Big Bend Region

Atsena Otie Key – A real Florida Ghost Town

First, A Little History

Just offshore of Cedar Key, Florida, is an island that once was a bustling town of Florida pioneers, with an important port and a booming lumber trade. It is said that Atsena Otie is a Muscogean Indian word that means cedar island, and before the lumber trade began on the island, the Cedar Trees thrived. By the 1890s, the lumber industry on Atsena Otie Key made profits near one million dollars and had produced enough wood casings for over three hundred thousand pencils.

 As the town’s industry grew, so did the town, and at one time, the population of Atsena Otie Key was said to have been near 300 people. But in 1896, tragedy struck in the form of a powerful hurricane with a 10-foot tidal surge. As a result, the Pencil mill was destroyed, as was most of the homes. However, a business building and several houses that escaped destruction were floated across to nearby Way Key, now called Cedar Key. The lumber salvaged from the wreckage on Atsena Otie Key was used for construction on the now Cedar Key.

Getting to Atsena Otie Key

John and I started our journey at the Cedar Key Marina. I had called around a couple of days before to find a boat tour company that provided drop up and pick up service to Atsena Otie Key. The first company we called couldn’t really give me many details and told me to call the morning we got there to find out if they could drop us off on the island. We had over a two-hour drive from Tampa, so that did not sound like a good plan at all. After talking to another company who gave me more or less the same dissatisfied feeling, I was about to give up on the whole idea. My third call was the charm, and I am so glad I made it, Tidewater Tours.

John and I always make it a point that when we find a company that meets or exceeds our expectations, to pass that information to our readers and Facebook Group members. That, after all, is what this website is all about, to help others find and enjoy the best adventures possible in the state we love. And in case you are wondering, we are not getting paid to say this.

Tidewater Tours is a family-owned business, and we could not have asked for better service. From booking to the end of our adventure, Misty, Phillip, Justin, Fred, and Fred’s dog Scooter, went beyond friendly, courteous, safe, and informative. In fact, so much so that because John and I were having such an awesome adventure and a wonderful time, we didn’t want our day to end, so we opted to take two available seats on Tidewater Tours’ afternoon Island tour. (but that’s a story for another post).

Exploring Atsena Otie Key

John and I absolutely love finding unique Florida adventures with a taste of Florida history included, and Atsena Otie Key provided just that. A beautiful 3/4 mile trail through a natural Florida landscape to an over 100-year-old cemetery and traces of lives lived long ago before a hurricane wiped out an entire industrial island community.

A wonderful bonus to this awesome adventure was that, after we got done exploring we could sit back on a beautiful island beach, do a little swimming and even some bird and dolphin watching.

Watch This Video View of our Day at Atsena Otie Key

Things to Know before you Go

  • Mosquitos are abundant on the island. Therefore, apply lots of insect repellent and reapply often. Ticks are a possibility as well, so make sure your repellent is one with DEET.
  • You can take whatever you will need on the island with you on the boat. So do take, umbrella, chair, water, sunscreen, and snacks. ( especially if you are going to spend more than two hours on the island)
  • I have heard that there is a large water moccasin and rattlesnake population on the island; although we did not see any on our visit, it is best to stay on trail and not venture off unto any unmarked paths.
  • It is always a good idea to wear good shoes or hiking boots when walking any trail.
  • If you are going to Atsena Key to view the ruins only and don’t plan to do any swimming on the beach, then two hours is enough time.
  • There are no facilities on the Island, so as they say, “you will have to do what the fish do.”
  • For your convenience, here is a link to Tidewater Tours’ official website.
  • Cedar Key is in Levy County on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It is about 136 miles north of Tampa and about 70 miles west of Ocala via US 27 North and Fl. Highway 24 west.


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If you have never been to Cedar Key, then you absolutely need to put it on your bucket list. It is one of Florida’s most charming old fishing towns, full of history and beauty. Click here to check out one of our previous adventures in Cedar Key.

Thank you, Phillip & Justin, for answering all our questions!! And for your help in making this an awesome adventure!

Follow our Journey

We hope you enjoyed our post. John and I are having a wonderful time discovering Florida and invite you to discover it right along with us. If you would like to learn more about great places to visit and things to do in Florida, please subscribe to our site, and we will send future posts straight to your email inbox. To get in on the Florida conversation, interact with us, make new Florida loving friends and ask Florida questions, then please join our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/THEVIEWFROMFLORIDA/groups/

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