While Cayo Costa State Park isn’t easy to get to, that’s the point. As you roam this extensive trail system, you’ll notice it is laid out like a grid. There was once a thriving community on this island, with fishing as its mainstay, but it’s long gone.
A cemetery and place names are all that remains as the coastal forest reclaims once-disturbed sands. The trail system meanders through where the village once was, with side trips out to the shoreline. You can walk up to a 5.9 mile loop on the trails, plus miles and miles of oceanfront.
Location: La Costa Island
Length: 6.5 mile network of trails
Trailhead: 26.685900, -82.245717
Fees: $2 per person plus the cost of your boat trip
Restrooms: Near the boat dock and at the campground
Bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. Keep in mind that if you’re not camping, you must leave on the boat you came in on, which means being back at the dock in time. See our information on boat excursions to Cayo Costa State Park.
Once you’ve arrived on La Costa Island, the visitor center and restrooms are straight ahead. The path leading right past it is the most direct route to the campground and oceanfront. The bulk of the trail system is on the north end of the island.
Your hike starts at the visitor center on Pelican Bay. Just behind the visitor center is a “Quarantine Trail” sign pointing to the right. Headed through the deep shade of a tropical hardwood hammock, the trail passes a junction with the Pinewoods Trail.
Walking in a primordial forest of giant leather ferns and cabbage palms, you come to the Scrub Trail junction. The trail continues straight into a mangrove swamp, where it gets pretty buggy. It ends at 1.7 miles at the site of the old quarantine station, where in the early 1900s, ships headed into Bokeelia were stopped and checked for malaria and yellow fever.
Retrace your path to the Scrub Trail and turn right. The trail rises up onto old dunes into a coastal scrub, where you might see a gopher tortoise. At 2.5 miles, turn right on the Cemetery Trail, which leads to Boca Grande Pass. Return the way you came, back to the trail junction. Turn right.
The Scrub Trail continues to descend towards the sea. As you hear the roar of waves, you reach the Gulf Trail at 4 miles. Take the right fork and keep right. The trail leads you over a high spot and down to the beach.
Return towards the Scrub Trail, following the Gulf Trail past it and to the campground. High spots offer excellent views of the beach and birds around you. At the next trail junction, continue straight to amble into the campground and peek into the cabins. A tram connects the campground and the dock, if you need to hurry back.
If not, follow the Pinewoods Trail, which heads into the coastal scrub and comes to a bench at 5.2 miles. Take a quick look down the Cemetery Trail to see the pioneer settlement cemetery from the fishing village of La Costa, abandoned in the 1940s.
Follow the Pinewoods Trail and turn right at the bench to head back into the tropical hammock, where you’ll meet the Quarantine Trail once again. Turn right to exit the loop and return to the visitor center and dock.
See our slideshow of our walk on this trail system while researching it for 50 Hikes in South Florida