As our beaches begin to open to the public along the Northwest Florida Coast, many will be looking for ways to have fun in the sun while also practicing social distancing. A day trip to Shell Island in Bay County or St. Vincent Island in Franklin County could be the answer! These undeveloped barrier islands offer a taste of the Northwest Florida environment in its rawest and most pristine condition.
Shell Island, a breathtaking, seven-mile long island positioned between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. St. Vincent Island is a National Wildlife Refuge on a 12,300-acre undeveloped barrier island located nine miles southwest of Apalachicola. Both islands are ideal for a day trip, but please be sure to leave no trace of your visit to these natural treasures and check official websites to ensure that the islands are open to the public.
Shell Island is only accessible by boat. If you have a boat, or have rented one, cruise on over to the island and drop an anchor just offshore. Renting a pontoon boat is a fantastic way to see the island and, with most boats accommodating up to 10 passengers, you can bring several friends to join in on the fun.
What to Do
Panama City Beach has some of the best fishing along the gulf and Shell Island is no exception. The crystal-clear waters of the gulf allow you to cast a line from the beach or right off your boat. The Island is also a beautiful place for paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling where you’ll have the opportunity to explore and discover the wonders of the gulf. No visit to Shell Island would be complete without a shell collecting expedition so take time to walk the shores and soak up the sun while you’re there.
As part of the St. Andrews State Park, Shell Island has some pretty exciting native residents. From bottle-nosed dolphins and sea turtles to nesting shorebirds and deer, this wildlife sanctuary is home to a wide range of coastal creatures and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of some of them.
Know Before You Go
Go prepared! Shell Island is a great place for family fun, but make sure to bring everything you need. There are no restroom facilities, concession stands, pavilions, or trash cans on the island, so don’t forget to bring all the food and beach supplies you’ll need for a fun-filled day in the sun.
ST. VINCENT ISLAND
St. Vincent Island is only accessible by boat, but it’s just a ¼ mile from the coast. You can kayak over, take a personal or rented boat or jump on the St. Vincent Island Shuttle that runs year-round from Indian Pass, be sure to check to make sure the shuttle is operational in advance. The launch point is located just 10 minutes from Port St. Joe and less than 30 minutes from Apalachicola. In addition to the shuttle, there are also pleasure cruises and fishing charters available that visit the island.
What to Do
Explore this natural island either on foot or by bike. Numerous trails wind through the island’s forest areas which are home to a variety of native species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Although most comfortable during the fall, winter, and spring, the forest areas are open year-round and are prefect for birding and wildlife spotting. The gulf breezes and the picturesque beaches are breathtaking no matter what time of year to choose to visit St. Vincent Island. Keep an eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, and even manatees while lazing in the sun or collecting seashells.
Fishing around the island is strong nearly all year. Tarpon, shark, redfish, and trout – just to name a few – are some the species you could expect to find on a chartered fishing trip or right from the beach.
Know Before You Go
St. Vincent Island is rustic and natural, but there are restrooms for your convenience. In order to maintain the island’s natural beauty, please plan to carry out everything you bring in. Furthermore, with no concession stands or cafés on the island, be sure to bring all the food and water you’ll need for your day exploring the island.