FORT DESOTO, Fla. (WFLA) – The cell phone service isn’t great, it’s only accessible by ferry and the waters are pristine and clear.
Egmont Key is a perfect place in the Tampa Bay area to “go off the grid” for a few hours.
In the summer, Hubbard’s Marina runs a ferry to Egmont Key at least twice a day. It takes off for the island paradise at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and returns at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively.
Captain Dylan Hubbard knows the island is more than just another pretty beach here in the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s a pristine nature preserve, so half the island is actually closed to visitors, where seabirds and sea turtles and a lot of wildlife has the opportunity to live. The other half of the island, the northern half of the island, is open for visitors, and that’s got a lighthouse that still works to this day,” said Captain Hubbard. “It’s got the ruins of Fort Dade on it. It’s a great place to explore the interior of the island and check out that fort, that lighthouse. There’s a lot of hiking paths, walking trails, and it’s got some gorgeous opportunities for shelling.”
Because Egmont Key is such a pristine paradise, there are no shops, buildings or bathrooms on the island. There’s also no refuge from the sun. That’s why the ferry trips are only four hours. There is a bathroom and snacks available for purchase on the boat.
The ferry ride itself takes about 25 to 30 minutes, depending on if the captain spots any wildlife.
“If we spot some dolphins or some sea turtles or a manatee or manta rays, we might slow the boat down and that travel time might increase a little bit. But the goal is to get you out to the island and let you spend the day on the island,” said Captain Hubbard.
In addition to wildlife on the water, you’ll spot something unique on the island itself.
“There’s one thing that’s super unique to Egmont Key is that it has a huge population of gopher tortoises. Gopher tortoises are super unique, they’re still on the endangered species list, but during the day, especially when it starts warming up… they come out of their burrows and they sunbathe,” said Hubbard. “So it’s super easy to spot them, interact with them, but you just can’t touch them or anyway kind of alter their behavior. So you’re welcome to go up, take as many photos as you want, hang out next to them, you just can’t touch ‘em or alter their behavior by feeding them or anything like that.”
For those wanting to see more wildlife under water, Hubbard’s Marina also offers a snorkeling cruise option.
Because Fort DeSoto is a county park and Egmont Key is a state park, alcohol is not allowed. Guests also can’t bring kites, drones, pets or glass.
Here is some information to help you plan your next trip to Egmont Key:
The ferry leaves for Egmont Key from Fort DeSoto’s bay pier, inside Fort DeSoto Park, located at 3500 Pinellas Bayway South, Tierra Verde, 33715. When you enter the park, you’ll turn right and follow clearly marked signs for the ferry. Reservations are encouraged, as the ferry is very popular. Reservations can be made by calling 727-398-6577.
– Entrance into Fort DeSoto Park is $5 per car
– The cost for the ferry is $25 for adults and $12.50 for children.
– The snorkeling cruise option is $15 for adults and children.
– Snorkeling equipment rental is $5.
Other things to know:
– If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, bring Dramamine! Depending on the way the wind blows the waves, the water could be choppy and make for a bumpy ride.
– If you’re a local and think you don’t want to make the trip because of tourists, think again! We met some really awesome, nice people on our ferry and had a lot of fun.
– Pack your reef-safe sunscreen, but don’t forget your bug spray as well.
Travel time to Fort DeSoto Park (links will update to current traffic conditions, weekday afternoon conditions listed):
– From Downtown Tampa: 41 minutes
– From Brandon: 56 minutes
– From New Port Richey: 1 hour, 9 minutes
– From Lakeland: 1 hour, 19 minutes
– From Bradenton: 40 minutes
– From Sarasota: 56 minutes
– From Orlando: 2 hours, 6 minutes