A Quick Getaway at Egmont Key

Just over an hour’s boat ride from Riviera Dunes Marina, Egmont Key is a secluded wildlife refuge located at the mouth of Tampa Bay and on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Accessible only by boat, this wildlife refuge offers visitors a plentitude of activities, including fishing, shelling, swimming, birdwatching, and exploring the island. If you are there to snorkel, you will enjoy checking out the sunken gun batteries that are now home to an abundance of sea life. 

A lush green canopy covers the island’s interior, while white sand beaches are surrounded by stunning crystal blue and turquoise waters. 

As a preservation site, Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge is partly run by the state and offers a full exploration of the ruins of Fort Dade, a relic from the Spanish-American war. Three decommissioned batteries were used to house disappearing guns that were meant to be disguised under enemy attack. Only the remains are there as a reminder of the lengths taken to protect the Florida shores. 

In addition to Fort Dade, during the 19th century, the island was used as a camp for captured Seminoles at the end of the Third Seminole War. The island was then inhabited by the Union Navy during the Civil War. In 1858, a lighthouse was built on the island, a watchtower to spot Confederate blockade runners, and it still stands and can be viewed, but entry is prohibited. As the Spanish-American War loomed, Fort Dade was built on the island in 1898 and remained active until 1923. Recently, the island has served only as a peaceful sanctuary for wildlife and humans to explore. 

The ruins of the small town that supported the fort are still paved with red bricks. Back when the fort was in full use, up to 100 US servicemen lived in barracks. While freestanding homes for officers and civilians were also built. Now all that remains are remnants of foundations, as do the soft, breezy echoes of voices from yesteryear.

The island is home to a variety of shorebirds; thus, the island’s south end is closed to visitors as many birds nest there. Rest assured, there are plenty of royal and sandwich terns, brown pelicans, and American oystercatchers to view flitting around the island. 

Watch for the only full-time residents who are the gopher tortoises who will not shy away when they see you approach. 

The island has designated fishing areas for avid fishermen where the day’s catch may be sea trout, tarpon, snook, grouper, or flounder. Be aware that a saltwater fishing license may also be required. All fishing regulations must be adhered to. This would include size, number, method of capture, and the season. 

As the island is remote, there are no services available, so be sure to get fuel at Riviera Dunes fuel dock, and if you want food to take on your excursion, grab a burger or fish and chips from Riviera Dunes Dockside Grill. Check out their website at rivieradunesdockside.com

Island GPS coordinates:

Ranger Station: N 27 36. 032 W 82 45. 623

Lighthouse: N 27 36. 047 W 82 45. 634