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Insider’s Guide to Egmont Key State Park: Things to do, places to stay, places to eat or drink

By Lauren Flannery
Published: March 23, 2018 Updated: March 23, 2018 at 03:03 PM
The historical lighthouse on Egmont Key. It also marks the drop-off point for the ferry. [Photo by Lauren Flannery]

Things to Do

FORT DADE: The reason why most people come to Egmont Key is to walk through the streets of Fort Dade and imagine what life was like for the more than 300 people who lived on key at the turn of the century. A walking tour of the island won't take you longer than an hour if you have on good walking shoes and water bottle.

LIGHTHOUSE: The most striking historical building on the key, the 87-foot lighthouse is still active today, guiding ships in and out of Tampa Bay. After the original 1848 lighthouse was severely damaged from a hurricane, it was rebuilt further inland in 1858. The lamp house was replaced with a beacon light in 1944. The structure was one of the last remaining staffed lighthouses in the United States until it was automated in 1989. The lighthouse is now managed by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lighthouse is closed to visitors, but every November the Egmont Key Alliance offers tours through the lighthouse for their Discover the Island fundraiser.

SUNBATHING: Laying out on the beach and playing in the bright blue surf on a hard-to-reach beach is a popular activity, of course. But be warned! There is no shade near the shores, so if you don't bring an umbrella or your best SPF, you're going to fry.

WILDLIFE: Count all the sunning gopher tortoises you see hanging among the trail growth, but don't touch! They are a protected species under Florida law and it's a fine to harass one.  Or if you're more a birdwatcher at heart, roam around the island to see the more than 40,000 nesting birds who call the key their summer home.

SNORKELING: If weather and tides permit, the ferry captain will offer a snorkeling trip at the grass flats off the tip of the key. Occasionally, snorkeling will also be offered at the sunken forts, a group of Fort Dade structures that slid into the ocean as the shoreline eroded. Snorkeling is $15 per person, with an additional $5 for gear.

Skip this trip if it's your first snorkeling venture. It's a better idea to go in with some experience and swim stamina for open-ocean swimming.

The boat will also rent you the gear if you want to go snorkeling from the shore, but don't get your hopes up on seeing much. The kicked-up sediment from the waves means pretty poor underwater visibility.

FISHING: Fishing seems to be a blurry issue. The Marina said no fishing is allowed on the key, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is “only in certain designated opened shores of Egmont Key.” It might be better to fish from the Pinellas Bayway.

Places to stay

You're not allowed to stay on Egmont Key, but there are plenty of places in nearby communities. Consult our other Insider's Guides for Pinellas County locations for suggestions.

Places to eat and drink

Egmont Key has no amenities, no bathrooms, no fresh water and no places to eat. So if you want to enjoy a picnic on the island, you have a few choices. Ideally you can bring a packed lunch. The ferry will allow you to bring food and drink as long as there is no glass and no alcohol.

If you make your ferry reservation ahead of time, you can purchase a sandwich, chips and drink combo for $10 that will be given to you during the trip. If you forgot your water or just want some M&Ms, you can purchase drinks and snacks from the ferry captain for a fee as well.

If you forgot to pack a lunch ahead of time and are already en route to the park, there is a 7-Eleven and a Subway on the island of Tierra Verde where you can grab some food, snacks and drinks before you hit the ferry.

Because there is very little shade on the island, take extra care to drink a lot of water.

After you're done with your Egmont Key adventure, you'll have to drive back out to Tierra Shores to hit some eateries.

There is a smattering of pizza, chinese and quick-eat places along the Pinellas Bayway, but if you want to kick your feet up and treat yourself while examining your new tanlines, there are a couple of good options.

BILLY’S STONE CRAB, SEAFOOD & MORE: As the name implies, this Tierra Verde staple offers fresh seafood, shucked oysters and cold beer.

THE ISLAND GRILLE AND RAW BAR: Fresh oysters come daily to this beach haunt, which sells them for 75 cents apiece during their happy hour from 4 to 6 pm.

More information about Egmont Key State Park

About the beach and planning your trip

Taking the ferry, the beach scene, notes about cash and shoes

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