Cayo Costa State Park

It was an escape from the routine and hurried frenzy of daily life at home. Until we were loaded and away from the ferry dock on Pine Island, did I feel like I had started to leave busy-ness behind. We went for a weekend, but could have spent a whole season there, relaxing, recuperating, and re-creating ourselves.

Cayo Costa State Park is located on the north end of Cayo Costa Island (south of Boca Grande/Gasparilla); but, also includes the southern portion of North Sanibel Island. The camping grounds are located on the Gulf side of Cayo Costa – you can walk there from the boat dock, or you can wait for the Park Ranger to take you there by cart/bus (the park also maintains cabins on Pine Island). There are several trails accessible from the camping area. You need to bring in just about everything you’ll need for your stay – its a primitive camping experience – and, the ferry ride out makes it costly to go off island for supplies.

Cayo Costa is Old Florida … and it is beautiful. Enjoy the photos.

One leaves the marina at the northwest end of Pine Island, and heads west across Pine Island Sound. The ferry works its way to the hurricane hole between Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa itself coming up on the floating dock from the south. Consequently, the ferry passes along the bay-side of the park, where the mangroves, pine and oak scrub are still growing back from the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

Soldier Palms (dead cabbage palms near Boca Grande Pass).


More trees not recovered from the storm of 2004. Still stately and majestic; and, still every bit as important to the island’s ecology and wildlife. Walking the island trails and beaches was wonderful. There is much to see and hear. Birds, bees, the wind. It was good to be away from the noise of the city and the drummer’s pace of getting on with each day. We were able to really let go and unwind – old style.

The tent sites were very exposed – we knew that going into the trip, and elected to reserve a cabin. There was little shade available in the tent sites simply because the native flora was still growing back. The cabins had a nice cross ventilation and a large shaded porch, but, still as evening drew on, the sun made it very hot to be out – we sought shade or the waters of the Gulf of Mexico whenever heat was an issue. (If you plan to use the cabins, bring extra sheets to cover the windows for some privacy).

I will be the first say that our neighbors were very loud, but most welcome. The osprey nest was about 100 feet east of the cabin. The young were incessantly squeaking for attention, and the adults calling to each other throughout the day. That the local crows kept buzzing the nest did not quiet the ospreys. It was a real privilege to see them up close like that.


The beach has been accorded top status by the Beach Doctor in years past. It is no less a beauty today. The island’s inaccessibility means the beach is not busy – so it is a wonderful place to just go and relax – almost deserted at times … a few miles of Florida paradise for the walking. You can see over the dunes from some of the cabins and several of the tent sites, but you really have to push through the edge of the palms and shrubs to reach the beach.


Of course, there is no visit to a west coast Florida beach that can be considered complete without a sunset.

Most unusual critter spotted during our stay – a nudibranch:

I am certain this critter would look much more spectacular if I had an underwater camera and extra lighting. But it was still really cool to find one swimming along at the shoreline.

On one walk we came across an extensive stand of Gopher Apple. We were envious – we have been nurturing our little clump of apples for six years now, and they cover a very small area of our yard. Here they were ubiquitous.

We found these curious looking plants in the dunes – no-one knew their name. There were some bigger examples of the shrub scattered throughout the dune line, gulf-side. We didn’t see any inland of the dune ridge.

Scaevola plumieri – Inkberry or beachberry. Again, a pretty plant (in this case can be very tall), one that we found only along the dune facing the Gulf of Mexico.

I really enjoyed just getting out and about. I walked to the south end of the park (without my camera, sorry), and was thrilled at every step. Shells of all kinds and shapes. Dead things washed ashore: a shrivelled porpoise carcas, and a dead Green Sea Turtle. Wave forms in the sand, always changing. A rookery for lesser terns. A fresh cut through the beach, feeding time and tide to the interior lagoon. A huge aligator – thankfully on the other side of the lagoon. Just a world of wonder. Many shapes and textures. Splendor with every step.

Modern fire fighting equipment and high tech water supplies kept us content and safe (chuckles).

Tasty bacon! (Thanks Deb!!!!!!). Savory Snacks (A world without salt & vinegar chips is a bland one!!!!!). And some things better off not eaten (we survived the canned peaches!!!!!).

Our trip was worth the cost of driving and parking and getting the ferry to the island. I would like to have found a less expensive place to leave my my vehicle – the marina charges $10/day to park; and, that adds up quickly, detracting from the overall experience of staying on the island. If you can – go. Bring a means of charging your camera (if its digital) and stay as long as you can afford. It was fabulous. We’ll do it again.


About Richard Porter

Richard Porter is the principal photographer at Unusual Exposures Photography and Digital Art ( When he is not shooting, planning or editing, Richard can be found working in his apiary, cavorting with friends, getting dirty in his garden, and enjoying all that life has to offer.
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4 Responses to Cayo Costa State Park

  1. loni says:

    Oh Richard, I\’m envious of you and Deb being so close to those beautiful beaches and the bonus, seeing how nature can reclaim the land after such devastation – rather like Mt. St. Helen. Beautiful pics. Mom

  2. pixilated2 says:

    Thank you for visiting and following today, Richard. I never knew you liked native plants. They are a passion of mine. I am curious, are the Gopher Apples edible? ~ Lynda

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