On this barrier island just north of Clearwater Beach, the Osprey Trail at Honeymoon Island State Park offers a close-up look at a rookery of “sea eagles,” the noble osprey. There are nesting colonies of osprey and pelicans along the Osprey and Pelican Trails, and sweeping views across the sound and the Gulf of Mexico. The Osprey Trail guides you through a virgin pine forest with an understory of coastal plants, while the Pelican Trail works it way around the edge of the peninsula, along the Gulf of Mexico to the sound across from Pelican Point and through the mangrove marshes. Spend an afternoon savoring the salt air and sea breeze on these sunny trails.
Length: 2.5 miles
Lat-Long: 28.071667, -82.832267
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee
Difficulty: low to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: At the trailhead parking / picnic area
Open 8 AM to sunset.
As the trail loops around the peninsula, parts of it may be flooded at high tide. If so, use any cross-trail to return and retrace your steps along the west side of the loop. Restrooms, picnic benches, and a playground are available at the parking area used for the trailhead.
Honeymoon Island is also the jumping-off point for visitors to Caladesi Island State Park, which offers a 3.5-mile hiking loop. Access is via ferryboat from a terminal near the entrance gate.
Starting from Dunedin, drive north on US 19A to SR 589 (Causeway Blvd); turn left and follow the causeway 2.8 miles to the park entrance. After you pay your entrance fee, continue along the park road to its end and turn right into the parking area. Park your car near the “Nature Trail” sign at the end of the parking area.
From the parking area, backtrack north along the pavement to the “Nature Trail” sign pointing you to the entrance of the Osprey Trail. It’s a distinct, broad natural path. Your hike starts at the “Osprey Trail” sign. After looking at the map, take the right fork. Sea grapes cluster under the massive slash pines, many of which have strange twists and turns to their trunks.
As you hike, take the time to look for osprey nests in the tall bare pine snags. Constructed of loose sticks, the nests look like inverted wigs, and can be up to five feet in diameter and several feet thick. Don’t forget to look down, too, as you’ll see gopher tortoise burrows and, perhaps, even a tortoise making his own trail under the saw palmetto understory.
This is an interpretive trail, with benches, signs, and small kiosks along the way. Stay to the right past the kiosk to keep on the westernmost side of the loop. Yellow draperies of necklace pod stir in the breeze beneath southern red cedar, and stands of sea oxeye – a sunflower-like flower that grows best in salty habitats – adds a dash of color to the understory. Off in the distance, beyond the pines, you can see a wall of green that marks the mangrove marsh protecting the inshore side of the barrier island. At the half mile marker, keep to the right. A cluster of saw palmettos lifts their strong trunks skyward. An osprey glides overhead. If you want to see osprey tending their young, the best time to enjoy this hike is between December and April.
After a mile, you reach a kiosk that explains the osprey’s fishing behavior. The junction with the Pelican Trail is just after the kiosk. To enjoy a walk along breezy Pelican Cove, keep to the right. The narrow trail drops down into the mangroves, crossing a jeep trail before it emerges on a picturesque windswept beach. Take a moment to sit on the bench and contemplate the scene, as you look over to Anclote Key State Park, accessible only by boat. Turning left, the trail continues through the sea oats along the sparkling blue shallows of the cove. Looking to the left, you see more osprey nests in the trees.
All along the waterfront are benches set as memorials, providing plenty of places to perch and watch birds along the shoreline.Within the next half-mile, black and red mangroves take over the waterfront, forcing the trail several feet back away from the cove, creating damp spots underfoot. Once you’ve hiked 1.6 miles, you reach two side trails that allow you to retreat to the Osprey Trail in the drier pine flatwoods, if you so choose—a good way out if the trail ahead is badly flooded. Continuing forward on the Pelican Trail, watch for the tiny sand fiddler crabs that scuttle out of harm’s way as they sense your footfalls.
At 1.9 miles, the trail climbs uphill, away from the salt marsh, rejoining the western side of the Osprey Trail. Turn right, following the wide jeep trail, as it becomes a soft, sandy track through the pinewoods. Watch for catfaces on several of the larger slash pines. At the next trail junction, there is a “Picnic Area” sign. Keep to the left; the trail to the right wanders a short ways out to Pelican Cove. Your trail emerges at the rear of the picnic area, conveniently behind the restrooms. Turn left to cross the boardwalk back to the parking area, completing a loop of 2.5 miles.
For more information: Honeymoon Island State Park