One Florida island paradise takes top billing for beautiful beaches. Caladesi Island State Park got the nod from Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, AKA Dr. Beach, as number one beach in the nation in 2008. The shelling here is fantastic. You could find a starfish or a perfect conch shell washed ashore.
Aside from the sparkling surf and pristine sand beach, this park is a wonderful place to go kayaking down a mangrove covered waterway or hike the 2.5 mile nature trail and look for wildlife. If you choose the nature trail, it begins just to the left of the ranger station near the Old Tower Site and winds from the beach through the hammock then back again to the beach. Only the last part of the trail is a loop so you do traverse some of the beach section both ways.
Once you move from true beach to scrub, the trail is home to eastern diamondback rattlers so proceed with caution particularly around the ruins of the old homestead. Another item to treat with caution is the prickly pear cactus that is sprinkled liberally in the scrub area. It’s here too you are most likely to see some of the other wildlife that calls the island home, armadillo, marsh rabbit and maybe an endangered gopher tortoise.
Walk down the beach and discovered a small pond, Cat’s Eye Pond, where the trail returns to the beach. This is a good spot to find some of the island’s water birds — egrets, heron, roseate spoonbill and ibis. There are so many you won’t know where to point the camera next. The beach scrub transforms to piney woods as the elevation increases a few feet in height. Raccoons will range from here to the pond and even on to the beach but they are more likely to be seen near twilight or at night.
Boat camping is allowed on the island by reservation only–there are 108 boat slips all with electric hookups–so it is possible to be there after dark but taking the trail then is not a smart idea. Pets on leash are allowed on the boats and most other areas but not 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 through Saint Joseph Sound so you do see a lot of the island that is inaccessible by foot.
The island has an interesting history. It was once a larger island called Hog Island. In 1921, a big hurricane blew through this area leaving the usual destruction in its wake. It was so fierce, people on the island tied their children to trees to keep them from being blown away. When the storm was over, the island had been cut in two. The new pass was called – what else- Hurricane Pass.
Myrtle Scharrer Betz grew up on the island in the early 1900s. She rowed a small boat from the island to Dunedin to attend 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 reason for the wonderful 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.