Honeymoon Island State Park is the most visited state park in Florida. Over one million visitors annually come to this barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. Located north of Clearwater, Florida, in Pinellas County, this 2810 acre park has a lot to offer.
While smaller than Ft. De Soto Park, Honeymoon Island State Park has over 4 miles of beaches overlooking the Gulf waters. This particular beach has a mix of sandy areas and some areas covered with fossilized coral. To us, this beach has a more rustic feel and there were plenty of people out in the surf and the sun. The day that we visited there, it was overcast and quite windy so we did not spend a lot of time on the beach itself.
We chose to scout out some the 200 year old virgin slash pine forest along the 2 mile Osprey Trail and the ¾ mile Pelican Trail on the eastern side of the island. The Osprey Trail definitely lived up to its name because we observed numerous osprey and their nests high in the pines. It was an easy hike because this trail was not very sandy. Hiding in the underbrush, we saw an Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake from a distance. These snakes are common on Honeymoon Island and there are signs posted in the park alerting visitors of their presence.
At the end of the Osprey Trail is an eagles’ nest. A pair of eagles took up residence in the Park in 2008. To protect them, the park has cordoned off the area around their nest. Even so, we were still able to see them well.
We hiked back along the Pelican Trail which was a lot more sandy because it hugs the shoreline. There were lots of mangroves growing between the trail and the beach area so there were not very good views of the water. We were treated to a rare sighting of two Great Horned Owls, a mom and her fledgling, roosting high above their nest. According to the park ranger who was keeping watch over them there, the fledgling was only about 6 weeks old but she appeared to be as large as her mother. We did not see the male but he was said to be somewhere nearby. Maybe he was off getting a bite to eat. It was so exciting to get to observe these owls in the wild.
As we made our way back to our truck, we ran into an armadillo grazing near the children’s playground. These animals are also common on the island.
Why is this State Park called Honeymoon Island? In the early 1940s, according to the Park’s information, Honeymoon Island was featured in magazines and newsreels. Clinton Washburn, a New York developer, purchased the island and erected 50 small huts for visitors. He began to advertise this island paradise, that could only be reached via a ferry, as a getaway place for honeymooners. He also held a contest, which was advertised in Life Magazine, and the winners were awarded a two-week stay on this island in sunny Florida. About 169 couples took advantage of this honeymoon offer. Once WWII began, the island was abandoned.
A causeway was built to the island in 1964 and the state purchased the island in 1974. Honeymoon Island State Park opened to the public in 1981.
As was the case at Ft. De Soto Park, there is a ferry service to another island nearby. The ferry departs from Honeymoon Island and will take you to Caladesi Island State Park where there are some lovely beaches to enjoy. Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island used to be one large island. In 1921, a strong hurricane divided the island into two smaller islands and created a new waterway between them which is aptly called Hurricane Pass.
We were told that there is great fishing around Hurricane Pass. In addition to fishing, St. Joseph’s Sound on the other side of the island is a good place to kayak. As we crossed the causeway leading to the park, we saw several dolphins in the Sound. Evidently, dolphin pods are spotted here often.
In the Park, there is a Nature Center that chronicles the history of this area and there are park concessions available in several locations throughout the park. Leashed pets are allowed on the Nature Trail in the park and they even have a dedicated beach area for pets.
Honeymoon Island State Park is a great place to go. Thanks again to our daughter and son-in-law for recommending this lovely State Park to us. It’s one of their favorites in the area and it quickly became one of ours too.