By Bonnie Gross
Hidden South Florida beaches are the stuff of fantasies. They combine the joy of discovery with the appeal of having something special all to yourself.
Some of these best beaches in South Florida are an adventure to reach while others are unknown outside the region. All are that rare thing in South Florida: a wild place that hasn’t been spoiled.
1. Cayo Costa State Park
To reach the remote island of Cayo Costa you’ll have to take an hour-long boat ride—but it’s well worth the trip.
The Park located just south of Boca Grande and west of Pine Island is more than nine miles long. Forget the snack bars and the T-shirt shops; it’s just the beach nature and you. The sand is laden with shells and dotted with bleached driftwood. It’s peaceful and unforgettably gorgeous.
You can explore it on a day trip or stay overnight if you like roughing it. Besides tent camping the Park offers tiny rustic cabins without electricity or running water. Evenings on the heavily wooded island are magical; although in summer that magic is likely to include lots of mosquitoes and no-see-ums so be sure to bring insect repellent. November to April nights are sought after so book well ahead.
Captiva Cruises offers ferry service to the park for locations in Punta Gorda Pine Island Fort Myers Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Reservations are suggested.
2. St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park
If you don’t like sharing, St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park is the beach for you! Located a barrier island in Stuart you’ll need to paddle a kayak or arrive by boat. But it’s only a third of a mile across the Intracoastal.
The beach though is the reward. A shaded boardwalk crosses the island from the Intracoastal and opens to a wide wild and pristine beach that goes on and on. The state park’s beach stretches across 2.7 miles. But the southern boundary is the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge so the beach actually continues uninterrupted for a total of five miles.
Once you arrive rangers will zip you across the island on a golf cart if you have beach gear. The Park offers a covered picnic pavilion and restrooms.
3. Clam Pass Park
Snuggled against the Gulf of Mexico in Naples this Park boasts 175 public parking spaces and a tram that crosses a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp.
Clam Pass offers fine sugary sand like all Naples beaches and many of South Florida beaches but what makes it especially fun is that Clam Pass is the smallest shallowest pass on the Gulf Coast. The pass offers a narrow river-like opening in the mangroves shallow enough an adult can stand at the center except at the highest tide. As you float in the waters of the pass the tide gently sweeps you away. If the tide flows in you float into a shallow mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide goes out you float into the Gulf which remains shallow for a great distance.
It’s like a natural "lazy river" adventure where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun. If you swim or wade across Clam Pass the beach extends north for miles lined with sea grape trees and foliage.
4. Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park
Stephen Leatherman aka Dr. Beach has tried to spill the beans about this spectacular Collier County Park naming it to his top 10 list numerous times but fortunately it remains relatively unknown.
On the way to the Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park you wind through a lush residential neighborhood of million-dollar homes in North Naples. And when you arrive it feels like a private enclave.
Barefoot Beach encompasses 342 acres of natural land which includes a sugar-sand beach a nature trail showers a picnic area and a concession. Parks Rangers offer numerous lectures and interpretive programs.
5. Tigertail Beach
Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach is popular with locals for its split personality. On one side of the lagoon you park at a clean well-kept park with changing rooms a first-rate snack bar picnic tables a playground and a concession stand that rents kayaks stand-up paddleboards and other beach gear.
On the other side of the lagoon you leave development behind. A wild sand spit extends three miles north offering a beach with soft white sand scads of shells dolphins swimming off-shore ospreys squealing overhead and so many shore birds that it’s a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail. But the adventure comes when crossing the lagoon itself.
It stretches about 50 yards across and a buoy marks the crossover point. At high tide the water comes up to about your waist or chest. Squishy grassy sand covers the bottom of the lagoon. You don’t sink but you do have to overcome the "yuck" factor. People hold their belongings over their heads as they cross the lagoon laughing as they feel the ooze between their toes.
If that’s not your idea of fun you can walk about 20 minutes around the lagoon to the south to reach the beach. If you bring small children consider pulling them on a beach float or renting a kayak or paddleboard.
6. Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge
The beachfront road on ritzy Jupiter Island dead ends into the Refuge but no one’s broadcasting that fact. Nothing on the signage indicates there’s a public beach at the end of the road so if you don’t know about it odds are you won’t discover it.
The Hobe Sound beach extends north more than two miles to where the equally pristine St. Lucie Preserve beach begins totaling more than five miles of wild broad and unspoiled sandy shoreline.
The only amenities it offers are portable restrooms.
7. Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key State Park located just south of Fort Myers Beach got its name because it was once so remote only lovers went to the trouble to seek its privacy.
Now, it's easy to reach. Even though it's one of the best beaches in South Florida, it’s still not well known. The 2.5-mile beach is lined with natural vegetation and is perfect for beachcombing and birding.
There are even two bald eagle nests in the park. The Park’s mangrove-lined waterways are also major draws for both manatees and kayakers.
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