Camp­ing by the Gulf

Cayo Costa and Tur­tle Beach are en­joy­able all year long

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - CONTENTS - Ann Marie O’Phe­lan is a South­west Flor­ida res­i­dent and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

From pitch­ing a tent, to fir­ing up the coals, to lis­ten­ing to the crick­ets chirp­ing, to breath­ing in the salty sea breeze, beach camp­ing of­fers an ex­pe­ri­ence un­like any other. It’s not only the strong con­nec­tion to na­ture that one en­joys, but it’s also the chance to swim, shell, snorkel, pad­dle­board, hike, bike and more, all in close prox­im­ity to your camp­site. Here are two area camp­grounds that of­fer a chance to camp by the beach, an ac­tiv­ity that can be en­joyed through­out the year.

CAYO COSTA STATE PARK

The pris­tine bar­rier is­land of Cayo Costa State Park of­fers 9 miles of beau­ti­ful beaches, along with acres of pine forests, oak­palm ham­mocks and man­grove swamps. Lo­cated 4 nau­ti­cal miles west of Pine Is­land, it is ac­ces­si­ble only by pri­vate boat or ferry, via Cap­tiva Cruises.

The 2,426-acre park af­fords vis­i­tors the chance to see a wide va­ri­ety of birds, pods of dol­phins, and man­a­tees. “Dur­ing the win­ter and early spring months, there are many shore­birds that

The 2,426-acre Cayo Costa State Park af­fords vis­i­tors the chance to see a wide va­ri­ety of birds, pods of dol­phins, and man­a­tees.

call Cayo Costa State Park home. Some of these in­clude least terns, Amer­i­can oys­ter­catch­ers, Wil­son’s plovers and snowy plovers,” notes park man­ager Chad Lach. “The rare in­digo snakes can some­times be seen on a sunny af­ter­noon,” he says.

There are bi­cy­cle ren­tals, and hik­ing and na­ture trails, in­clud­ing Gulf Beach Trail, which of­fers vis­i­tors a great view of the Gulf of Mex­ico and beaches. There’s also an am­phithe­ater that pro­vides ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams about the is­land’s ecol­ogy and his­tory. In ad­di­tion to the 30 tent sites, there are 12 prim­i­tive cab­ins that can be re­served through Re­serve Amer­ica, up to 11 months in ad­vance.

A gift shop is next to the ranger sta­tion and has ice, snacks, drinks and other ba­sic camp items, in­clud­ing fire­wood. Re­strooms and show­ers are avail­able. “When you come to visit, just re­mem­ber to take only pic­tures and leave only foot­prints,” adds Lach.

Tur­tle Beach Camp­ground “truly is a place for fam­i­lies to get away from it all and en­joy the beach and na­ture.” —Re­bekka Cline, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment co­or­di­na­tor for Sara­sota County Parks, Recrea­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources

TUR­TLE BEACH CAMP­GROUND

Sara­sota’s Siesta Key is home to tree-lined Tur­tle Beach Camp­ground, which of­fers tent sites and 39 recre­ational ve­hi­cle sites with full hookups. What’s bet­ter yet is that it’s just a short stroll to the beach. The fam­ily-friendly camp­ground of­fers an on-site camp host, horse­shoe pits, pic­nic ar­eas with grills, re­strooms and hot show­ers, coin-op­er­ated wash­ers and dry­ers, and even Wi-Fi.

There’s also a free trol­ley ser­vice to Siesta Beach and Vil­lage—a beach that is worth the ride over. Siesta Beach was rated the No. 1 beach in the na­tion by TripAd­vi­sor and also by geo­sci­en­tist and coastal ecol­o­gist Stephen Parker Leather­man, who is known as “Dr. Beach.” Plus, the vil­lage of­fers shop­ping, sight­see­ing and recre­ational ren­tals.

At ad­ja­cent Tur­tle Beach Park, campers can en­joy a play­ground for the lit­tle ones, a fish­ing pier, a sand vol­ley­ball court, pic­nic ar­eas, and mo­tor­ized and non-mo­tor­ized boat launches. There is a large out­door pav­il­ion avail­able to rent, as well as a meet­ing room that seats 30.

“This truly is a place for fam­i­lies to get away from it all and en­joy the beach and na­ture, all with quick ac­cess to restau­rants, shop­ping and more,” says Re­bekka Cline, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment co­or­di­na­tor for Sara­sota County Parks, Recrea­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

The early months of the year are when vis­i­tors can take out the binoc­u­lars and ob­serve win­ter birds. “This is a great time to come and look for mi­grat­ing birds, such as plovers, terns and var­i­ous types of gulls that come to Flor­ida dur­ing the win­ter months,” adds Cline. Ad­di­tion­ally, the div­ing dol­phins never cease to de­light.

For those who want more than just a week­end stay or even an en­tire week’s stay, they’re in luck. Guests can book up to 30 nights within a 45-day pe­riod. Camp­sites can be re­served months in ad­vance. (Full pay­ment is re­quired at the time of reser­va­tion.)

Tur­tle Beach Camp­ground was es­tab­lished in 1921 as Gulf Beach Camp­ground. To­day it truly of­fers some­thing for every­one.

Top left, Cayo Costa State Park is ac­ces­si­ble only by pri­vate boat or ferr y, via Cap­tiva Cruises. There are plenty of hik­ing and na­ture trails (top right), which even the lit­tlest vis­i­tors will love. Above and op­po­site page, the is­land of­fers 9 miles of beau­ti­ful beaches.

Nearby Tur­tle Beach Park (left and above) of­fers mo­tor­ized and non-mo­tor­ized boat launches. The camp­ground is just a short stroll to the beach (be­low).

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