Lovers Key State Park
Once hard to reach, this secluded island chain features more than two miles of white-sand beachfront and plenty of outdoorsy options.
- An undeveloped beach in an overdeveloped region.
- Space for fishing, paddling and hitting the trails, too
- A tram will take you right to the sand.
- It can be a haul from many hotels and homes.
- Parking can fill up fast on busier days.
Lovers Key State Park (technically Lovers Key Carl E. Johnson State Park) is part of Bonita Springs, but is so far north of Bonita Beach that it’s just spitting distance from Estero Island.
While it’s really a group of four barrier islands — along with Black Island, Inner Key and Long Key — the original Lovers Key earned its name by being so secluded that it was said only lovers made the trip. The area didn’t even have a road leading to it until 1965, making the islands accessible only by boat up until then.
Black Island, where the entrance is located, was allegedly the home of the pirate Black Augustus, who made the island his home after escaping prison. It hosted multiple fish camps starting in the early 1900s, until the chain was scheduled to be turned into a waterfront housing development in the ‘60s.
Dredging destroyed the mangrove swamps in the chain, but the development never proceeded. The land instead went to the state, which acquired the islands in 1983. Florida combined them with the adjacent Carl E. Johnson County Park in 1996 to make it the state park it is today. There is still a small resort on the northeastern end of Black Island, with a private beach.
Now the 1,600-acre park is a showcase for multi-use trails and 2 ½ miles of pristine beachfront. It also is a popular wedding destination, in no small part because of its romantic name.
Coming by airplane, Southwest Florida International Airport (CPA) is the regional airport servicing Bonita Springs. It’s east of Fort Myers, about 18 miles away, with 12 airlines offering flights.
Once on the ground, shuttles, ride-sharing, buses and taxis are available. Bonita Bee Airport Express is a locally-owned, reliable shuttle service. You will need a car to get to the park.
By car, you’ll want to take Interstate 75 or the Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41) into the area. You can either head south on Estero Boulevard (S.R. 865), or north from Bonita Beach Road (the southern end of S.R. 865) from Bonita Springs.
Bonita Beach Road turns into Hickory Boulevard at the bend of the coast just before Bonita Beach Park on the barrier island, Little Hickory Island (turn left at Barefoot Beach Boulevard to reach Barefoot Beach). The road then becomes Estero Boulevard north of Little Hickory Island Beach Park.
The entrance to the park is on Estero Boulevard, across from the boat ramp.
In Bonita Springs, LeeTran is the only public transportation option. The countywide bus system’s Route 150 goes up and down Bonita Beach Road, all the way to Lovers Key State Park. The 490 and 410 trolley comes south from Fort Myers Beach and Estero Island. Check the LeeTran website for more details.
Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft operate in the area, although it’ll cost you to use those way out here.
The entrance fee gets you access to the park, where parking is free and relatively plentiful.
There is a main lot off the beach that is prime real estate, with a concession stand and bathrooms, plus a tram service that will take you to the beach. The drop-off point also has a gazebo, restroom and picnic area.
There’s also a spillover lot if you keep going, and another near the kayak pavilion. If you can’t find a spot in any of those places, you’ll be stopping too far away to enjoy the schlep out to the sand.
You could conceivably park at the boat ramp outside the entrance to the park and hike or bicycle in, should you be coming to the park to do those activities anyway. The entrance fee is only $2 per person that way.
There are two main beach access points, both from the main parking lot.
The first is the bend in the tram track, which leads to a boardwalk over the dunes. You may as well just hoof it from the parking lot if you plan to go here.
The second is the main beach access, at the end of the tram loop. There’s a pavilion (which you can rent) and bathrooms, but no lifeguards. The sand is more powdery than Bonita Beach, and can be very popular, especially on holiday weekends.
Adventurous types may want to walk around the northern bend of the beach for a lot of seclusions. The southern end is a designated fishing area.
Nature lovers find this beach and estuary one of the best on the Gulf Coast to see native species. Manatees, dolphin, osprey and many more Florida animals roam the land in the park, and there’s access to an entire mangrove estuary to kayak, canoe, bike or hike through.
BAYSIDE PARK AND BOAT RAMP
Bayside Park is a park with a playground and bathrooms off Estero Boulevard, just south of Lovers Key Resort.
This is a good spot to take rambunctious kids to get the sillies out. There’s ample parking and picnic pavilions with grills, plus a volleyball court.
Across from the entrance is a boat ramp that leads to Estero Bay.
There’s a bait shop that opens at 6:30 a.m. for supplies and concessions. It also rents canoes and kayaks if you don’t want to use the launch inside the park. A vast field provides plenty of trailer parking.
WHERE TO STAY
There are no campgrounds at Lovers Key State Park, but it is between some of southwest Florida’s most vibrant beach communities. That said, there is a smidge of development sharing Black Island with the park.
For a luxury stay near the park, this beachfront resort provides access to a small private beach, a heated pool and spa, an included continental breakfast and even babysitting. Full-sized condos are available to rent through the website or various homeshare sites.
THINGS TO DO
HIKING AND BIKING
There are 4½ miles of trails in the park that are appropriate for hiking and bicycling.
The canoe launch on Black Island features a rental stand and plenty of twisty waterways to explore.
This region of Florida is known for being particularly good for shelling, thanks to the currents, and the entrance fee means the park often has fewer people on the beach vying for souvenirs.
The aforementioned boat ramp on Estero Bay is available to boaters looking to get out into the bay or the Gulf of Mexico.
Rangers offer tours and nature programs, and post a schedule at the entrance.
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK
This Lovers Key Resort restaurant is open to the public, whether you drive there or come by boat. We suggest using their call ahead seating to get a table at dinnertime in the high season.
Lovers Key Adventures and Events operates both this concessions stop in the main parking lot and the bait shop at the boat ramp. They also coordinate weddings and events, plus boat rentals.