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Times of the Islands Magazine

Cayo Costa, Turtle Beach Enjoyable All Year Long

The island offers 9 miles of beautiful beaches.

From pitching a tent, to firing up the coals, to listening to the crickets chirping, to breathing in the salty sea breeze, beach camping offers an experience unlike any other. It’s not only the strong connection to nature that one enjoys, but it’s also the chance to swim, shell, snorkel, paddleboard, hike, bike and more, all in close proximity to your campsite. There are a few area campgrounds that offer a chance to camp by the beach, an activity that can be enjoyed throughout the year.

Cayo Costa State Park

The pristine barrier island of Cayo Costa State Park offers 9 miles of beautiful beaches, along with acres of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks and mangrove swamps. Located 4 nautical miles west of Pine Island, it is accessible only by private boat or ferry, via Captiva Cruises.

The 2,426-acre park affords visitors the chance to see a wide variety of birds, pods of dolphins, and manatees. “During the winter and early spring months, there are many shore birds that call Cayo Costa State Park home. Some of these include least terns, American oystercatchers, Wilson’s plovers and snowy plovers,” notes park manager Chad Lach. “The rare indigo snakes can sometimes be seen on a sunny afternoon,” he says.

There are bicycle rentals, and hiking and nature trails, including Gulf Beach Trail, which offers visitors a great view of the Gulf of Mexico and beaches. There’s also an amphitheater that provides educational programs about the island's ecology and history. In addition to the 30 tent sites, there are 12 primitive cabins that can be reserved through Reserve America, up to 11 months in advance.

A gift shop is next to the ranger station and has ice, snacks, drinks and other basic camp items, including firewood. Restrooms and showers are available. “When you come to visit, just remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints,” adds Lach.

Turtle Beach Campground

Sarasota’s Siesta Key is home to tree-lined Turtle Beach Campground, which offers tent sites and 39 recreational vehicle sites with full hookups. What’s better yet is that it’s just a short stroll to the beach. The family-friendly campground offers an onsite camp host, horseshoe pits, picnic areas with grills, restrooms and hot showers, coin-operated washers and dryers, and even Wi-Fi.

There’s also a free trolley service to Siesta Beach and Village—a beach that is worth the ride over. Siesta Beach was rated the No. 1 beach in the nation by TripAdvisor and also by geoscientist and coastal ecologist Stephen Parker Leatherman, who is known as “Dr. Beach.” Plus, the Village offers shopping, sightseeing and recreational rentals.

At adjacent Turtle Beach Park, campers can enjoy a playground for the little ones, a fishing pier, a sand volleyball court, picnic areas, and motorized and non-motorized boat launches. There is a large outdoor pavilion available to rent, as is a meeting room that seats 30.

“This truly is a place for families to get away from it all and enjoy the beach and nature, all with quick access to restaurants, shopping and more,” says Rebekka Cline, business development coordinator for Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources. 

The early months of the year are when visitors can take out the binoculars and observe winter birds. “This is a great time to come and look for migrating birds, such as plovers, terns and various types of gulls that come to Florida during the winter months,” adds Cline. Additionally, the diving dolphins never cease to delight.

For those who want more than just a weekend stay or even an entire week’s stay, they’re in luck. Guests can stay up to 30 nights within a 45-day period. Campsites can be reserved months in advance. (Full payment is required at the time of reservation.)

Turtle Beach Campground was established in 1921 as Gulf Beach Campground. Today it truly offers something for everyone.

If You Go

Captiva Cruises (Reservations required)

11401 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva

Cayo Costa State Park

4 nautical miles west of Pine Island

Reserve America

Turtle Beach Campground

8862 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota

Written by Ann Marie O’Phelan, a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.