Shell Key Preserve: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Located between St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay, there are 1,800 acres of mangrove, barrier islands, and seagrass beds going by the name of Shell Key Preserve. If you’re wondering how to get there, what there is to do, and what to expect during your visit, keep reading ‘Shell Key Preserve: What You Need to Know Before You Go”.

Shell Tree at Shell Key PreserveShell Tree at Shell Key Preserve

Shell Key is an undeveloped barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and the perfect getaway for those looking for a secluded beach, fishing opportunities, and bird watching. It is also where Shell Key Preserve is located, as the name suggests.

The Preserve on Shell Key is home to many species of migrating birds and also an important nesting area, not only for birds but also for turtles. Its access is only possible through water vessels, and camping is allowed (with permits), but keep in mind there are no facilities of any type (that means no bathrooms).

Please remember to follow all navigation and camping rules when visiting Shell Key. This is imperative to avoid disturbing the environment as much as possible. If you’re not familiar with Leave No Trace concepts, take a few minutes and take a look at this online awareness course.

Where in Florida is Shell Key Preserve?

Location of Shell Key Preserve in Google Maps

Shell Key Preserve Location in Google Maps

How to get to Shell Key Preserve?

As mentioned earlier, the only way to reach Shell Key Preserve is in a water vessel.

If you own or are renting a boat, I’m probably not the best person to give you advice on how to navigate a boat around Shell Key, but the Friends of Shell Key wrote a helpful post about it. Click Here to Read ‘Navigating A Boat Around Shell Key.’

If you don’t own a water vessel, don’t fret, there are still ways you can get to Shell Key. The first one is the Ferry that leaves from the Fort De Soto Boat Ramp.

Fort de SotoFort De Soto

First things first, be aware that you’ll have to go through a few bridge tolls to get to Fort De Soto Park. The number of tolls will depend on where you’re coming from, so make sure your SunPass has money in it, or that you have cash on hand. Then, add a fee of $5.00 (at the moment of this publication), which you’ll pay at the entrance station or in pay stations located through the park.

For more information about what is there to see and do in Fort De Soto, take a look at ‘Visiting St. Petersburg’s Fort De Soto Park’. In this post, however, I’ll mainly focus on the ferry service from Fort De Soto to Shell Key Preserve.

Tampa Bay Ferry runs from and to the Fort De Soto Boat Ramp to Shell Key and Egmont Key. Times vary with the season, and I’ll recommend visiting the official website for official times and also for booking your tickets in advance.

Shell Key Preserve Mangrove KayakKayaking through mangroves at Shell Key Preserve

Another way you can reach Shell Key Preserve is with a kayak. If you own or rent a kayak, there are a few places from where you can launch it, but one of the most popular spots is the Pinellas Bayway Kayak & SUP Launch.

Various companies provide guided kayak tours, and you can find them all with a quick search on your favorite search engine of  ‘Shell Key Preserve Kayak Tours.’

The company I used is called Get Up and Go Kayaking, and I have no complaints. Their launching spot is directly on Shell Key waters, and their guides were helpful and also knowledgeable about the area. Another plus is that the company kayaks are clear, and you never know what you’re going to see on your tour.

Things to do in Shell Key Preserve

  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Shelling
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Bird watching

Before you keep reading: is making use of affiliate links, which in some cases will end up in a commission for purchases originated from this website. However, all referred companies/products/accommodations have been tried out or researched by us first.

Additional Resources to help you plan your visit to Shell Key Preserve in Tierra Verde, FL (USA)

Not a fan of camping? Check out Airbnb options close to Fort De Soto and get $40.00 Off on Your First Booking.

Book a stay at the Residence Inn St. Petersburg Tierra Verde (8 min. from Fort De Soto). 

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If you're wondering what there's to do and how to get to Shell Key Preserve, an undeveloped barrier island between St. Pete and Tampa Bay, take a look.