Anclote River Park

A giant boat ramp, fishing pier and picnic pavilions complement a 300-foot beachfront.

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Anclote River Park in Pasco County offers a small but popular beachfront. [Lauren Flannery | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Pros
  • Excellent boat launch point with cheap overnight parking.
  • Pavilions and community park vibe great for picnics and birthdays.
  • Shallow and sandy beach creates a good beach spot for toddlers, elderly and weaker swimmers.
Cons
  • The small beach can quickly become crowded.
  • Car and boat parking takes up almost half of the park.
  • No walking trails.

A rather unassuming Pasco County park in a tucked-away area north of Tarpon Springs, Anclote River Park is a geographical goldmine for boaters.

Set on the mouth of the Anclote River, boaters are perfectly positioned to either set out for Anclote Key, a nature preserve about 3½ miles into the Gulf of Mexico, or to journey up the river and experience the keys, bayous and dockside restaurants of Tarpon Springs. During the weekends, the sizable parking lots can be filled with trucks and trailers of residents looking to spend a day trolling in the water.

Apart from its boating advantages, the park also serves as a community area for residents to swim and sunbathe at the sandy beach and to hold cookouts and picnics under the covered pavilions. This park has something for everyone and it's clear why the location has cemented it as a staple for residents and tourists.

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GETTING THERE

Set back from civilization, this park requires a car and a bit of time to get to. Because the drive times are a little more than an hour from downtown Saint Petersburg and nearly 45 minutes from downtown Clearwater, the park is populated mostly by Tarpon Springs locals and tourists who only had to drive a nifty 10 minutes.

If you are an out-of-towner already in Tarpon Springs visiting the sponge docks and restaurants, this park would fit neatly into your travel itinerary (check the Tarpon Springs guide for more travel information). If not, and you aren't intending to do any boating, there is probably a county park closer to you that's more worth the effort.

Ride share is also an option, but be warned: Unless you're in Tarpon Springs, it could set you back as much as $50 or more if you’re coming from a bigger city.

The park has no entrance fees. There is a parking fee only if you intend to park a boat trailer.

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PARKING

For a relatively small park, there is an enormous amount of parking, especially boat trailer parking. Possibly more than half of the park's square footage is a devoted parking spot of some kind. With a full lot reserved just for boat trailers, the parking is first come, first served, but you can expect there to be spots on weekdays and early on weekends. As long as your truck and attached trailer are 45 feet or less, you're golden.

Car parking is free; Boat parking costs $5 a day, for a maximum of 10 days. The pay station is next to the boat ramp.

Because so many boaters are using the park to launch to Anclote Key State Park and other smaller keys that allow camping, the lot is open 24/7 and you're allowed to park overnight. After hours, the road to the park playgrounds and pavilions will be fenced off, but returning boaters can still load up their equipment and leave.

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BEACH SCENE

The swimming area at Anclote River Park's beach is marked off by buoys. The water only gets about 7 feet deep. [Lauren Flannery | Florida Beach Insider photo]

The park is home to a 300-foot sandy beach that faces the small, woodsy keys and sandbars of the Anclote River. The white sand shore isn't very deep, maybe only 70 feet or so, and buoys float in the water offshore to ensure that boat traffic and swimmers don't mix.

Big oak trees dot the back of the beach zone, offering a shady picnic place or a place to pop your beach chair and do the crossword. Changing rooms, outdoor showers and bathrooms are close by.

The water is warm, calm, shallow and only about 7 feet deep at the buoys — not a great place to swim laps. But if you feel like a causal wade or float, then this is the place. The water gets murkier the closer you get to the buoys because of sediment kicked up from passing boats, so always do the stingray shuffle to avoid stepping on an riverbed animal.

Because of its small size and gently sloping shore, the beach is a great fit for families of toddlers who need to quickly scan the the waterline to check in on their children. Older couples can also be found in enjoying the calm waters and chatting.

Looking for a place to host a rowdy beach party? Beaches in Clearwater might be a closer fit. Also, no alcohol is allowed at the park, so don't pack those margaritas in the cooler.

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WHERE TO STAY

Camping isn't permitted at the park, but a smattering of RV sites line the Anclote River if you have a camper van. Otherwise, your best bet is to drive south back into Tarpon Springs for motels, hotels and B&Bs. Because of the tourism draw of Tarpon Springs, you can also find a number of rentals on Airbnb for good prices.

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While Pasco County doesn't hold events at the park, many outdoors-oriented individuals use the park to meet and go kayaking and boating around the area. Websites like Meetup provide the arena for boaters to find one another. Just search for “Anclote” to find groups traveling together.

THINGS TO DO

The boat ramp at Anclote River Park is huge, and hugely popular among the locals. [Lauren Flannery | Florida Beach Insider photo]
Boating

By far the biggest draw to the park is use of its glorious, six-lane boat ramp.

With overnight parking and a drop point at the mouth of the channel, the ramp is a perfect for boaters who are looking to motor out toward Anclote Key. The ramp also serves boaters who want to casually travel around the keys and sandbars in the channel and then journey upriver to a dockside eatery.

Technically there's no marina in the park, but Anclote Village Marina is right next door. It has both boat storage and rentals.

But boaters be careful: Manatees love to swim the channel and have a hard time hearing boat engines, so boat slowly and keep an eye out for the threatened species.

Fishing

Fishing is permitted at the park as long as you're not standing near the boat ramp or beach area. Waters at the mouth of the channel are shallow, so don't expect any huge prize-winning specimens, but smaller fare like mullet and crabs often can be found swimming the channel.

Picnics and parties

Giant covered pavilions, charcoal barbecue grills and picnic benches make this park a great place to hold a small outdoor birthday party or summer barbeque. If you want a pavilion just for your party, you can reserve it online (weekdays only, no weekends or holidays) at the county’s website.

A children’s playground, a sand volleyball court and a horseshoe field add to the options to keep everybody busy. Just remember to BYOHS (bring your own horseshoes). No alcohol is permitted under park rules.

Wildlife and Florida history

Although multiple signs proudly proclaim the park as part of the Florida Birding Trail, keep in mind that there are no walking trails. Walking along the shores of the park, you can see a variety of birds like pelicans, egrets and other wading birds. In the water, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles are known to swim in the channel, even swimming up to the beach area.

The park is also home to a bone and shell mound by the Timucuan Native American tribe. The tribe left the area by 1800, devastated by Spanish settlers, diseases and tribal raids. The grassy mound is a fun lookout place for a picnic or for children to play on. No digging into the mound though, as it's protected by law.

A note on wildlife: During spring and late summer, usually May and September, expect the pitter-patter of love bugs as they bump into your car, your legs and your gear. These copulating little critters don't bite or sting, but expect their presence and maybe throw a tea towel over your food if insects give you the willies.

PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK

Trolling your boat up the Anclote River, you'll find a huge number of riverside eateries close to the sponge docks like Captain Jacks, Dimitri's on the Water and Rusty Bellies. Regardless of where you end up, you'll find a spread of seafood dishes, bar appetizers and tiki bar drinks.

However, if you're boatless and hungry, there are only a few options. A hot dog stand with drinks and snacks is stationed on the beach every Wednesday through Sunday with hot dogs and brats.

Miss Vicki's on the River

This joint next to the hot dog stand, at Anclote Village Marina, serves burgers and fish sandwiches from an outdoor bar with a little dockside beach. The fish isn't local and they only serve one type (Baja), but it hardly matters when the chicken wings are hot and crispy, the beer is cold, and the chili dog can be topped with all the fixings. There isn't a direct path between the restaurant and the park (unless you're willing to hop a waist-height fence), but it is a quick walk and the only restaurants on the river's mouth.

Lauren Flannery is a Tampa Bay native, who despite being very sunburn-prone, loves exploring and writing about natural ecosystems in her home state. To balance out her work life as a developer, she can often be found hiking with her comically large water bottle or at the beach enjoying the Florida sunshine.

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