Shell Key Camping Permits

How to get your FREE Shell Key Camping Permit

Shell Key Camping Permit

Bring a printed & signed copy of your permit with you.

Camping permits are required for any overnight activity on Shell Key, and they are issued free of charge by Pinellas County.  The reason for this permit is to make sure that all campers understand their responsibility to pack out all their trash – and to provide an opportunity for outreach as we ask everyone to participate in the stewardship of Shell Key.

Please review all of the camping guidelines before obtaining your permit. You should have at least one camping permit for each boat in your party.   As the captain or operator of your boat, you can include all the people you bring with you on one permit.  Groups of over 50 people require special permission from the county.

You are required to electronically submit your camping itinerary to the county by using their online permit submission form described below.  You are also required to have a printed signed copy of your permit with you while you are camping.

The online process for obtaining a permit is a little awkward – here are some tips for printing your permit …

  1. Go to the county website and access the camping permit page.
  2. Fill out the form with your contact information and camping itinerary.
  3. Now, BEFORE submitting the form, you should print the permit form page.  (see printing tips below)
  4. Click the  ‘send form’  button at the bottom of the form – This will transmit your permit information to the county staff.
  5. Submitting the form will send you to a receipt page.  It is not necessary to print this page.
  6. Sign your printed copy of the permit and and keep it with you on the island in the event that law enforcement asks you to show the permit.

Tips for printing your Shell Key camping permit

  • I noticed that using the ‘print’ link at the very top of the page resulted in a ‘blank’ print preview on my browser.  I solved the problem by clicking on the share button – which also has a print option under it. (See Fig. 1 below)  This print option gave me a proper preview of the form.
  • Before you click the final ‘Print’ button in your browser’s printer dialog,  enter the number 1 into the ‘number of pages to print’ field .  This avoids printing a second page which is mostly blank and wastes a sheet of paper.

Fig. 1 – If you get a blank print preview, use the ‘Share’ button instead of the ‘Print’ link.

Questions and Comments

Article: Shell Key Camping Permits
46 comments on “Shell Key Camping Permits
  1. Judy Knotts says:

    Good morning Jack – we obtained a permit to camp on Shell Key the weekend of March 23rd; unfortunately, we now find that we cannot make it that weekend. Do you know how we cancel the permit? I don’t want to hold up a permit that someone else might use.

    We hope to reschedule soon!

    Thanks –

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Judy,

      It’s very considerate of you to offer you camping permit to others, but it should not be necessary. As I understand it, the island has never reached it’s capacity for campers – even on the busiest days of summer. So your need to reschedule will not deprive anyone else of their camping permit.

      Thank you for being so thoughtful 🙂

  2. Mike says:

    i am looking to bring some kids out there for primitive camping. we are going to come by boat. where is the best and safest place to park the boat trailer overnight?

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Mike,

      I would say that the best place to park is at the Ft. Desoto boat ramps. It’s a short ride to the island from there and there are plenty of trailer sized parking spaces. There is a parking fee ($6 last I looked) which can be paid at the kiosk on the way in. Make sure to get one parking pass for each day. Passes are good for 24 hours.

      I sometimes launch my boat from the Maximo Boat Ramp in south St. Pete. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to Shell Key from there, but it’s close to my house and the parking is free.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Paul says:

    Are there any places to rent a boat for overnight camping? We usually rent and camp at Anclote Key every year but are looking to change it up this year…

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Paul,

      I do not know of any boat rental places that offer overnight rentals. I will poke around and let you know if I find anything. Please let us know if you find anyone who rents overnight.


  4. Jay says:

    On average, how crowded or secluded is the camping on shell key? I would assume the weekend boating crowds probably provide an influx of people, but how bad does it get? Thanks for any help!

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Jay,

      Although there are exceptions, there is usually ample space on the island for privacy while camping. Since there are no campsites, you can pretty much camp anywhere you want. I find that the gulf side (west) of the south public use area is generally far less busy than the Bunces pass side (south) for camping. The gulf side also has has hilly sand dunes which add to your sense of seclusion.

      My favorite time of year to camp on the island is winter – when you rarely see more than a handful of campers on the entire south end. This time of year (spring) is usually the busiest. On memorial day weekend, I have seen dozens of tents lined up shoulder to shoulder along the bunces pass side. But this happens almost exclusively on major holiday weekends in the spring/summer. And yet, even on these weekends, it is possible to find a relatively secluded spot on the Gulf side.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Erica says:

    how long does the permit last? How many days are you allowed to camp there?

  6. Dear Jack,

    our Boy Scout troop is booked to campout on Shell key for Feb 18-19. Is there a service project that we can help with – maybe patrol the camping area and clean up ? Also, I reviewed the Shell key shuttle website, I was wondering if there is a less expensive option to bring 15 Scouts/Adults to / from the island? thank you

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi John,

      We do not have an event planned for that weekend, but we welcome any contribution by your troop and would love to feature your service on our website as an example to others. The most basic contribution that you can make is to bring some trash bags and pick up any trash that you see. The main thing that you need to plan for is being able to carry the garbage off the island.

      Regarding the shuttle service – Have you confirmed that the Shell Key Shuttle will take you to the camping area on the south end of the island? I thought that they only went to the north end (where camping is not allowed). I believe that the Shell Island Ferry, which launches from the Ft. Desoto Boat Ramp, will take you to the south end and leave you overnight.

      The least expensive transportation, of course, would be to find someone with a boat who was willing to ferry the kids to the island. It only takes around 10 minutes to make the trip from the Ft. Desoto Boat ramps – so depending on the boat size, you could get your troop over in just a few trips. (there is an outside chance that I might be camping with my daughter that weekend – If I do, I would be happy to help shuttle the kids to the island – however, I do not yet have definite plans) I will let you know asap if I will be going out that weekend.

      Please take plenty of pictures and feel free to send them to us or post them on our Facebook page.

      Good Luck and have fun!

  7. Jason says:

    Hello I was interested in sponsoring this page. Just making sure it is active. Thanks

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Jason,

      I can send you some sponsorship info when I get back to town in a few days. In the meantime, let me know what kind of business/listing you would like to have.


  8. Edgar says:

    Can you fish there and if I dont have no way of getting to the island will a ferrie take os or a boat . And is small grills allow

  9. Manny Darowiche says:

    Are dogs allowed on shell key?

  10. Mike Minon says:

    do they enforce the NO BEER RULE ?
    Where do we go to get a Boat ride to camp at the Island ?
    TY 🙂

    • Jack Coletti says:


      The do enforce the no alcohol rule. A don’t recall the fine. I have been told by some law officers that they are less concerned with responsible adults using discretion (hiding it in a cup) – and are more likely to issue citations when there are large crowds flagrantly breaking the law. However, anyone drinking alcohol within the preserve boundaries should be prepared to be cited and fined.

  11. Tony says:

    Where can you leave your car when doing an overnight trip? Will it be safe, secure? Would be very upset to come back and my vehicle had been towed. Thanks

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Tony,

      The safest public place to leave your car overnight is at the Ft. Desoto boat ramps. There is a fee ($6, I believe) for overnight parking – payable at a self service kiosk on the right side of the entry road just before you get to the lot. You need to display the parking pass that you will receive on your dashboard. If you do not have a trailer, you MUST park near the back of the lot in the short spaces. The longer spaces are reserved for cars with trailers. While your car will not get towed, there is no security, so I would not leave any visible valuables in the car. Hope this helps 🙂

  12. Nolan campbell says:

    I have a small gheenoe and plan to spend the night on the island for the weekend so can I lunch in the dirt north of the island because going a crossed from Fort desoto is so choppy?

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Nolan,

      I do not know of any launch access on Tierra Verde near the north end. If you do find something, you’ll also need to find overnight parking for your vehicle. Many kayakers prefer to launch from the Bayway (just north of the last bridge to Ft. Desoto) to avoid choppy waters in Bunces Pass. You can make the entire trip to Shell Key in shallow water within the preserve boundaries. (no internal combustion engines). Hope this helps.

      • Nicolas Rosado says:

        So you can launch from the Bayway but can you leave your car there on the side of the road overnight? Or is the boat ramp the only place for overnight parking. I live in the Kissimmee area and I may head out that way this weekend for the first time to camp. I fish and usually frequent Anna Maria Island but I want to try this area. Is Bunces Pass really dangerous? I’ve read about all the deaths there over the years. What’s up with that? Is there areas you want to avoid in a kayak? Thanks in advanced.

        • Jack Coletti says:

          Hi Nicolas,

          People do leave their cars on the Bayway overnight. I have not been there for a while, so I don’t know if there are any new parking rules. I, personally, feel a bit safer leaving the car at the boat ramps.

          I don’t think Bunces pass much different from any other intracoastal pass. In the summer, it does get very busy on certain weekends. I would not try to swim across the pass on the fourth of July, but on most days the area is quite tame. If I was launching a kayak from the boat ramps, I would head north across the pass at my earliest opportunity and then cruise to Shell Key in the safe and shallow waters of the preserve. But people safely kayak all over that pass from Ft. Desoto to Shell Key on a daily basis.

          Hope this helps!

  13. Madeline Pelon says:

    Hello Jack,

    What do most people do for drinking water while hiking on the island? I will be camping there overnight for two nights. Also, where is the best (shortest paddle) place to launch a kayak?

    Thank you! Madeline

  14. Nicole Schrader says:

    Are you allowing to kayak and tent camp on Shelk Key? If so, what part of the island is best? We are planning October?

  15. Nathan says:

    Are there suitable places for hammock camping?

  16. Judy Knotts says:

    Could you tell me the best route for kayaking out to the island for a day trip? And about how long it takes to kayak out? We’re heard this place is beyond beautiful!

  17. Hunter Jackson says:

    How exactly do we get to the island itself?

  18. Jenna says:

    Am I able to get married on Shell Key? Thanks in advance! Like ten guests? No chairs or anything. I can’t find info anywhere. Thanks in advance!

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Yes, you are allowed to have any type of event on the island as long as you abide by the preserve rules for visitation or camping. As long as you stay withing the public use areas, you can have a wedding with chairs, tents and whatever other equipment you need.

  19. Barry says:

    Are you allowed to have small fires for cooking smores, hot dogs, etc….

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Barry. Yes – campfires are allowed in the south public use area. The deal is that you are required to remove any trace of the fire before you leave. It is a good idea to bring a bucket to collect any unburned wood. Have fun! Jack

  20. Justin Short says:

    My wife and I (along with her brother and one friend) are planning on primitive camping on Shell Key April 25-30. We filled out the permit form, submitted it and re-printed a copy for ourselves that I have signed. Is that all that is needed to camp on the island? Will we be dropping the form off before arrival? Thank you for your time and all the information you have placed on this site, Shell Key looks beautiful and we cannot wait to spend our night and days at this location.

    • Jack Coletti says:

      Hi Justin,

      Once you have filled out the camping permit form online and clicked the “send form” button, you do not need to do anything else other than to print a copy and keep it with you while on the island. Honestly, there appears to be very little coordination between the folks at the county who receive the electronic form submission – and the law enforcement that may be patrolling the island. The chances of you being asked to produce the written permit are low – but you should definitely have a printed copy with you. I believe that the main reason that an electronic copy is sent to the county is so they can keep statistics on the numbers of campers. But the police patrolling the island would not know (or care) that the county received an electronic copy. The primary reason for getting the free permit is so they know that you read and are aware of the rules. Have Fun!

      • Justin Short says:

        Thank you so much for your response! It is greatly appreciated. We are looking forward to heading down that way in just a few short days. We will be sure to follow the rules, as we are true nature lovers. Thank you again for everything. The information you have posted will greatly serve us as we are “roughing” it this next coming week.

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