In Tampa Bay, an island that was once a Civil War refugee camp is now a bird rookery. During the Civil War, Egmont Key served as an outpost for the Union Blockading Squadron as they played cat-and-mouse with Confederate blockade runners. It also housed a refugee camp for Confederate defectors, guarded by and eventually evacuated by the Union navy.
Location: Egmont Key
Lat-Lon: 27.613088, -82.736473 (for ferryboat dock at Fort De Soto)
Open: 8 AM to sunset
Pets are not allowed on the island, which is also a National Wildlife Refuge.
The operational lighthouse, constructed in 1848 and open for tours, is surrounded by the brick streets of the ghost town of Fort Dade, built during the Spanish-American War. If you’re a birder, bring your binoculars! Egmont Key is also a National Wildlife Refuge for migratory species. Egmont Key is an island, however, so approach is either by your own boat or commercial ferry service.
The Tampa Bay Ferry departs from Fort De Soto Park. To reach Fort De Soto Park, take I-275 south from St. Petersburg to Exit 31A, Pass-a-Grille Beach. Drive west on 54th Ave S (toll). Continue 2.5 miles to CR 679 S. Turn left and follow CR 679 south through Tierra Verde for 5.5 miles (another toll) to the park entrance. The popular campground is on the right. Make a right at the T, and turn into the parking area for the fort on the left, past the battery. The ferryboat departs from the dock with the pier.
Tampa Bay Ferry (727-867-6569) provides trips to Egmont Key daily. The ferry also runs snorkel trips over the underwater ruins of Fort Dade; rental of snorkeling equipment available.
Explore the park
Brick paths lead through the remains of the former Fort Dade, which once had more than 300 residents.