Located off Florida’s southwest coast, Keewaydin Island is a small barrier island and is only accessible by boat. After seeing my friend, Harmony, from Momma To Go, post about her trip to Keewaydin over the summer, I knew I wanted to visit! Since we were planning to be in Marco Island for a few days after our busy time in the Keys, a relaxing day on Keewaydin Island sounded heavenly.
There are three ways to get out to Keewaydin Island:
- Take your own boat or rent one from Rose Marina (Marco Island)
- Sign up for a shelling tour (we considered doing Sweet Liberty), or
- Take the Hemingway Water Shuttle (which we did!)
Since no one in our group is an avid boater, and we didn’t want to do a full-blown guided tour, the Hemingway Water Shuttle was perfect for us. Roundtrip tickets are $44 for adults and $22 for kids (as of late 2020), and the shuttle is the ideal combination of water taxi + tour of the area.
I was originally surprised at how many locals/regulars/repeat customers were on the shuttle with us, but I can totally see why after our experience with Hemingway Water Shuttle. As we sailed out to Keewaydin, Steve and Val Hemingway (who are just the sweetest!) told us all about the area and pointed out popular places and restaurants. Their attention to detail and genuine friendliness made the 40-minute ride out to Keewaydin fly by!
Their pup, “Captain” Jack, is a regular fixture on the Hemingway Water Shuttle, and when he’s not napping, he’s actively searching for dolphins.
Success! Once we got out into the Gulf of Mexico, we started seeing dolphins left and right. The Hemingway Water Shuttle is NOT a dolphin cruise, and they obviously don’t guarantee that you will see any wildlife, but they did go out of their way to give us the best view possible for as long as possible of the dolphins that we saw along the way.
We’ve seen dolphins MANY times on whale/dolphin watching cruises, and these were the most playful I’ve ever seen!
And, we got to see a BABY dolphin!! The sweet babe (in the back) stuck close to mama the whole time but was having a blast playing with her.
Our first glimpse of Keewaydin Island: the left side faces west and the Gulf of Mexico, while the right faces east and the Intracoastal Waterway. The island is about 8 miles long though visitors mainly congregate on the southern tip. We spotted a couple of manatees in the Intracoastal Waterway, but nothing close enough to get a good picture.
Check out that beautiful beach. Since Keewaydin is only accessible by boat, it doesn’t suffer from the same crowds as other south Florida beaches. At least, it didn’t when we were there mid-week in October. And because there are no bridges, roads, cars, buildings, or even water/electricity, it’s a pristine and unspoiled beach.
As soon as we were off the boat, the kids set to work searching for shells. We didn’t bring the best equipment – just our usual beach/sand toys – but they still had a great time!
The beaches of Keewaydin are littered with shells. The best time to go shelling is a couple of hours or so before low tide – we were there much closer to high tide and still discovered a TON of shells. They were washing up on shore with each and every wave, but we found that the best spot to get shells was in ankle-deep water.
Ellie loved running up and down the beach, and her bucket was full of shells before we left. She didn’t care if they were whole shells or broken ones with missing pieces; they were all beautiful to her. I love the mindset of kids, and really, we should all strive to be a little more like that.
In addition to shells, sand dollars are plentiful on Keewaydin Island. Grandma naively told the kids that she would pay them $1 for every sand dollar or conch shell they found and she ended up “shelling” out over $40!
Since there’s no development on Keewaydin, you do need to bring everything with you that you’ll need for the day. We rented beach chairs and umbrellas from Hemingway Water Shuttle, but you’re more than welcome to bring your own if you have them.
Along with having no development means that there are no restaurants on Keewaydin Island. We picked up subs from Publix before we left Marco Island, and they made for a delicious beach picnic.
Depending on the time of year that you visit Keewaydin (and the day of the week!), there are sometimes food boats docked along the Intracoastal Waterway ready to serve burgers, fish tacos, and mixed drinks. I’ve even heard that there’s an ice-cream boat though it wasn’t there when we went! Since we visited midweek in the off-season, we packed all the food/snacks we needed for the day because we weren’t certain there would be any food boats available.
Oh my gosh, these kids had so much fun searching for shells and sand dollars! Usually, when we’re at the beach, they’re all about the waves and want to spend their time boogie boarding. The water at Keewaydin is remarkably calm with no real waves to speak of, so they had fun swimming and shelling.
Additionally, the water stayed shallow for a long time, so the kids were able to go out pretty far. I’m guessing that Nick was out about 20 yards at this point, and the water was only waist-deep. But he was out far enough that the dolphins swam by to say hi!
One of my favorite things about traveling during the pandemic has been actively searching out places that easily allow for physical distancing. Keewaydin Island is precisely that- it’s remote, it’s uncrowded, and it’s full of fresh air and room to run.
Ben was the sand dollar king on this trip – he found more than 10, and they were all pristine! It’s illegal to take a living sand dollar from the beach, but do you know how to tell if a sand dollar is still alive? First, give it the color test. If it’s white, it’s actually the skeleton of a sand dollar that has been bleached by the sun, so you’re good to go. If it’s darker or brown/purple, flip it over and check for spines; if they’re moving, it’s still alive and needs to go back to the sand.
Not only that, but he was the shelling king as well. He was finding Florida Fighting Conch shells by the handful! I’ve never seen so many shells, especially whole, pretty ones!
All too soon, it was time to head back to the mainland. We took the first shuttle of the day (9am) out to Keewaydin and returned on the 2pm shuttle. Our group was split on if that was enough time on the island or if we should have taken the 4pm shuttle back instead. On the plus side, “Captain” Jack spotted more dolphins on our return voyage!
This pod of dolphins followed us around for a while – they sure do love to play with the boats!
We had an incredible day out on Keewaydin Island, and it’s a trip that we’ll definitely repeat in the future. The Hemingway Water Shuttle is a great way to get to Keewaydin and explore the Marco Island waterways. I highly recommend visiting if you’re planning a trip to Southwestern Florida to check out Everglades National Park – or even if you’re a local looking for something fun and different to do!
Things to Remember When Visiting Keewaydin Island
- Keewaydin Island is primitive – you need to pack in and pack out everything, including trash!
- Bring lunch/snacks + water with you, as well as some cash (tips) and a credit card if you want to purchase anything from the food boats.
- Due to the primitive nature, there are no bathrooms, so plan accordingly.
- Make sure to bring or rent beach chairs/umbrellas as there’s limited shade on the island.
- Sunscreen is a necessity, and don’t forget to reapply.
- Bring a bucket for shells, a shelling rake (also great for finding shark teeth!), and a mesh bag to bring the shells home.
Have you been to Keewaydin Island? Are you a fan of shelling? Let me know in the comments.