For a genuine Authentic Florida coastal adventure, try Don Pedro Island State Park. On Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast, in Charlotte County between Knight and Little Gasparilla Islands, lies one of the state’s sweetest off-the-beaten-path beach parks. If you like shelling, you’ll find them ankle deep. If you want to walk along a pristine, wide-open beach, pack your beach bag and lunch, as you are in for a treat.
Accessible by boat or ferry, Don Pedro Island State Park has an array of delightful amenities in store. Enjoy exploring nearby mangrove tunnels, fishing in the Intracoastal Waterway and the Little Gasparilla Sound, hiking trails, bird watching and a captivating, mile-long beach.
We went with a local kayak guide by the name of John Sarkozy, based in Nokomis. John owns Quiet Water Kayak Trips and is involved in the Southeastern Littoral Chapter. He brings the kayaks, equipment and provides simple training. He can be reached at (941)966-7308 (no website). His trip dates can be found on www.sealitsoc.org/, click on events.
If going on your own, refer to the Don Pedro State Park map before beginning your journey. The launch point is the park’s “main land base” which is accessible by car. The address is: 8450 Placida Road, Rotonda West. The 100-acre land base allows you to unload your kayak or canoe adjacent to the dock situated on Lemon Bay (Intracoastal Waterway). There is a nominal park entrance fee and facilities are available. At the land base park, you’ll find mesic flatwoods, marine tidal swamps loaded with crabs and creatures, familiar slash pine trees and palmetto shrubs. While there, we witnessed a beautiful osprey bringing in its catch just yards away.
Once you have launched your kayak or canoe, it’s a simple 15-20 minute southwest paddle across the intracoastal waterway. Tucked behind the mangrove island (across from the Cape Haze development), head to the small bridge and paddle underneath. As you arrive to Little Gasparilla Sound, you’ll see the island dock located to the northeast. Be on the look out for dolphins, manatees and ospreys. If fish are jumping, they are mullet. At low tide, you may spot some American Oyster Catchers and be sure to scan the pine trees above, as you might get lucky and see a Bald Eagle.
Once you have arrived at the dock, pull your kayak or canoe on land (or tie up), and an island sand pathway will lead you to the beach pavilion. The shady pavilion is very spacious with picnic tables overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and steps from the beach. A fabulous view awaits you and the facilities and showers are steps away.
Prior to getting to the beach, we enjoyed a kayak ride through the mangrove tunnels accessible directly across the intracoastal from the Don Pedro land base. The mangrove tunnels will not take you to the beach park, so it’s a turnaround ride, but worth the short excursion. Mangrove tunneling is one of Florida’s true authentic experiences.
The birding is delightful. Lots of shorebirds – plovers, terns and sandpipers are plentiful. Along the sandy trails you may even spot gopher tortoises. During the summertime, loggerhead sea turtles create nests near the sand dunes. Signs will indicate where the nests are located.
Don’t forget your sunscreen, a towel, lunch, drinks and something to carry your shells in. Binoculars and a camera are essentials.
For an idyllic Authentic Florida day, Don Pedro Island State Park can’t be beat. Enjoy one of Authentic Florida’s best kept secrets.