Shelling Adventures | Kayaking To Shell Key, Florida

Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? If you are someone who loves to explore and search for unique gems underwater, then shelling is right up your alley! Florida is the perfect place to search for variations of shells, shark teeth, small creatures, sand dollars, and many other small treasures. Recently, we have taken up the activity of shelling and have found so many beautiful shells and sand dollars in the waters along the Gulf Coast. I hope you enjoy our shelling adventures | kayaking to Shell Key, Florida!

Getting There

The day is perfect for kayaking and a treasure hunt as blue skies are abundant with only a few clouds. Keep in mind, Florida can be sunny one minute then quickly have a gully washer of rain the next minute. The weather consists of clouds and thunderstorms usually scattered throughout the area in the Summer season.

We begin our journey by launching the kayak from an area located just prior to reaching the main gate at Fort DeSoto Park. This area is somewhat discreet, and there is no signage or parking spots. It’s essentially an unofficial kayak canoe launch area. We begin our kayak journey out on into the water of the Gulf heading towards what we think is Shell Key. And along the way, the anhingas join us as they swim and hunt for fish beside our kayak. They are fun to watch!

Shell Key Preserve

Shell Key is a small narrow barrier island located in Pinellas County, Florida. Our journey takes us over the Skyway Bridge towards St. Petersburg. We take exit 17 and proceed to make our way to Fort DeSoto Park area. A quick reminder, be sure to review the map as to where Shell Key is out in the Gulf prior to your kayak adventure.


There are a few other Keys (small islands) that you will pass in the kayak. What is really cool is while you make your way to Shell Key, you can make stops at the small Keys and check them out. Shell Key has no services on the island. There are no restrooms, dining or lodging available. It is truly a deserted island! It was a great day to visit Shell Key as we only saw about a half a dozen people on the island. We felt like we had the place to ourselves.

You will find that this uniquely shaped narrow island is comprised of 1800 acres of natural preserve. It is land space that is one of the largest barrier islands in the county and protects highly sensitive marine habitats. Bird watching is incredible here and the preserve is one of the state’s most important areas for nesting.

White Ibis and roseate spoonbill on a branch on Sister Key, Florida. Shelling at Shell Key.

In the photo above, this is a white ibis and a roseate spoonbill sharing a branch on Sister Key.

Getting Lost

As we continue kayaking through the smaller keys; Summer Key, etc. we end up crossing the ever so busy channel to reach the far north part of Fort DeSoto. Of course, we didn’t know where we were at this time. So, I approached the lifeguard platform and asked them where I was.

As you might imagine, they did enjoy a little laugh. Turns out, we were on North Beach at Fort DeSoto and will need to get back into the kayak and cross the channel again to reach Shell Key. The scene at North Beach was quite busy with a full parking lot and several beach goers having a ball, but you can usually find a spot to sit and enjoy the beach in this area.

How To Visit Shell Key

Shell Key Preserve, Florida.

The primary ways to reach Shell Key is by boat or by kayak, of which the Shell Key Ferry launches daily from Fort DeSoto and has a fee of $25 per person. As I mention earlier, when taking a kayak out, be sure to review your map prior to departure. The kayak ride can take up to an hour to reach Shell Key, depending upon where you launch from. So remember to bring enough water, sunscreen, and snacks. There are kayak rental kiosks when you enter the Fort DeSoto Park and pay the entrance fee.


Shelling is an incredibly fun activity for anyone to do! I think we enjoy it so much because of the thrill of not knowing what treasures we might find. Since we came to Florida, we’ve been collecting shells and sand dollars for some time now. Although there are several shells that are similar, you can occasionally find a unique and rare shell or treasure piece.

Shelling at Shell Key, Florida.

Shell Types

There are a numerous amount of shell types with all kinds of colors, shapes, and sizes found on the ocean (Gulf of Mexico) floor and the shorelines. Certain shells are native to particular areas, but you can find just about any variation or type of shell on any beach. Especially after a storm or sometimes early in the morning. Here are some items I found recently at Shell Key Preserve.

Cockle Shells

These round shaped shells are in abundance in some beaches throughout the state. Cockle shells are quite common to find around this area. They come in all sizes! In fact, there are a few dead trees that have the cockle shells hanging on the limbs on the island. It is quite a site. I didn’t have my camera with me on this part of the island because we just went for a walk along the shore to see the island was like. Our plan is to go back to Shell Key for more shelling in the near future.

Cockle Shells. Shell Key, FL.
Sand Dollar Shells

This shell comes from the marine creature; the Sand Dollar. Many times you can find them alive buried at the surface of the ocean floor. Their color is brown when they are live. I usually put these creatures back into the water close to where I found them. If found not alive, they are usually white in color, they are flat and a roundish shape.

Lettered Olive Shell

This smaller shell is somewhat circular is shape and has a shiny tone to it. I didn’t find a whole lot of these types on this day.

Lettered Olive Shell. Shell Key Preserve, FL.
Sunray Venus Clam Shells
Sunray Venus Clam Shells. Shell Key, Florida.

The hard clam shell industry has grown dramatically in the last ten years throughout Florida. This species is being farmed in various parts of the state. This glossy, shell with salmon pink to brown gray in color, can be found in abundance around Shell Key Preserve.

Pecten Raveneli
Pecten Ravenleli. Shells at Shell Key, Florida.

When you think of sea shells, this is the shell that you might think of. The round fan like shape, with flat bottom, and a cup like characteristic. We found a few different colors in this shell type. These make great pieces to use if you are creating sea life art.

The list of shells go on. From the elegant dosinia to the buttercup; the shells you can find are vast and are interestingly beautiful!


It is most certainly a joy to watch others as well as yourself take part in shelling along the shores to find nature’s treasures. Going on a treasure hunt via a kayak ride to a deserted island is my kind of adventure! Stay tuned and be ready for more shelling adventures as we take you out to the different beaches around Florida to search for shells, shark teeth, and other sea life creatures! Book mark and keep checking in to see what treasures we find next!

2 Comments on “Shelling Adventures | Kayaking To Shell Key, Florida

    • Thanks so Linda! We have even more shells collected from other beaches, I can’t wait to post them. We are now off to a new beach to search for Shark Teeth!! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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