Cayo Costa State Park in Florida is a primitive getaway you won’t forget

When we think of Florida we think of Orlando, Miami, Disney World, and scorching sunshine but there are places to get away. Cayo Costa State Park is one.

Imagine waking up with an ocean breeze and the smell of salt air. Imagine strolling out of your cabin or tent and in mere minutes you are staring out across the Gulf of Mexico. Cayo Costa State Park is the primitive adventure you need to take and will not forget.

Located north of Sanibel Island, Captiva, and North Captiva islands, Cayo Costa is a barrier island that remains untouched by modernization. Visitors are asked to pay a $2.00 fee per person upon arrival and for those looking for just a day trip, a vehicle will take you to the other side where 9 miles of untouched beach awaits you.

The island is accessible only by boat and several mainland companies offer ferry service to the island. You could also kayak across the sound from Pine Island.

Visitors dropped of by a Captiva Cruises boat begin to tour the island of Cayo Costa. It is considered one of the gems of Lee County’s tourist attractions.
Cayo Costa0006

On our trip to Cayo Costa, we left from Pine Island and crossed the sound on a calm morning. We watched as bald eagles left and returned to their nest on a small island in the sound and watched dolphins swim and even caught a glimpse of a sea turtle.

Once on the island, we paid our fees and hopped the tram to the western side of the island. White sand danced with waves that rolled onto the shore in slow motion. My son immediately ran to the water, deep only to his 7-year-old knees. The water was warm but cool compared to the sun that blistered our backs at only 10 am.

This is a magnificent beach, one of the best I have ever visited. On this day, only a handful of people had gone to the island. They were sparse and spread around the park. Some hiking the trails, others sitting under low hanging trees.

I love to snorkel, it’s a passion really. I pulled out my gear and hit the water. Along the shoreline in about 2 feet of water, shells have formed a ridge that can be plucked through. You are encouraged to help yourself to add to your collection but if something still calls that shell home, admire it and let it go.

While I can’t remember exactly how far out the trench was, there is a long trench that seemed to be about 20 to 50 yards offshore. Not too far to be concerned. You can walk most of the way before it gets about mid-chest deep. That is when I tossed on the mask and swam above it.

Below, about 10 feet from the surface, you could see large seashells dotting the bottom of the trench. I dove down and grabbed one and brought it back up. There didn’t appear to be anything in it so I kept it. It was quite large but the surprise came when I got it back onshore and my son, holding it jumped, when the small octopus climbed out and onto his arm.

He held it for a few moments in the water and the little guy wouldn’t let go. We put the shell in the water and it finally decided to swim away. We followed it for a little while as it swam back to the trench. I dropped the shell back down in case he wanted his home back.

I stayed off the trench for the rest of the day because, well, I found something I had only seen pictures of. The sand between the shore and the trench was dotted with starfish and arrowhead sand dollars.

A day’s collection of arrowhead sand dollars and other assorted sand dollars and shells. Photo by Brian Miller

I took home a pretty good amount of sand dollars and shells this day and we were very careful not to disrupt those that were still alive. You can tell because, after a few seconds of taking them out of the water, their small little hair-like tentacles start to move around, you just slide them back into the water and put them where they were.

Overall, this was an incredible trip that I highly recommend but the beaches are not the only draw. We did after all say this is a primitive adventure right?

There are areas you can camp at the park. Tent sites and even small cabins you can rent. Cabin rentals are only $36.00 a day and will sleep six comfortably. Each cabin has three sets of bunk beds and a table in the room but there are no bathrooms, no internet, and no kitchen. In fact, there is no electricity at all.

Campfires are allowed in the park and each site has a dedicated fire pit. You can bring your grill with you but there are charcoal grills available at each camping site. There are shared bathrooms and showers that are kept very clean.

It might be hard to spend an entire week without civilization calling to you and you would most assuredly stay disconnected from the mainland but if you can grind it out or simply want to get away from it all, you really can’t beat this chance to disconnect from the world and just enjoy nature at it’s absolute best.