Camping on Shell Key

There are no trash cans on Shell Key.  No county employees are paid to remove trash from the island.  All of the cleaning and unwanted trash removal is done by hard working volunteers and individual visitors just like you.

Why are we asking you to help clean up trash on the island? Even trash that is not yours?

Because we need your help to preserve the future of camping on Shell Key.

The county does not have the funding or resources to clean up after visitors to the island.  However, they do have the authority to ban any activity that they believe is a threat to order and preservation of this preserve.  We know – because it has happened before. We do not represent any official state or county authority.  Yet we know that our continued right to camp on Shell Key absolutely depends on how well we can keep this island looking and functioning like a pristine ecosystem.

Camping Rules & Guidelines

Rules are enforced by county law enforcement as follows …

Overnight Camping  the South Public Use Area Only
Primitive camping is allowed only on the South Public Use area of Shell Key. 

Camping Permits
Camping Permits are required for any overnight activity on Shell Key. Permits can be obtained for free from the county.

Leave No Trace
We are required to remove absolutely all trace of our camp – including food, refuse and anything that came with us on our boat.

You must remove all trace of your campfire before you leave.  This means removing (not burying) all the charred wood from the fire.  Remember that you are not at a permanent campsite.  You are in a nature preserve and are required to leave no trace at all.

NEVER Cut Any Native Vegetation for Firewood
This is perhaps the worst thing that people can do to the island – because it can’t be cleaned up.   Besides the fact that freshly cut wood on the island will barely burn,  it is a blemish on the land that will take years to regrow. Please bring plenty of firewood with you and remove it from the island when you are done.

No Bottles Or Cans In The Campfire
As cool as it may be to watch your beverage bottles melt in the campfire, these things leave a nasty mess in an area where people regularly walk barefoot.  And again, please remove all trace of your fire – even the partially burned wood and coals.  Burying it is not good enough.  Erosion will expose a buried campfire in no time.

Portable Toilets Required
The county requires all campers to bring a portable toilet for overnight activities. A simple DIY toilet can be made with a 5 gallon bucket, a trash bag and some sand.  Place the trash bag in the bucket as a liner, put in a scoop of sand and use the toilet.  When done, put another scoop of sand on top.  Some people even bring some scented cat litter to use instead of sand.

Your brother’s keeper
We are asking you to, whenever possible, take a little extra trash off the island – even if it is not yours. The overwhelming majority of visitors to Shell Key are conscientious and tidy. Yet, a few inconsiderate visitors to the island have the ability to ruin it for the rest of us.  Also, trash drifts onto Shell Key from the gulf and bay on a regular basis.  If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.  Keep a few garbage bags on the boat and grab a few items as you are strolling the beach or exploring the pines. You will feel great about making a difference.   If a lot of people make a little effort, we can sustain this resource despite our growing local population..

No Pets or Alcohol
It doesn’t seem fair to leave the member of the family that would perhaps get the most joy out of island wilderness camping.  However, pets are completely banned from the entire preserve including all of the aquatic boundaries.  Read more about the pet ban.  Alcohol is also forbidden within the preserve boundaries.

Camping Etiquette
Please be considerate of nearby campers and keep loud noise or bright lights to a minimum at night.

Camping Checklist

  • Sunscreen, First Aid & bug repellent.
  • First Aid kit should include
  • Water and Food
  • Extra sunglasses, towels and a hat.
  • Dress for worst case weather
  • Fully charged Cell Phone
  • Chairs, tent and bedding.
  • Toilet Paper, garbage bags & portable toilet.
  • Sandals or water shoes (see sandspurs!)


Questions and Comments

Article: Camping on Shell Key
62 comments on “Camping on Shell Key
  1. Sue Foster says:

    I see that this outfitter rents kayaks overnight and beyond.

  2. Dennis says:

    I am planning on camping there in the next few months. We are going to kayak out to Shell Key and need to know where can we park our vehicle overnight?

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Dennis,

      I would say that the best public place to park overnight is the Ft. Desoto Boat Ramps. There is a fee which can be paid at the kiosk on the way in.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Michele says:

    We are planning to camp here in February….this will be the first time this deserted….any advice on how much wood to bring and how much the shuttle allows u to bring?

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Michele,

      I don’t know what the shuttles policy is regarding firewood quantities, but if you are bringing those little netted bundles from the grocery store, I’m sure you could bring several of them. I would guess that their main concern is keeping their deck clean of debris. You might give them a call to see what they say. If you keep the fire relatively small, two or three bundles per evening should be enough.

      If you are not cooking over the fire, you might consider bringing several of those wax fireplace logs. They are easy to haul out there and last for hours. You could also bring some wood for cooking and then toss on a wax log afterwards for ambiance throughout the evening.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  4. Tommy Williams says:

    Hi, was wondering if camping would be allowed on the sand right near where the new pass has formed near the middle of the island? It looks like it would be where the restricted public use area is

  5. Elliottness Valentin says:

    We can not find a solution on how we can get to the island. we are a family group of 7 to 10 people. No boating rental will rent for overnight stay. No island shuttle will transport our family over with camping gear. We even sought out canoe and kayak options. None will allow us to take the kayak for camping. We are planning to go this April Friday noon the 7th to Saturday April 8th by late afternoon. Can you help us find a cost effective solution to transport a family of 10 max with gear, cooler and keep in mind a toddler is among the group.

  6. Chris says:

    Can you leave your tent in place, or do you need to pack up each day you camp?

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Chris,

      As long as you are on the island, you can leave your tent set up for your entire stay. And, even if you leave the island briefly – to go exploring or make a run back to the mainland for supplies – you can still leave your camp set up. If for any reason, you leave overnight, you should probably break camp – even if you plan to return the next day – unless you have people there to watch your stuff.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  7. Denis says:

    We are camping at the park on the weekend of 3/10. Should we be worried about poisonous snakes? Are they present at the island. Thank you in advance!!!

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Denis,

      The county’s wildlife survey does not list any venomous snakes on the island. They do list some non-venomous snakes including the Southern Black Racer, Yellow Rat Snake (chicken snake) and the Saltmarsh snake. However, in all my years of camping on the island, I have never personally seen a snake of any kind. Here is the county’s documentation of their wildlife survey. And here is a website listing venomous snakes in the state of Florida. Most venomous snakes in our state are found in woodlands, scrublands and freshwater/marsh areas. The only things likely to bite you on shell key are mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

      Hope this helps 🙂

    • Angela says:

      Denis I’m planning on camping there for the first time next weekend. How was it?

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