by Hubbard’s Marina, a four-generation family business that’s a fixture on the Gulf beaches. “I’d say Egmont Key’s still a pretty well-kept secret,” says Dylan Hubbard, who manages the ferry. “Half the island you’re not allowed to set foot on. There are no amenities, no restrooms.”
Egmont Key is dotted with decommissioned forts, garrisons and jails used as far back as the mid-1800s. The largest is Fort Dade, which was built in 1898 in response to the Spanish-American War and remained active until 1923. Visitors are free to walk in and around these historic structures.
Four Hours of Fun, Sun and Calm
As the Egmont Key Ferry glides the 20 minutes across the mouth of Tampa Bay toward Egmont, the theme from Gilligan’s Island plays over the speakers, setting a whimsical tone. The 49-passenger boat is staffed by informative Captain Jeff — who’s quick with a quip — and first mate, Laney. The ferry offers amenities, from snacks to snorkeling (and a bathroom).
Do snorkel— if at all possible. The ferry stops by the ruins of an old fort, folks get outfitted with masks and fins, and jump off the side of the boat into the clear blue-green waters. We flipper around for an hour, taking in coral reefs, schools of fish and other sights.
Meanwhile, on the Island
White-sand beaches rim Egmont Key. Some of the shoreline is off limits, but there are still large swaths to roam. On our Wednesday trip, people could find themselves virtually alone, with the nearest visitors hundreds of yards away. Walking the width of the island takes about 15 minutes. Inland, you can stroll shaded paths, linger at picnic tables, and explore the forts. You’ll encounter a 158-year-old lighthouse that’s still in use. You’re almost certain to see a big turtle amble by.
On the cruise, Captain Jeff does his level best to find dolphins, manatees and rays for his guests. During our postcard day, we encounter two manatees engaged in a romantic dance, noses touching. It’s a good day for them, too.
Egmont Key Ferry
- Departs from Bay Pier at Fort De Soto Park
- Schedules change by season. For information call: (727) 398-6577