Anclote Key Preserve State Park

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is an undeveloped island, nature preserve and state park in Florida’s central Gulf of Mexico Coast.

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is known for its pristine white sand beaches, excellent shelling, historical lighthouse, clear waters and diverse wildlife.

The park is also known as one of the best destinations for boaters and sea kayakers in the area.

Anclote Key is one of very few remaining undeveloped islands in Florida. Except for the lighthouse and quarters for one state park ranger, there is no development on the island.

Note: Anclote Key Preserve State Park is a protected nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary. It is an important habitat for birds and other wildlife. It’s important for visitors to avoid disturbing the nesting birds or other wildlife.

Location

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is located approximately 3-5 miles offshore from Pasco County, Florida. 

The nearest city and departure point is Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Anclote Key State Park is only accessible only by boat or watercraft; there is not any sort of bridge, causeway or road access to the mainland.

Anclote Key Preserve State Park consists of several islands and sandbars:

  • Anclote Key
  • Three Rooker Islands (Two islands)
  • The North Sandbar
A map of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, camping, islands, toilets and other points of interest
Map courtesy of Florida State Parks

Anclote Key is the largest island of the chain, and covers approximately 440 acres.

The entire park includes 11,773 acres of protected nature, including protected waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Boat Tours

The most common way for visitors to access Anclote Key State Park is by public tour boat. Most tour boats depart from the sponge docks in nearby Tarpon Springs, or New Port Richey.

Note: A common visitor complaint is that boat tours from Tarpon Springs tend to spend a very short amount of time (As little as 30 minutes) on the island. Visitors should be sure to learn details before booking.

These boat tours are for day-use only. Public boat tours do not offer overnight ferry trips or camping ferry service.

Many visitors also come to the state park via private boat, jet ski or other watercraft. 

The nearby sandbars are a very popular local boater destination, and are considered to be among the best sandbars in Florida. 

It’s also possible to visit the state park via a charter boat, although this is less common.

Kayaking to Anclote Key

The state park is also a popular destination for sea kayakers; many visitors kayak to Anclote Key. 

The paddle is approximately 3-5 miles, depending on the departure point and landing spot. The paddle is not appropriate for novice paddlers, and should only be attempted by experienced paddlers.

The paddle to Anclote Key can be dangerous. It is a long distance, and passes through open-water with high levels of boat traffic and many possible hazards.

Kayakers should be properly experienced, properly prepared and able to deal with long-distance paddling, environmental conditions and ocean tides, winds and currents.

Private Boat

Anclote Key is a popular boating destination because of its beautiful beaches and sandbars.

Popular boat launch access points include:

There are not any boat dock facilities on Anclote Key. Visitors who arrive by boat should be prepared to anchor safely or beach their boat.

Private boats usually gather on the east side of the island where it is protected from Gulf of Mexico waves. 

Boats also gather on the western beaches when wind and wave conditions are calm. 

Boaters are asked to please avoid damaging the environment when anchoring, and please avoid damaging fragile seagrass, which is essential for the health of Florida’s marine environment.

Nearby

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is situated on a remote island, so there are no restaurants or other attractions on the island. 

However, visitors can access the park by boat from nearby marinas and cities, including Tarpon Springs.

Continue Reading:   Amelia Island State Park

Tarpon Springs is one of the most charming small towns in Florida. It is a great place to visit, and offers a variety of restaurants, hotels, activities, things to do and other visitor amenities. 

Read more about things to do in Tarpon Springs

Information Before Visiting

Before visiting Anclote Key Preserve State Park, it’s important to note that there are no facilities on the island.

Visitors must bring their own food, water, and supplies. There are two composting toilets on the island, but there is no running water.

The island also has a “carry-in, carry-out” policy, meaning visitors must take all their trash and belongings with them when they leave. 

Alcohol and dogs are prohibited on Anclote Key.

Visitors are strongly advised to wear appropriate clothing, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Biting insects like mosquitoes, horse flies, noseeums and biting gnats can be extremely unpleasant on the island.

Visitors are asked to be respectful of birds and wildlife, and to be aware of the park’s rules and regulations to help preserve the pristine natural environment.

Hours and Fees

The official hours of Anclote Key Preserve State Park are from 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year.

Fees

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is free to enter; no fee is required. Camping is also free, but registration is required.

Contact Info

State Park Contact: 727-241-6106

Protected Wildlife Habitat

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is an important wildlife habitat, especially for nesting birds.

Thousands of birds converge on the islands during the annual nesting season. 

Part of the beach on Three Rooker Island is closed from May 1 until August 1 to protect the bird’s nests and survival.

Visitors should be sure to respect birds and always remain far enough away to avoid disturbing them. Birds are very sensitive to human presence, so remain far away to avoid disturbing them.

Sea Turtles

Anclote Key Preserve is an important nesting ground for sea turtles. The turtles are attracted to the isolated beaches and the soft sand, which is easy to dig in.

Sea turtles nest on the beaches of Anclote Key Preserve State Park from May until October, including Green and Loggerhead turtles

Pet Policies

Dogs are not allowed on Three Rooker Islands or Anclote Key. Dogs are allowed on the north sandbar, but must be on a 6-ft. leash at all times.

Park Amenities

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is a very primitive state park; there are extremely limited amenities available on the island. 

Essentially the only facilities on the island include picnic tables and BBQ grills at the park’s designated picnic area.

There are two composting toilets on the island; one near the lighthouse and one near the campsite at the north side of the island.

There is no running water on the island.

Things to do 

Anclote Key Preserve State Park offers a variety of outdoor recreational activities for visitors to enjoy. Here are some things to do in the park:

Swimming and Snorkeling 

The beaches in Anclote Key Preserve State Park are beautiful. 

The sand is soft and white, and the water is clear and turquoise. Water visibility can be excellent, but it does depend heavily on wind and wave conditions. When wind and wave conditions are right this beach has the clearest water in Florida.

The sandy beaches are perfect for swimming and snorkeling, although experienced snorkelers should have modest expectations.

There is not any coral, or really much to see while snorkeling, but many visitors are happy to see fish. 

Kayakers and boaters often see dolphins in the surrounding waters, and manatees can sometimes be seen on the trip, especially closer to the mainland. 

Shelling 

Anclote Key is known for its abundance of seashells; it’s one of the best beaches in Florida for seashell hunting. 

Continue Reading:   Beaches in Tarpon Springs

Beachcombers should know that live shell collection is prohibited, including sand dollars. 

Hiking 

There is a section of forest in the center of the island.

The island has several paths which allow visitors to explore the park’s natural habitats and observe its diverse wildlife. 

Fishing

There is excellent fishing in and around Anclote Key Preserve State Park.

A fishing license may be required; be sure to know and follow all fishing regulations.

There are many seagrass beds nearby which provide a healthy marine environment and shelter for juvenile fish species.

  • Spotted seatrout
  • Snook
  • Redfish

Lighthouse

The Anclote Key lighthouse is not open to the general public, except for specified events, which are held several times per year. 

Access may be able to be arranged through the Friends of Anclote Key organization.

Shelling

Anclote Key is one of the best beaches for shelling in Florida due to its remote location, relative lack of people, and location.

Note: If you visit through a boat tour, you should be prepared to be surrounded by many people on the boat and beach, and only spend a very amount of time on the island.

Bird Watching

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is an excellent place for birdwatching.

Thousands of birds nest on the islands in the spring. It is common to see young chicks which have only recently hatched, which is why the island’s protected nature preserve status is so important.

There is a section of island forest in the park interior. It is common to see nesting birds, including bald eagles and ospreys, among others.

Birds:

  • 43 species
  • American oystercatcher
  • Bald Eagle
  • Piping Plover
  • Roseate Spoonbill

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed in Anclote Key Preserve State Park, including some of the only true beach camping in Florida. 

Things to know about camping on Anclote Key: 

  • Camping on Anclote Key is difficult because of many factors
  • Camping access is only possible via private boat, watercraft or a charter boat
  • Public boat tours do not provide camping ferry service
  • There are no amenities or water access in Anclote Key Preserve State Park. 
  • Visitors must be self-sufficient and bring their own supplies.
  • Trash facilities are not available, so campers must remove all trash and belong with them. It is a “Pack it in, pack it out” experience.
  • Biting insects are a major nuisance on the island, including biting horseflies, mosquitoes, gnats and noseeums, which can penetrate many tent nets.

Primitive campsites are located on the northern tip of Anclote Key. There is a composting toilet near the campground.

There are small covered pavilions and picnic tables, along with charcoal BBQ grills.

Beach campfires are allowed beneath the high-tide line. Campers are not allowed to cut firewood on the island. Campfires should only be built using driftwood or dead limbs.

Camping on Anclote Key Preserve is free, but registration is required.

Campers should cal this number to register: 727-638-4447

Registration will require information, including:

  • Number of campers in party
  • Arrival and departure dates
  • Emergency contact information
  • Boat registration information

Interesting Information

The name “Anclote” is derived from the Spanish word “Ancla,” which means “anchor.” 

The island was named by Spanish explorers who used it as an anchorage point in the 1500s. Other points in the region were also named similarly, including the Anclote River.

The park is a protected wilderness area, which means that visitors should respect the park’s natural environment, wildlife, and leave no trace behind. 

The island’s delicate ecosystem is home to a variety of plant and animal species, and visitors can help preserve the park’s natural beauty by following the park’s rules and regulations.

The park is home to a variety of endangered and threatened species, including the Florida Manatee, gopher tortoise, and several species of sea turtles. 

Continue Reading:   Things To Do in Tarpon Springs

Anclote Key Lighthouse

The Anclote Key Preserve Lighthouse is not open to the public. It is only open for public access during special “Open House” events, typically held twice a year. 

Special visits can also be arranged with a donation to the non-profit organization which supports the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is 110 feet tall. It is built out of cast iron and was built using a prefabricated, skeleton-style architecture.

This design allows strong wind and waves to pass through the structure without destroying it. 

Anclote was the second of three lighthouses of this design to be built in Florida. The first was built further south in Sanibel Island, the third was in Cape San Blas in the panhandle.

The Anclote Key Lighthouse in Anclote Key Preserve State Park
Photo by Anita Denunzio

The lighthouse was traditionally serviced by a lighthouse keeper and an assistant who fueled the lighthouse manually with oil. 

The operation was very labor-intensive until the lighthouse was automated in 1952. 

The lighthouse was commissioned during the presidential term of President Grover Cleaveland in 1886, and began operating on Sept. 15, 1887.

The light was decommissioned in 1985. The lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

The lighthouse fell into disrepair and was vandalized for many years after being decommissioned in 1984. It was rebuilt in the 1990s and finished in 2003.

Today the lighthouse functions and is maintained as a historic structure.

Frequently Asked Questions about Anclote Key Preserve State Park

How do I get into the Anclote Key Lighthouse?

The Anclote Key Preserve Lighthouse is not open to the public. It is only open for public access during special “Open House” events, typically held twice a year. 
Special visits can also be arranged with a donation to the non-profit organization which supports the lighthouse.

Are there bathrooms on Anclote Key?

The only toilet facilities in Anclote Key Preserve State Park consist of two composting toilets. One toilet is located near the lighthouse, and another toilet is located at the north end of the island. Visitors must bring all of their own food, water, and supplies. Visitors are also responsible for carrying out their trash, as there are no trash receptacles on the island. Additionally, visitors who plan to camp on the island should note that there are no facilities. Campers should come prepared with their own camping equipment and must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to minimize their impact on the environment.

Is it possible to kayak to Anclote Key Preserve State Park?

Yes, it is possible to kayak to Anclote Key Preserve State Park, and kayaking is a popular way to access the park. Visitors can launch their kayaks from several nearby locations, including Fred Howard Park and paddle to the island. Kayakers should be properly experienced, equipped and prepared for the trip because it can be a dangerous paddle, and is not recommended for inexperienced or improperly prepared paddlers.

How long does it take to kayak to Anclote Key?

Kayaking to Anclote Key can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the starting and destination points, wind, tide and current conditions, kayak speed and kayaker’s skill level. Visitors should be prepared for open-water conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, potentially heavy boat traffic and should be properly prepared. Paddles should be sufficiently experienced for the trip, use a seaworthy craft, and carry appropriate safety equipment.