Egmont Key is located at the mouth of Tampa Bay and we wanted to visit this little island for the private beaches, wildlife, and history of Fort Dade. The entire island is only 328 acres and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The only way to access this island is by private boat and a ferry from Fort Desoto Beach. We booked the first ferry out to the island on a Saturday morning at 10AM and were told to arrive between 9-9:15AM; however, this really isn't necessary if you aren't the type that runs late. They give this time due to a lot of people missing the ferry. We arrived at 9AM and ended up waiting an hour until the ferry arrived to pick us up. The cost of the ferry is $20 a person and it only departs on certain days at certain times. Check the website to get the specific ferry times. We called ahead to book our reservation as we heard that the ferry books up fast.
The ride to the island was about 25 minutes and the captain of the ferry shared some tidbits about the island along the way. He also had some snacks and drinks for sale and reminded everyone that the island has absolutely no stores. We were prepared for this and had already packed a cooler full of water and sandwiches.
When we got off the ferry, the island was very quiet and the sand was filled with seashells. Earlier in the week, none of the ferries were operating due to choppy waters, so the island had not been touched for a week. The first thing we approached was the 87-foot-tall lighthouse, which was originally built in 1858 and still guides water traffic in and out of Tampa Bay.
We wanted to make a loop around the island, so we headed west. Just 5 minutes into our walk and we spotted a tortoise! This island is home to endangered wildlife and we saw a handful of tortoises on the island. We slowly made our way towards the shoreline and enjoyed the view for a bit. The water on this day was bright blue and gorgeous! As we were walking along the beach, we spotted even more seashells that would be great to take home as a souvenir.
After enjoying the beach, we moved along to explore the fort. Fort Dade was built on the island in 1898 during the Spanish - American War and remained active until 1923. During this time, there were about 300 people living on the island with a small hospital, movie theater, bakery, bowling alley and tennis courts. We came across some of these remnants as we walked around the rest of the island.
It was a bit eerie when walking into some of these forts. We definitely would not want to wander around this island alone or at night. We have heard that college kids come here in the summer (those who have their own boats) to explore the dark rooms and scare each other. This sounds way too scary for us!
Around noon, we were getting hungry, so we found a spot to rest and had our lunch. It was a perfect day to enjoy our sandwiches with the nice breeze on the island. After we ate, the ferry was back around 1:30PM to take us back to the mainland, which was perfect timing. Our captain told us to look out for dolphins and as the boat slowly started moving we saw tons of dolphins appear all around us! It was the most incredible thing to see.
It's definitely a unique island to explore and one that may not be around much longer. The island itself is close to extinction as it is sliding into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate. Experts believe that the next big hurricane could wipe it out. There are projects to help maintain Egmont Key, so hopefully, these efforts will keep the island from disappearing in the near future.
* Pack food and water.
* Be prepared for no restrooms.
* Bring Sunscreen.
* Wear flip flops or shoes you don't mind getting wet and sandy.