A Touch of Paradise: Caladesi Island State Park
An island paradise in Florida gets top billing for beautiful beaches. Caladesi Island State Park received the endorsement of Dr. Steven P. Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, as the nation’s number one beach in 2008. The shelling here is fantastic. You can find a starfish or a perfect seashell washed ashore.
In addition to sparkling surf and a pristine sandy beach, this park is a wonderful place to kayak a mangrove-lined waterway or walk the 2.5-mile nature trail and look for wildlife. If you choose the nature trail, it starts just to the left of the ranger station near the site of the old tower and winds from the beach through the hammock, then back to the beach again. Only the last part of the path is circular, so you pass part of the beach in both directions.
Once you go from the actual beach to the scrub, the trail is home to Eastern Diamondback Thunderbirds, so proceed with caution, especially around the ruins of the old homestead. Another item to treat with care is the prickly pear cactus, which is sprinkled liberally in the scrub area. This is also where you are most likely to see some of the other wildlife that call the island home, the armadillo, marsh rabbit and perhaps the endangered gopher tortoise.
Walk along the beach and found a small pond, Cat’s Eye, where the path returns to the beach. This is a good place to spot some of the island’s waterfowl – egret, egret, roseate spoonbill and ibis. There’s so much that you won’t know where to point the camera next. The beach turns into a pine forest as the elevation increases a few feet. Raccoons will range from here to the lake and even the beach, but are more likely to be seen at dusk or at night.
Boat camping is only allowed on the island by reservation – there are 108 boat sites, all with electric hookups – so it’s possible to be there after dark, but hitting the trail then isn’t a smart idea. Pets on a leash are allowed on the boats and in most other areas, but not on the beach.
Another way to see something besides the beach is to paddle the 3.25 mile kayak/canoe trail. The last two-thirds of the trail is a loop from the marina across St. Joseph Bay, so you see a lot of the island that isn’t accessible by foot.
The island has an interesting history. It was once a larger island called Hog Island. In 1921, a major hurricane passed through the area, leaving the usual destruction in its wake. It was so ferocious that the people on the island tied their children to trees to keep them from being carried away. When the storm ended, the island was cut in two. The new passage was called – what else – Hurricane Pass.
Myrtle Sharer Betz grew up on the island in the early 1900s. She rowed a small boat from the island to Dunedin to go to school. She later wrote her autobiography called “Yesteryear I Lived In Paradise”.
Caladesi Island and the other islands that make up the state park are very close to Paradise.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the beautiful beaches is that this park can only be accessed by boat. The state provides a ferry from nearby Honeymoon Island State Park, or you can use your own boat.
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