Anclote Key Preserve is a barrier island (accessible by private boat only) on the west coast of Florida about an hours drive west from Tampa.
As soon as I moved to the central Florida west coast area and heard Anclote Key with its recently restored lighthouse was accessible only by boat, I planned on paddling out to it. There's something about going somewhere a car can't get to.
It's a 2 open water straight shot from Fred Howard Park (a free Pinellas County Park in Tarpon Springs) to the southern tip of the island near the lighthouse. I guess Im a beginner/intermediate paddler so a solo paddle across open water made me a bit nervous. Thankfully, all turned out well.
I arrived at Fred Howard Park with my sit-on-top Scrambler around 8am to get an early start and avoid the afternoon storms. I parked on the causeway very close to the island beach and put in there. Rounding the parks beach island (and watching the sting rays scatter), I just headed for the lighthouse you see to the West North West. It was a very calm morning and the water was flat (think HOT bring lots of water). About midway to the Key, a head with whiskers popped up out of the water and seemed to take a look at me. After dismissing my original thought of How could a dog get all the way out here?! I realized it was a manatee. Very cool! Unfortunately I never caught it surface again.
In this picture, just to the right of the lighthouse, is a dock that connects to a boardwalk that takes you right to the lighthouse.
I beached at the southern tip of the Key just to the left of the dock. I saw the Keys lone full-time resident (Park Ranger) taking in supplies from a boat at the dock. As I walked down the boardwalk towards the lighthouse, she and her grandson rode their four-wheeler up behind me and had to pass so they offered me a ride. Very nice lady! As we rode on she said she was taking in some fuel to run the generator.
Exploring the island was fun but a bit abbreviated. While you cant go up the lighthouse, it is definitely worth it to go and walk around it and take some pictures. After checking that out, I followed a path to the gulf side of the island where there are some grills and a covered picnic area. Its a very natural and tropical feel with all of the native vegetation.
I then walked across a big tidepool to the beach. Upon turning around and looking back east, I noticed the perfectly clear sky had changed to include some building storm clouds near the mainland.
That cut my exploration short I thought I could make it back before any storm could fully form so I started paddling back. Luckily the clouds dissipated without forming a storm. A rewarding swim back at the beach at Fred Howard Park felt great.
Keep an eye out for boats heading to/coming from the gulf. The channel runs pretty close to the Key.
Showers, bathrooms, water fountains.
From U. S. Highway 19 or Alternate 19: Traveling north on U.S. Highway 19 or Alternate 19 turn left on Klosterman Road and go to Carlton Road. Turn right on Carlton Road and go to the stop sign, turn left onto Curlew Place. Go to the next stop sign, which is Florida Avenue, and turn right. Go 2 miles to the red flashing light and turn left onto Sunset Drive (which dead-ends into the park.)