Camping on Florida’s Beaches
Welcome to one of the most unique places to camp in South Florida. This vast expanse of gulf water opens around the island while steady winds blow across the beaches and mangrove tunnels. Picnic Island sits to the north of the Sanibel causeway, in the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, and is destination to all manner of fisherman, boaters, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Nearby boat launches include Punta Rassa and St. James City and both are in reach of the island by kayak. Our team had kayak campers coming from both directions and the distance was comparable.
Picnic island has several beaches connected by short foot trails that pass under Australian Pine thicket. Black and red mangrove circle much of the island and provide a nursery for minnows along with wide turtle grass flats.
These waters and sand have remained unchanged for many years. With no infrastructure on this or the surrounding islands, it looks now much as it must have when the Caloosa Indians traveled the surrounding waters over five hundred years ago. Visit The Randell Research Center website to learn more about the history and culture of the Caloosa in the area.
Crackers have been camping on Picnic Island for years but it still hasn’t turned into Fort Lauderdale Beach. It can get a little crowded on any given Saturday but as far as overnight campers are concerned, it seems to have found a nice level. It’s not for everyone. Lack of access and amenities on Picnic Island make it a destination for only the hardy and determined.
Facts about Picnic Island, Florida
1. Fires– It’s not easy to find another place in Southwest Florida where you can enjoy a fire on the beach. Everywhere else on Fort Myers Beach is a definite no-no. You can pay for one in Cayo Costa State Park and or you can get a permit for one on Lover’s Key. This fire on Picnic Island is old school if you can get the lumber there. Most of the wood on the tiny island has been picked clean so plan ahead. Back in my younger days on Fort Morgan beach in Gulf Shores, nightly bonfires where a big part of the silliness and fun, so make it happen captain.
2. Free– Right? Huge points at the bottom of a state that puts guard gates and price tags on just about every beach, trail or parking lot. Check out Estes Park, Colorado. They let you walk up and down mountains for free. At Picnic Island there are no reservations and no saved camping spots. If you show up and some hillbilly has taken root in your hammock tree, park it somewhere else or go home.
3. Fireworks– Not really a problem like it used to be in Florida. Back in the day one had to be a little sneaky, but Florida has caught up…in regards to fireworks. On several occasions, boats, even cop boats, have stopped off and enjoyed our fireworks show for a spell. Friendly and fun.
4. Fish– From catching mullet in the net to speckled trout, redfish and snook in the grass flats, Picnic Island provides a shallow nursery where bait abounds and all manner of Florida fish can be wrangled. As part of the surrounding estuary system and Pine Island Sound, there are literally fish everywhere. Yes, literally.
5. Facilities– None. Forget it. No washroom. No WC. No powder room, bidets, or outhouses. Figure it out yourself, I guess. Even if your girl likes room service (and who doesn’t?) it’s a fine test to see if she can hold it together for two days on a beach with no facilities. If she can, snatch her up (prep).
Whatever has been working there up until now has kept Picnic Island free and friendly. As there is no security or maintenance, everyone needs to police themselves. Try to pick up any litter your party may accrue and keep the island beautiful. Also, please remember to be cool. Your mom isn’t around and there is no one to watch you. Be on your best behavior and enjoy! Florida Destinations: Picnic Island. Cheers.
Ed. note (If the tropical breezes are NOT blowing or you happen to be camping on the lee shore, mosquito populations (Culex pipiens) have been known to reside on Picnic Island. If you are susceptible and fail to bring adequate protection, Nail Travels does not accept responsibility for cases of Exsanguination.)