You can only reach this LaCosta Island wilderness by boat. Except for the basic State Park buildings, dockage, a few camping cabins and restrooms, and a couple of private residences outside the state park, this is a completely undeveloped island.
It is one of the few islands on the peninsular Florida Gulf Coast that appears much as it would have to the early explorers, especially now that the invasive Australian pines have mostly been removed.
The island is heavily forested with cabbage palms and small oaks and is criss-crossed with narrow sand trails. There is a lot of wildlife, including wild hogs descended from those brought by the Spanish Explorers.
Where is Cayo Costa Island State Park?
This undeveloped barrier island is located on La Costa Island, which is west of Pine Island. It is at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, directly south of Gasparilla Island, and north of North Captiva. About one third of La Costa Island is state park. The remainder is owned by various governmental bodies and there are a couple of private lots.
The island is basically in the middle of nowhere surrounded by almost nothing except mangroves and flats on the back side, and the Gulf of Mexico on the west side. It is separated from the civilization on Boca Grande by the wide, deep waters of Boca Grande Pass. Bring your telescope or binoculars if you visit at night because you'll see a lot of stars.
The only way to reach the island is by boat. You can take your own private boat, or you can take advantage of the various businesses that operate ferry or tour boat service to Cayo Costa and other islands like Cabbage Key, North Captiva, and Useppa Island.
From Pine Island I take the Tropic Star. The Tropic Star will also help you haul your camping gear and kayak to Cayo Costa. Their prices are very reasonable and they are the "Official" ferry to Cayo Costa. From Pine Island it's about an hour boat ride to Cayo Costa.
You can bring all your gear, including camping gear, on the Tropic Star. They'll drop you off and unload your gear at the dock on the east side of the island. There you'll find restrooms and a small ranger station and a very tiny gift shop/nature museum. It's nearly a mile across the island to the beach, but a tram will carry you across the island. It stops at the campground and the beach.
At the end of the day (around 4pm), the tram will take you back to the dock to catch the return trip on the Tropic Star if you are only there for the day. Miss the boat and you'll be an unprepared overnight visitor!
Gasparilla Island Beaches
From end to end, La Costa Island, aka Cayo Costa, has over 7 miles of white sand beaches. The island itself is a mile across at its widest point. This barrier island is in the shape of a chicken drumstick--thick at the north end and tapering to a very narrow point at the south end.
This drumstick shape resulted from the powerful tidal currents in Boca Grande Pass. A larger volume of sand was carried out of Charlotte Harbor than could be carried away by the waves and longshore currents. So the sand accumulated on the north end of the island.
It also resulted in a long beautiful crescent-shaped beach that is a favorite with local boaters who anchor and wade ashore. The beach is white sand that tends to be more gray down by the water because of high mineral content.
While the water is not always crystal clear, it often is, and snorkeling can be excellent. Swimming is safe, although there are no lifeguards. However I would not advise swimming near Boca Pass at the north end (Quarrantine Point).
Camping on Cayo Costa
The campground is not directly on the sandy beach. It is above the dune field about 500 feet from the water's edge. There is a tent camping area as well as several rustic cabins available for rent.
Pro's of Cayo Costa camping:
- No Rv's to contend with.
- Steps from the Gulf beach.
- Plenty of sand nature trails and over 7 miles of beaches.
Con's of Cayo Costa camping:
- There is almost no shade in the camping area. It gets hot.
- Showers and restrooms are very basic.
- No electric.
- No shade on the beaches.
- Better for winter/early spring camping.
Shelling on Cayo Costa
This is probably one of the best shelling locations in Florida after Sanibel Island. One of the best techniques for finding great shells is to put on your mask and snorkel and search the plunge step (drop off) right near the beach. Shells tend to get trapped there for a while before washing onto the beach.
There are several shelling cruises that visit Cayo Costa. One of the newest and most exciting shelling cruises is organized by Pam Rambo of the ILoveShelling.com blog. Remember that you cannot take live shells from the beach. If it has a living animal inside, you have to leave it on the beach. This applies to sand dollars as well.
Fishing on Cayo Costa Island
The island used to have various fish camps used by fishermen and their families who came up from Cuba chasing mullet. There are no more fish camps today, but the fishing is excellent most anywhere in the Charlotte Harbor area, including on Cayo Costa. There is no fresh water on the island. It's all saltwater fishing. All you really need is a fishing pole and bait (and a saltwater fishing license). But I think you're chances are improved if you have a kayak or small boat.
Why Come to Cayo Costa Island?
If you love undeveloped islands where you can find a lonely place to yourself, this is one of the few spots left in Florida where you can find a wilderness beach. If you are looking for island camping, this is one of the best primitive island camping opportunities on the Gulf coast of Florida.
The island is suitable for overnight camping trips, day trips, and shelling excursions.
Here are some tips for day visitors:
- Bring plenty of cold water and/or sports drinks because there is no convenient way to get any on the island.
- Bring snacks or food for the day and a cooler.
- Bring mosquito repellent (just in case) and plenty of sunscreen and protective clothing to put on once you've had enough sun.
- Bring your own shade, such as an umbrella or beach canopy.
- Bring some kind of cart that can tote your gear--preferably something with wheels that can handle soft sand.
- Plan on a 600-800 foot walk to get to the water's edge after the tram drops you off.
- Be sure to arrive back at the dock in time to catch the boat that brought you out to the island.