Photograph by Nicholas A Collura-Gehrt, courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

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Car-free Caladesi Island is a remote paradise.

Photograph by Nicholas A Collura-Gehrt, courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Florida by Water: Escape to an Island

Florida boasts miles of sandy beaches where it's easy to imagine that you're blissfully alone.

No shipwreck is required to channel your inner Robinson Crusoe, or Gilligan, on one of Florida's island state parks. Ferries, seaplanes, and private boats link the mainland to the most secluded islands and keys, most of which have few, if any, services but boast miles of sandy beaches where it's easy to imagine that you're blissfully alone.

Caladesi Island State Park, Caladesi Island

One of the last unblemished barrier islands on Florida's west coast, Caladesi Island is home to over 2,000 acres of pristine habitat. "The car-free island has remained mostly undeveloped and includes some of the last virgin pine forest in Florida," says park manager Peter Krulder. A ferry runs between Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi. On island, hike the three-mile nature trail, rent a kayak to paddle the park's kayak trail, and play on the three-mile-long beach.

Anclote Key Preserve State Park

"If you want to get away from it all and spend time on a deserted island, the unspoiled beaches of Anclote Key Preserve State Park are the place to go," says Peter Krulder, park manager for both Anclote Key and Caladesi Island. Located three miles off the coast of Tarpon Springs in the Gulf of Mexico, the park's four islands (Anclote Key, North Anclote Bar, South Anclote Bar, and Three Rooker Island) are favorite weekend and holiday destinations for locals. Krulder recommends a weekday visit to have the park to yourself—or, at least, to share it with only the thousands of resident nesting shorebirds.

Lignumvitae Botanical State Park

Lignumvitae Key owes its relatively untouched condition, in large part, to the natural moat of sorts that surrounds the 280-acre island. "Since the waters around the island historically were too shallow for easy access, Lignumvitae was not visited by early European settlers as they explored and mapped the Florida Keys," says Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park manager Mike Guarino. "As a result, the rockland hammock, also known as a tropical hardwood hammock, has had a minimal amount of alteration and is in as pristine a condition as one can find in the Keys."


When to Go: Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is open Thursday through Monday. Trails are accessible through ranger-guided tours Friday through Sunday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

How to Get Around: To reach Anclote Key, take a Sun Line Cruises ferry from Tarpon Springs or a Windsong Sailing Charters private sail (plus dinghy to reach the island) from New Port Richey. To visit Lignumvitae Key, rent a boat or kayak, or book a guided tour at Robbie's Marina in Islamorada.

Practical Tip: Bring sunscreen, water, food, and mosquito repellent for beach trips, plus mosquito-netting bug suits (to protect against all biting insects, including no-see-ums) if planning to explore the interior or hike nature trails.

Fun Fact: A five-acre section on the east side of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park includes Matheson House and other buildings of the early 20th century. This cultural site provides the visitor with a look into what homesteading on a deserted island was like in the 1930s.