Pelican Bay, Cayo Costa, Florida

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26 41.10N 82 14.25W

“Range yourself between ICW marker R74 and the sign near the beach. At this point, you need to be ready to get uncomfortably close to the sandy spit on your starboard side as you turn to port,” a friend explained as he drew a small chart on a napkin. “Then once you get past the spit there is a hump you have to get over, so don’t go in or out on a really low tide. After that, you’re all set.”

He was right. As we approached the sandy spit on the eastern shore of Cayo Costa I started to sweat, the depth gauge increased as we got close then dropped again right at the entrance to the bay. But once we were over the hump, as he described, one of the best anchorages in all of southwest Florida lay in wait.

Pelican Bay is located on the east side of Cayo Costa State Park, and is one of those anchorages you come back to time and time again. Protected from nearly every direction, there is enough room for 50 boats to comfortably swing at anchor, though you’re unlikely to ever encounter that many. The hump my friend spoke of is about four to five feet at low tide, but if you can get past it, depths throughout the anchorage run between six and 12 feet with good holding.

Ashore, the park is pure old Florida. With no high-rises or throngs of tourists, Cayo Costa is an unspoiled barrier island left mostly in its natural state. From the anchorage, a short dinghy ride takes you to the park dock and a pine tree-lined path across the island where an expansive, pristine beach is perfect for shelling, swimming or taking in a sunset.

If you’re up for a little adventure, dinghy or kayak south along the mangroves that line the eastern shore of the island. A gap in the trees leads to a tunnel through the mangroves that eventually opens up to reveal a small cove. Since the park is near a bird sanctuary, you’re likely to come across anhinga, osprey, heron and more.

Also, if you’re up for a longer dinghy trip, continue south down the eastern shore of the island and you’ll come across Cabbage Key, where you can grab a delicious cheeseburger and cold beverage. You won’t be disappointed.