A windswept sentinel off the coast of Dunedin at the edge of Clearwater Harbor, Caladesi Island enthralls visitors with its remoteness, its quiet beaches, its extensive forests and mangrove swamps
Because it is at once both remote and within sight of the bustle of the Clearwater-Dunedin coastline, Caladesi Island State Park has a special allure.
It’s not the easiest state park to get to. But that’s precisely the point. On our first trip there, a ferryboat was a must. On a subsequent visit, we walked up the coast from Clearwater Beach.
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Fees: See details below
Restrooms: at the marina
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Camping is not permitted on the island, although boaters can reserve a slip and stay overnight on their boat in the marina.
Bring sun protection and pack out all trash. Day trippers need to make sure they don’t miss the last ferry if they arrived by ferryboat.
Leashed pets welcome on the trails but not on the beaches. Diamondback rattlesnakes have been seen along the trails.
What Does it Cost?
If you drive in and take the ferryboat, you will pay an entrance fee at Honeymoon Island State Park – $4 individual or $8 for a carload – to access the parking area for the ferryboat dock, plus ferryboat fees of $14 adult, $7 child.
If you use your private boat to access the park, there is a $6 entrance fee.
If you paddle to the island or walk up from Clearwater Beach, a $2 entrance fee is charged. Exact change required at the iron rangers at the park entrances.
Follow the Honeymoon Island causeway west from Dunedin to Honeymoon Island State Park. If you are taking the ferryboat, pay the park entrance fee at the Honeymoon Island gate and look for signs directing you to the left for ferryboat parking. Otherwise see the options below for other approaches to the island.
Planning Your Visit
Before you plan a day at Caladesi Island, you need to figure out your logistics. You can’t park near it, so you need to choose the approach that works for you.
Most visitors use the Caladesi Island Ferry, a 20 minute ferryboat ride from Honeymoon Island. Pets are not permitted on the ferryboat.
Ferries depart daily (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas) on the half hour, weather permitting.
In addition to the state park fee quoted above, it costs $14 per adult, $7 per child for the ferryboat from Honeymoon Island State Park. Call ahead if you have special accessibility needs: 727-734-5263
By Private Boat
Caladesi Island has a protected 108-slip marina accessible through Seven Mouth Creek from Clearwater Harbor. Before you make plans to go there, reserve a boat slip in advance to ensure there is a space for you.
There aren’t a lot of launches in the immediate vicinity of Dunedin, although there are marinas downtown and at the far end of the Honeymoon Island causeway.
The nearest launch points for boaters to Caladesi Island is the Seminole Boat Ramp [27.974238, -82.802478] in Clearwater at the west end of Seminole St.
You can also use the Clearwater Beach Public Boat Ramp [27.984858, -82.823911] at 69 Bay Esplanade. Parking may be an issue in Clearwater Beach.
At the north end of Clearwater Harbor, Sutherland Bayou Boat Ramp [28.086482, -82.770856] off CR 595 in Palm Harbor is another option.
Kayakers have several options for launching a paddle to Caladesi Island. The shortest trip is from the Honeymoon Island causeway across the placid waters of St. Joseph Sound.
You can park for free along the causeway at one of the parks and launch from the beach on the south shore. Doing so avoids the main ship channel through the harbor.
A hand launch at Edgewater Park [28.011233, -82.793795] in downtown Dunedin is line of sight from Caledesi Island, but requires paddling across the ship channel and open water on Clearwater Harbor.
Clearwater Harbor, while protected by barrier islands, is still a large body of water that can get choppy. Watch the weather so you don’t get stranded.
Until Dunedin Pass breaks open to the Gulf of Mexico again – which it has in the past, and will do so again – you can walk up to Caladesi Island State Park from Clearwater Beach.
It’s not an easy walk. Soft sand and hot sun make it a bit of work to get there. But if you are staying on Clearwater Beach, especially in the northern residential area, this may be a good option.
To get to the south end of the park, it’s 2.5 miles up the beach from Mandalay Park [27.984324, -82.827424], the closest public park where you can leave your car while hiking to and from Caladesi Island.
When you get to the Caladesi Island Trail, you’ll find a kiosk with an iron ranger where you deposit your pedestrian entrance fee.
A round-trip from Mandalay Park to the park marina complex and back would take at least 7 miles of hiking in the sand.
Walking to the island only works if Dunedin Pass is closed and you have the time and energy for a long beach hike in the sun. If water is flowing through the pass, do not try to cross it.
Few people have lived on Caladesi Island, which is why it is relatively wild for a barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico. A burial mound indicates that native peoples lived here prior to Spanish contact.
It is one in a chain of islands along the Pinellas County coast. Immediately south is Clearwater Beach. An old friend of ours who lived there – her family once owned the island – joked that it was only good for cattle and pigs.
In fact, few people originally settled on the barrier islands in this part of Florida because the sands continually shifted and there was a high risk of hurricanes endangering life and property.
Ships would anchor offshore and send their men to the island to cut down pine trees to use for repairs and to cut gashes into the older pines to tap their sap to make turpentine.
After the Civil War, when this was called Hog Island, Henry Scharrer established a homestead. The availability of fresh water on this barrier island made a residence possible.
In 1921, a hurricane tore passes through the island north and south of where he and his daughter lived.
The modern-day name came with marketing of the islands as a vacation destination off Dunedin. Hog Island was renamed Honeymoon Island, and the new island was called Caladesi.
The marina complex is the core area that most visitors pass through on their way in. A series of wooden walkways connect the docks and marina with the bathhouse and the beach.
Restrooms are at the marina, as is a snack bar called Cafe Caladesi. You are welcome to bring your own food along and enjoy it in picnic area, which is next to the playground.
Fishing is permitted, but it’s best to stay away from the beach area because of the large number of people there. We’ve seen anglers at the north end pass as well as at Dunedin pass, which are likely more fruitful.
Visiting the beach at Caladesi Island is the main reason people come here. It provides a view both north and south along the Gulf Coast that is unsullied by development along the shoreline.
The beach stretches for four miles from the north tip of the island to Dunedin Pass, which was silted in on our last two visits. Looking at satellite maps, it appears to be trying to break through to the Gulf of Mexico again.
If you didn’t paddle over to the park, no problem! Rental kayaks are available so you can paddle a 3-mile marked trail through the mangrove forest.
Starting at the marina, the paddling trail follows the eastern side of the island, winding between the mangroves. You can come back the same way or along the outer shoreline on St. Joseph Sound.
The Island Trail is a series of marked paths that connect the main park complex with the historic homestead area at the south end of the island. Starting at the marina docks, you can walk a 3.5-mile loop that we describe below.
See our photos of Caladesi Island State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Savor a sliver of native habitats preserved in the heart of busy Clearwater under the cloak of a shady forest when you visit Moccasin Lake Nature Park and its environmental education center
Home to one of Florida’s deepest springs, at 320 feet deep, Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park protects crucial coastal estuaries along a shoreline hemmed in by urban sprawl.
A paved ribbon stretching the length of Pinellas County from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail provides cyclists with more than 32 miles of low-stress cruising