Islands in the Sun: Kayaking Cayo Costa State Park, Florida

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13202A, Kayak


  • Watch manatees and dolphins swim
  • Relax on an isolated, undeveloped island
  • Stroll along one of the best shell beaches in Florida


  • Kayak rental and instruction
  • Rustic cabin accommodation
  • Guided exploration of Gulf Coast barrier islands 


DatesNov 17–23, 2013
StaffPatrick Nichols

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Trip Overview

The Trip

With nine miles of beautiful beaches and acres of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks, and mangrove swamps, this barrier island park is a Gulf Coast paradise. Cayo Costa lies north of Sanibel and Captiva islands and is accessible only by private boat or ferry. Shell-seekers will find treasures all around on this undeveloped beach. We may see manatees and pods of dolphins in the waters around the park, as well as a spectacular assortment of birds. On the island, we can kayak, swim, or snorkel in the surf, enjoy the sun, and picnic in the shade. Shelling is especially good this time of year. More than five miles of nature trails provide opportunities for hiking and off-road bicycling. You can always skip the kayaking if you want to kick back and relax.


Day 1: We meet the Tropic Star at the Jug Creek Marina on Pine Island at 1 p.m. Fort Myers is the closest airport. The trip leader encourages you to get together with other participants and carpool. Detailed directions and a list of what to bring will be given out to all participants joining the trip. After greetings and introductions, we load our gear onto the ferry and depart for our island. Our cruise to the island hints at the sub-tropical adventure before us. Upon arrival we will settle into cabins and head to the beach for a quick dip or to just put our toes in the sand!

Day 2: After a morning stroll to the lee side of the island, we start with a dry land introduction to kayaking. After some hands-on time with our boats, we take a short paddle to a neighboring beach and bird sanctuary. Be sure to bring your cameras and binoculars.

Day 3: In the morning we paddle to the north end of Cayo Costa. This is the entrance to Port Charlotte and Boca Grande Pass. Friendly dolphins often join up as we begin to circle the island.

Day 4: Today is your day off. Kick back and enjoy! Explore and experience the island. Soak in the sun, read a book on the beach, and plan on easing into the evening with a sizzling sunset paddle, followed by a secret stroll on a moonlit beach.

Day 5: Today we paddle by the infamous Useppa Island. The blue-green water sparkles from the dazzling sun as we approach Cabbage Key. This is the site of the world's best-known cheeseburger. We can step out and stretch our legs to a small restaurant on this "old Florida" resort island. This relatively unknown place is famous for inspiring Jimmy Buffet's song "Cheeseburger in Paradise." This optional lunch is in a unique location with U.S. dollars papering the walls. If you are thinking of a burger, this is the place.

Day 6: Captiva is our destination today. This gorgeous inhabited island has no cars! On our way we slip by mangrove islands and mysterious mangrove tunnels. As the name implies pirates left slaves here knowing their fear of the surrounding waters would keep them captive.

Day 7: Time to shake out the sand, pack up, and say good-bye to our "Island in the Sun" paradise. The ferry leaves promptly at 1 p.m. We will arrive at the marina at approximately 2 p.m.

The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group. 



Getting There

Fort Myers is the closest airport. I encourage you to get together with other participants and carpool. Detailed directions and a list of what to bring will be given out to all participants joining the trip.

Accommodations and Food

The accommodations are rustic cabins with bunks. The camp has out buildings with freshwater showers and restrooms.

The leaders will prepare all the meals, but everyone is expected to help clean up. Meals are included with the trip fee and begin with dinner on the first day and end with lunch on the last day. Meals served on the trip will reflect local cuisine. With a little luck this will include seafood. You can count on something chocolate for dessert.  

Trip Difficulty

Kayaking experience is not needed, but participants should be good swimmers and fit. The trip leader is a certified ACA kayak instructor. This would be an excellent trip for first-time kayakers and seasoned paddlers alike. 

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be provided to registered participants. 



  • Smith, Patrick, A Land Remembered.
  • Larson, Gary, There Is a Hair in My Dirt.
  • Hiaasen, Carl, Tourist Season.
  • Hiaasen, Carl, Native Girl.
  • Dorsey, Tim, Cadillac Beach.



It's not Patrick Nichols' 35 years of wilderness experience or his extensive background as an outdoor enthusiast and wilderness educator that distinguish his tours from the ordinary. It is the exquisite attention to detail: from gourmet cuisine to the intricacies of paddling on quiet waters propelled by kayak. He is an ACA instructor, has trained with Red Cross water safety and is a wilderness first responder. His calling is to use the quiet skills of his lifetime to benefit every traveler, to ensure his skills and knowledge are shared by every voyager with an open heart and a curious mind.

Assistant Leader:

Richard Deluga

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