Fort Island Gulf Beach is a popular spot on Floridaâ€™s Nature Coast where you can watch the sunset, spot dolphins playing, and go fishing. Family-friendly and containing all the basic amenities that a beach should, this is a great place to spend a day when youâ€™re in the area.
The closest town to Fort Island Gulf Beach in Crystal River. A small city on the coast, this is a nature loverâ€™s paradise. Manatees make their home in the river and in Kingâ€™s Bay year-round thanks to springs that feed the waterways. When you visit, you have the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants!
About an hour and a half north of Tampa and west of Orlando, this is a lovely day or weekend trip. Those who want to bask in the glory of nature for the entirety of their vacation might consider staying in the Crystal River area for a week or more.
Must See Destinations is your ultimate guide to Fort Island Beach! No matter how long youâ€™re in town, youâ€™ll want to spend some time on the lovely Fort Island Beach. Letâ€™s take a look at what you need to know before you go.
Where Is Fort Island Gulf Beach?
This Beach is located near the town of Crystal River. Located about an hour and a half north of Tampa and an hour southwest of Ocala, youâ€™ll really feel off the beaten path here.
To get to the beach from Crystal River, you simply follow West Fort Island Trail for a little under ten miles. The beach is located at the end of the trail, so you literally canâ€™t miss it!
If you look at a Fort Island Gulf Beach map, youâ€™ll notice that the beach is surrounded on all sides by nature preserves and the Gulf of Mexico. A far cry from the developed coast with high-rises and condos.
We think youâ€™ll find that Fort Island Beach, Florida is located in a little piece of heaven.
Fort Island Gulf Beach Visitors Information
The Fort Island Gulf Beach hours of operation are from 6 am to 9:30 pm. This family-friendly beach has beautiful powdery white sand as well as a number of amenities. While youâ€™re here, you can utilize the boat ramp, fishing pier, boardwalk, BBQ grills, pavilion, and picnic tables.
The beach is operated by Citrus County. They provide additional essential amenities, including restrooms, outdoor showers, and a lightning detector.
Visitors are allowed to fish from the pier. However, itâ€™s prohibited to fish from the beach. In order to fish here, youâ€™ll need to have a fishing license and abide by the saltwater fort island gulf beach fishing pier regulations.
Why Is Fort Island Gulf Beach Worth the Trip?
Fort Island Gulf Beach offers the calm and shallow waters of the Crystal River. The beach area is about 1,000 feet long and offers a roped-off swimming area.
If youâ€™re hoping to do some birding, youâ€™ll find that you can always spot some shorebirds. However, the cooler months are typically the best.
Here you can watch American Oystercatchers pace the waterline and large flocks of black skimmers. Of course, youâ€™ll also get to see gulls loafing around on the rock jetty and sandy beach.
You can also frequently see Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin here. Regardless of the animal life you see, the views of Crystal Bay here are stunning.
There is a 465-foot boardwalk and fort island gulf beach fishing pier that is wheelchair accessible as well as a boardwalk that leads south from the pier. This route will take you through a picturesque hardwood hammock all the way down to the beach. Along the way, keep an eye out for butterflies in the surrounding oaks and cedars.
Things to Do Near Fort Island Beach
The town closest to Fort Island Gulf Beach is known as Crystal River. This is the main attraction of the â€œNature Coastâ€ of Florida, which is a beautiful, less developed area of more than a million acres. The Nature Coast is made up of eight Florida counties stretching from Anclote Key to Apalachee Bay.
In Crystal River and the surrounding areas, you can find incredible opportunities to spend time relaxing and enjoying nature.
Swim With the Manatees
Crystal River is most well known for its large manatee population. Manatees will move to the warmer waters of the Crystal River when the temperature drops in the Gulf of Mexico. This makes Crystal River one of the few spots where you can actually swim with the manatees. These waters are attractive to all sorts of creatures in the winter because the springs flow at a constant 72 degrees. These springs are dotted all around the surrounding waters, creating a haven for swimmers of all sorts.
Each winter, hundreds of manatees pack themselves into the rivers and springs in the area. Some of these â€˜sea-cowsâ€™ even live in the area year-round. Manatees are gentle giants, often quite playful and friendly. This is a truly unique experience that you pretty much canâ€™t find anywhere else in the entire world.
Visit Three Sister Springs
One of the places best known for its manatees is Three Sister Springs. Three natural springs that feed the river are found here. You can either swim into the springs, kayak there, or walk along the boardwalk.
You can swim in the springs year-round. However, you canâ€™t exactly drive to the spot. Located in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, a trolley can take you to the boardwalk from Three Sisters Springs Center.
Itâ€™s worth noting that there are strict rules about where visitors can and canâ€™t go during manatee season. This season typically runs from mid-November to the end of March. There will be signs and buoys that make it clear how you can best respect the manatees.
If youâ€™ve had your fill of manatee excursions, consider kayaking the Chassahowitzka River. Located in southwestern Citrus County, this river is 5 miles long and only twenty minutes from Crystal River.
This is a spring-fed river that is truly teeming with life. While you might encounter some manatees along this route, you can pretty much bet youâ€™ll spot lots of birds and fish.
This river (often shortened to â€œThe Chazzâ€) is a part of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. If youâ€™re looking for a place to enjoy a relaxing morning or afternoon, youâ€™ll definitely want to check it out.
Finally, one of the more famous aspects of The Chazz is whatâ€™s known as â€œThe Crack.â€ The Crack is a well-hidden sulfur spring. It gets its name, as itâ€™s a 30-foot-long deep crack in the otherwise shallow Chassahowitzka waterway. Only accessible by kayak or canoe, itâ€™s, without doubt, a Must See!
Watch the Sunset
Before you leave Fort Island Gulf Beach, consider staying to catch the incredible sunset. You can watch the sky turn into a magnificent painting from the beach or from out on the fort island gulf beach fishing pier.
Explore Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State, Park
This park is now run by the state of Florida, but it was actually once a sort of zoo since the early 1900s. Since the state took over its operation, the types of animals that live there have increasingly focused on native species. However, there are still some oddballs such as Lu the hippo.
Of course, hippos arenâ€™t a native Florida species. However, Lu had lived in the park for so long that locals petitioned for the hippo to be allowed to stay when the state took over the park. They decided to let Lu stay, so you can still visit him in Homosassa Springs!
Places to Eat Near Fort Island Gulf Beach
Fort Island Gulf Beach is completely surrounded by preserved land and Crystal Bay for as far as the eye can see. For this reason, youâ€™ll have to drive back down West Fort Island Trail to find restaurants near Fort Island Beach. If hunger is basically an emergency, the closest eatery is Shrimp Landing Seafood which is just a little over three miles down the road back towards town.
Shrimp Landing Seafood
This food truck offers fresh, fried seafood at reasonable prices. Grab a spot at one of their picnic tables and watch the fishing boats on the river while you eat. Many visitors say that the hush puppies here are the best theyâ€™ve ever had!
Tea House 650
This is a lovely, unique cafe right in the heart of Crystal Riverâ€™s Heritage Village. Serving over fifty loose leaf tea varieties as well as food and wine, this is the perfect place for a refreshing and nourishing meal.
Riverside Crab House and Monkey Bar
The Riverside Crab House and Monkey Bar is right on the water and specializes in blue crab. Located south of Crystal River in Homosassa, most of the menu here consists of fresh-caught seafood.
Next door, you can find the Monkey Bar. Here you can order drinks to go along with your meal.
This is the perfect spot to watch the kayakers and boaters go by, as well as the monkeys on nearby Monkey Island. Thatâ€™s right, the Monkey Bar is a more literal name than you might have initially guessed!
A family of spider monkeys lives on a small island in the Homosassa River. They were brought to the tiny piece of land from a nearby wildlife attraction back in the 1960s. Thereâ€™s a short dock near the restaurant where you can get a closer look at these monkeysâ€™ antics.
St. Johns Tavern
If the Florida sun has you hankering for a cold beer, head over to St. Johns Tavern. With more than twenty brews on tap in addition to great food options, this new eatery is quickly becoming a local favorite.
Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters
Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters is another new locale in Crystal River. In addition to fresh-roasted coffee, they also serve sandwiches, fresh-baked pastries, weekend brunch, lobster rolls, and more. Quant location in an old house. You just gotta go!
West 82Âº Bar & Grill
This Crystal River bar and grill is located at the Plantation Resort. The dining room is airy and open, complete with views of Kings Bay and the pool area. For an extravagant breakfast, try their banana-stuffed french toast.
Where to Stay Near Fort Island Beach
Most Fort Island Gulf Beach hotels are going to be located in and around the town of Crystal River. Staying in Crystal River allows you to have close access to restaurants, shops, and attractions while only being about ten miles from Fort Island Beach.
The Plantation on Crystal River
The Plantation on Crystal River is a beautiful historic hotel that looks an awful lot like a plantation from antebellum days. The pool is a lovely place to unwind after a day of exploring the area, and the rooms are quite comfortable and large.
There is a restaurant on-site called West 82Âº Bar & Grill. Another benefit of this lodging option is that it offers its own manatee tours and dive shop.
Hampton Inn Crystal River
The Hampton Inn Crystal River is a modern hotel only two miles from the historic downtown Crystal River. While it might not be as architecturally or atmospherically exciting as the Plantation, this hotel is clean, simple, and nice.
Kingâ€™s Bay Lodge
Just ten miles from Fort Island Gulf Beach and two miles from Crystal River National Wildlife Refugeâ€™s manatees, this is a nice place to stay in the area. Kingâ€™s Bay Lodge is located right on the edge of the Crystal River. They offer homey and casual suites with amenities that include outdoor gardens, guest boat docks, and an outdoor, spring-fed pool.
Best Western Crystal River Resort
The Best Western Crystal River Resort is only eleven miles from Fort Island Gulf Beach. Additionally, itâ€™s a three-mile trek to the Crystal River Archeological State Park.
If youâ€™re looking for a budget option when youâ€™re visiting Nature Coast, consider this Best Western. The rooms are simple but have all the necessary amenities. There are also two outdoor pools, a BBQ area, and boat rentals available.
Since there are so many attractions in the Crystal River area, you shouldnâ€™t have any trouble finding a vacation rental here. On both Vrbo and Airbnb, Crystal River rentals are available from private rooms to entire homes.
Is Fort Island Beach on Your Itinerary?
Fort Island Beach is an awesome place for the whole family to spend a few hours or the whole day. Birdwatchers, fishers, crabbers, sandcastle builders, and sunbathers alike will love this remote spot.
Are you looking for more valuable info to help you plan your vacation? If so, check out the rest of our blog for more must-see destinations!