One of America’s top beaches is only one of the reasons to hop a boat or paddle your kayak to this offshore state park, Caladesi Island.
The other is the fascinating Island Trail, an interpretive nature trail looping through a succession of habitats surrounding a former homestead site near Dunedin Pass.
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Length: 3 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.031762, -82.819508
Fees: Paddlers and beach walkers $2, private boaters $6, ferryboat $14 plus Honeymoon Island State Park entrance fee of $4 or $8
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.
Leashed dogs are permitted on the trail system but not on the beach. You cannot bring them over on the ferryboat, so only private boaters and kayakers can transport a dog here.
Paddlers can launch from the causeway without having to enter Honeymoon Island State Park. See more options on how to get to Caladesi Island State Park
After a brief ferryboat ride winding through mangrove islands along Dunedin Sound, arrive at the Caladesi Island dock. Behind the gift shop and cafe, the boardwalk leads into scattered cabbage palms.
Just before you reach a T intersection of boardwalks, look for the “Island Trail” sign. Turn left, passing an old picnic area with restrooms.
The trail meanders into the coastal scrub. Stop at the trail guide box and grab a map.
The Island Trail connects you to the Hammock Loop, which encircles the old growth forests of Caladesi Island, and the Beach Trail, which leads through the salt marshes and mangrove swamps down to the beach.
Passing a “Shaped by Fire” sign in the scrub, look for browsing gopher tortoises among the tiny, delicate wildflowers of the coastal scrub—blue eyed grass, white heliotrope, and day flower.
After 0.6 mile, meet the trail intersection with the Beach Trail in front of the “Birds of Prey” sign.
Continue straight ahead into the coastal pine flatwoods, where cabbage palms and sand live oaks are under a high canopy of slash pines.
The trail veers to the right into a tangled forest where muscadine grapes and greenbrier smother the understory. After crossing a bridge, the forest closes in.
Ascend a small ridge to a bench overlooking a pond where mosquitofish shimmer in the shallows. Look for raccoon tracks along the muddy rim of the pond.
Slash pines dominate the forest as the trail climbs. Several pines on the right show the catface scars where visiting sailors tapped them for emergency naval stores of turpentine and pine tar.
After a mile of hiking, you reach a post with an arrow. Bear right and then turn left to follow the Hammock Loop. The trail follows the high ground into a cathedral of pines, one of Florida’s last stands of virgin slash pine.
The trail veers left to the edge of the shimmering waters of Dunedin Pass. A short side trail leads to a bench overlooking the water. The view is of the dunes and the sea beyond.
Crossing a sand road under a power line, the trail slips back into the woods, transitioning into a coastal hammock. At 1.4 miles, a spring-fed tannic pond is a surprise.
In the clearing beyond it, a double-trunked slash pine is adjoined by a kiosk explaining the history of the island. Henry Scharrer, who came to Florida from Switzerland in 1883, homesteaded Hog Island for fifty years.
There is evidence of earlier settlements too, with a burial mound and shell implements found on this corner of the island.
The trail climbs back into the pine flatwoods, crossing the sand road and its adjoining power line a second time at 1.6 miles. The footpath narrows through a seasonally wet area before sealing the Hammock Loop.
Turn right at the “Nature Trail” sign, then make an immediate left onto the Beach Trail. The trail is low and flooded in places, making for a sticky walk through the mucky spots.
At 2 miles, a sign points towards the marina via the Shortcut Trail. Turn left crossing, over a bridge along a mangrove-lined canal and lagoon. This is a great birding spot: we’ve seen roseate spoonbills in the shallows.
Leaving the mangroves the trail climbs over the dunes to arrive at the beach, snaking through the windswept sea oats. Take in the view before turning right to walk the beach north.
Walk along the water’s edge to spy a stingray skimming past, or a horseshoe crab walking along the bottom, or dolphins in the surf.
After a half mile, there is a dune crossover boardwalk on the right. Skip this one and continue to the second one at 2.8 miles.
Take the boardwalk back over the dunes to the bathhouse and turn right at the intersection, passing the start of the Island Trail again. Retrace your steps back to the marina to complete this 3 mile hike.
See our photos of Caladesi Island State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
A paved ribbon stretching the length of Pinellas County from Gulfport to Tarpon Springs, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail provides cyclists with more than 38 miles of low-stress cruising
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.