When visiting Shell Key, there is no question on how it got its name. Although it would be ironic if when I touched down on the shore of the beach, there wasn’t a shell in sight. However, this wasn’t the case; shells of all shapes and sizes blanket the shores of the beach. Just between Fort De Soto Park and Pass-A-Grille, you’ll find the uninhabited key surrounded by the warm waters at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Relaxing on the beach was my only goal during my afternoon visit to Shell Key, but I have since found more to this key to explore on my next visit.
Have you ever wanted to pretend you’ve been marooned on a secluded island after your FedEx plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean while en route to Malaysia? Shell Key can be the place for you to live out that fantasy. Visitors who wish to primitive camp must obtain a Shell Key Camping Permit from the county. Schedule in advance though; Pinellas County only grants 25 camping permits per night. Each permit allows up to six people per group for $6.00 a night. Overnight parking is allowed at the Fort De Soto Boat Ramp, but you’ll need to pay an additional parking fee not included with the camping permit.
There is also a ferry option provide by Hubbard’s Marina. They can provide transportation for you and all your camping gear to the key for the night. Camping on Shell Key is as primitive as it gets; no freshwater, generator hook-ups, or lavatories are on site. Before you get island fever, befriend a volleyball, and write HELP in the sand, the ferry will be back in the morning to pick you up and take you back to civilization.
What’s better than kayaking in some of the clearest water Florida has to offer? Kayaking in an equally clear kayak, giving you a full 360 view of the ocean creatures swimming around and under you. Get Up and Go Kayaking offers guided kayaking tours, where paddlers can see Florida wildlife in their natural habitat. The wildlife isn’t the only thing to look at though. This tour will also lead you through a canopy of mangroves and stop at some of the picturesque locations around Shell Key.
For those looking to kayak under the stars, Get Up and Go also offers Glow Tours, a nighttime guided tour around Shell Key. Each kayak is equipped with an underwater light that illuminates the water below while the stars shine above.
Birding, you read that right, birding. Look, I’m here to expand the possibilities while visiting new places, and discovering Florida’s unique wildlife is a must while on Shell Key. Birding may not be as exciting as doing the stingray shuffle into the water and hoping with every step you don’t end up like Steve Irwin (too soon). But, you will impress your friends by knowing the difference between an Orystercater and a Sandpiper.
Birding reminds me of the times I’ve gone geocaching. Both are a lot of walking around looking for unique hidden items. Similar to geocaching, apps enable you to upload sightings and identify the different types of birds you encounter along the way. For example, I’ve used the app Merlin to identify birds in my local area. In addition to uploading a photo, the app uses location, date, and time in an algorithm to identify over three thousand bird species.
If you want to do more than lie on the beach, Shell Key has so much to offer. Remember to take with you what you bring to this key, so others can enjoy the beauty for years to come.
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