Egmont Key FL: Guards the Entrance to Tampa Bay and Fort De Soto Florida
The Gulf coast of Florida is amazing, with the color and clarity of the water and the incredible sea life and sunsets there! At the entrance to Tampa Bay is Egmont Key, which guards the Bay with its wildlife refuge and 19th century fort now. I highly recommend this trip to Egmont Key if at all possible, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours or all day if you want to just relax and enjoy life a while!
Egmont Key is of course an island by name, and you need to have your own boat or Jet Ski in order to get over to the island, or you can take one of the ferries that are offered by private companies. These ferries leave from a few different locations, such as St. Petersburg, but I think the best location to catch the ferry is at Fort De Soto Park, which has daily trips over starting at about $15 or $20 per person. It’s not a long trip, you can definitely see the island from shore, and it’s a good way to break up the day for a little bit because Fort De Soto is an awesome beach and camping park! If you plan ahead of time, you can set up camp or your RV right in the park, and you’ll have access to one of the largest boat ramps in the whole area just a couple of miles away, great biking and hiking trails, numerous pristine beaches, one or two fishing piers, a dog park, and the ferry boat departure area!
So if you’re going to do one of the two (Egmont Key or Fort De Soto Park), then I’d recommend spending a little more extra time and do it right. Slow down your pace and relax more, enjoy yourself on one of the many beaches and sheltered coves with lifeguards present, explore the historic ruins of two 19th century forts, one in Fort De Soto and the other on Egmont Key. Bring your bike and spend some time traveling the pathways of the park and getting some exercise. Be sure to watch out for that harsh Florida sun, especially in the summertime, because of the heat and humidity. It can really get you quick!
On Egmont Key, most of it is actually a wildlife refuge for many animals, including tropical sea birds that nest there at different times of the year. They don’t have any predators on the island, so they like to nest away from the mainland and keep away from danger if possible. The Gopher Tortoise is also on the island in high numbers, and this is a fascinating creature which stays in the dryer areas. It’s endangered in the state of Florida, and brushfires can affect them in large numbers. They burrow underground, but a fast moving fire can overwhelm them before they get back to their hole. That’s a big reason why we need to be careful when dealing with fires in the back country so as to not start something we didn’t intend…
Sea Turtles also come ashore on Egmont Key to lay eggs, but storms of late have worked to erode some of their prime nesting locations. Still, the park service works hard to manage the wildlife on the island and help them recover when they need it and make it a great place for future maintenance and viewing. There is also an old lighthouse on Egmont Key, along with the other ruins of the fort that was built for the Spanish American War to help protect the area.
The first European to set foot on land in the area was Hernando De Soto, a Spaniard who sailed there in 1539 or so. There were a few Native Americans using the island for a fishing camp or base at that time, but there weren’t huge amounts of Indians. De Soto then continued to sail northward up the west coast of Florida and around to the Mississippi River, where he died and was buried on that river in order to keep the natives from abusing his body.
I hope this gets you interested in coming to the incredible Egmont Key for a visit, and also Fort De Soto Park for some camping, RV’ing , biking, and beaching! This whole area is fantastic, and one of my favorites on the Florida Gulf Coast. Even though it seems secluded, civilization is just around the corner, and Tampa / St. Petersburg is a bustling city center with lots to do, including the arts, museums, theme parks, and much more! It’s just a short 1 ½ hour drive from Orlando, the home of Mickey Mouse and the famous Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, and other parks… So plan a trip soon, I know you’ll love it!
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