Keewaydin Island, an unspoiled Floridian paradise…
Almost every year after Christmas my family heads down to Naples, Florida, where we get together with family and friends. It’s been tradition for years now. In fact, I’ve been visiting Naples since I was a young kid.
So, how on earth had I not been to Keewaydin Island before? This barrier island off the coast of Naples was the highlight of our most recent trip. One of Florida’s Ten Thousand islands, situated in between the Gulf of Mexico and the waterway that runs between Naples and Marco Island, the allure of Keewaydin Island is that it is only accessible by boat – no cars, no roads, and certainly no bridges. A local favorite, one can visit the island with their own boat, rent a boat, or take a tourist boat, of which there are few.
About Keewaydin Island
The story goes that in the 1950’s, when Marco Island was being developed, the government wanted to develop Keewaydin Island too, and build a bridge and road out to the island. This did not sit well with the local residents, who wanted to keep the rugged nature of the island, and 1000 people banded together and signed a petition to stop the road from being built, as well as further commercial development. They were successful, and to this day Keewaydin remains a pristine and for the most part untouched island, with just a few dirt pathways throughout.
I say “for the most part”, as the island is 85 % public and 15 % private. On the north end of (the 8 mile long and ½ mile wide) island there are a few private homes. They are, of course, only accessible by boat, and with private docks. Apart from that, as well as the people who come over to visit for the day, the island has remained as it has always been. It is also one of the few barrier islands that has fresh water, and therefore has an abundance of animals and wildlife. There are white tail deer, bobcats, pigs, raccoons, turkeys, and some even say black bears. Hard to believe that’s true but that’s what they say!
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It is this rustic beauty that makes Keewaydin Island so unique, and why I just had to visit. My family and I went for a day trip, and it was perfection. First of all, the beaches are absolutely stunning. It’s the whitest sand I’ve seen in Florida to date, and with hardly any people on them. We literally had no one around us where we decided to lay down our towels. And because of this, the shelling is amazing. There’s just simply not as much competition for the shells as there are in places like Sanibel and Captiva. The beach is wide and vast, and seems to go on endlessly.
Keewaydin Island Local Flavor
But you want to know what I really loved about Keewaydin? The local culture. The beaches are located on one side of the island, on the Gulf side of course, but on the waterway side is where all the action happens. This is where the locals pull up their boats to anchor and hang out for the day. Just as you would park a car on the street, the boats are parked on the shore. People break out their boom boxes, coolers, chairs, volleyball nets. Some crowds are young, while others are older, while some have kids running and milling about. This is the place to come and chill for the day with friends as well as meet new people.
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My absolute favorite part about the whole scene had to be the food boats. You know food trucks? Well, think of those as food boats. Yes, I know, food BOATS! Down the shore from the regular boats were these food boats that had shown up for the day to sell everything from burgers to tacos to sandwiches to sweets. There was even an ice cream boat! Which my kids went mad about. There was also a bar boat, with a full service bar – no cooler needed! So if you don’t feel like packing a picnic, you can just bring your wallet. It was one of the most fun and relaxing scenes I had seen in a while.
I had read before our day trip to Keewaydin that there are two parts to the island – the pristine part and the party part – and there really are. Whatever your mood, you can make the island what you want of it. This is what I thought was so interesting about the island, and why I will definitely be back for a visit. There is the beautiful, quiet and unspoiled side on the Gulf, and the fun, happening side on the inlet. For us, we liked doing both.
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How to Get to Keewaydin Island
Unless you have your own boat or rent a boat, there are only two boat services that take tourists to Keewaydin – one that leaves from Marco Island and one that leaves from Naples.
Hemingway Water Shuttle is the more affordable option and departs from Rose Marina on Marco Island. This is what we took. A family-run business, the crew is super friendly and knowledgeable. Their dog Riley is the boat’s mascot, and was every bit a part of the experience for our kids. He added a whole new element to the ride. For example, part of the boat ride experience was looking out for dolphins. Riley could spot them before anyone else, so wherever Riley went on the boat, the kids followed suit. It was quite a site, and they were very sad to leave Riley at the end.
Water WUBER departs from Naples. We did not take this boat as there was no availability. Make sure to book in advance, which can be tricky if you’re planning around the weather like us. But Captain Stephen is the nicest guy and talked to us for a long time on the phone about the island.
If you’re in the Naples or Marco island area, I highly recommend a day trip, or even a half-day trip, to Keewaydin Island. It’s a unique place in Florida and fun for everyone – the whole family, couples, and friends.
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