For 4,000 or more years before the arrival of Europeans in Florida, a succession of Native American fishing cultures lived and worked in the Charlotte Harbor area. Several of their shell mounds are located on Cayo Costa, which means 'Key by the Coast' or barrier island. In the early 1800s, Spanish fishermen from Cuba established 'fishing ranchos' on islands along Florida's west coast. Fish were caught, dried and then transported to Cuban markets. A quarantine station was established on the northern end of Cayo Costa for immigrants entering the country through Boca Grande Pass in the late 1800s. Approximately 20 fishing families lived on Cayo Costa in the early 1900s, where they established a school, a post office and a grocery store.
Sunsets at Cayo Costa State Park are a treat and each one is different, much like fingerprints. Since Cayo Costa is only accessible by boat, visitors who are on the Island at sunset are most likely campers. Cayo Costa has more than seven miles of beach evoking the feeling of having the entire island to oneself. Watching a sunset is the perfect way to celebrate the end of a beautiful day.
The Cayo Costa State Park cabins are like no other. They are primitive with three sets of bunk beds, a picnic table inside, a picnic table outside and a fire circle with grill top just outside. There is no running water or electricity at campsites, but guests can take advantage of a bathhouse offering cold showers and restroom facilities. While the cabins may not provide the luxuries of a five-star hotel, they do provide the natural amenities of beautiful scenery, peaceful quiet and a location just steps from the beach.
Part of what makes Cayo Costa so appealing is its isolation from the mainland, reachable only by boat. Those without their own boats can access the park by ferry from nearby Pine Island or rent a canoe or kayak from the concessionaires.
Cayo Costa State Park is a perfect place to enjoy the beach. The ferry takes visitors over for the day and the park's tram transports day visitors and campers across the island to the beach side for a day of fun in the sun.
The Cayo Costa Cemetery is located on Cemetery Trail, one of many trails within the park. Harbor pilot Captain Peter Nelson, who died in 1919, is buried here. He moved to Lee County in 1887 from Denmark when the shipping industry in the area was flourishing due to cattle and phosphate exports. His grave is marked with a stone that reads, "After Life's Fitful Fever He Sleeps Well." Another famous trail in the park is Quarantine Trail, located where the old quarantine dock and station once stood. These facilities were used by the U.S. military in the early 20th century to inspect men on board ships for yellow fever and other known communicable diseases.