Canoeing - Kayaking - Rafting - Fishing

Cedar Key to Atsena Otie Island, Florida USA
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Historic Atsena Otie Cemetery

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Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Al Vazquez,
  • Date Submitted: 11/2010
  • Location: Cedar Key, Florida USA on the Gulf of Mexico
  • Class: Gulf of Mexico is typically Class 1 during calm weather, but high waves can occur during windy periods
  • Distance Paddled: about 2 miles round trip to the closest landing or 3 miles round trip around the island
  • Water: salt water
  • Wildlife: pelicans, egrets, herons, mullet, cypress trees, live oaks, Spanish moss
  • Special Regulations: Interiors of these islands are all designated National Wildlife Refuges. To protect wildlife, entry is prohibited without a permit. Atsena Otie does, however, have a path leading to a historic cemetery with permitted access to the public. Public use is otherwise permitted only on the island beaches year-round, except on Seahorse Key, which has a closed beach from March 1 to June 30 in order to protect nesting birds from human disturbance.


Entry and Exit

  • Directions: If southbound on Interstate 75, exit at Gainesville directly onto Route 24 southwest toward Archer and Bronson and follow it to Cedar Key. From Interstate 75 northbound from the turnpike, exit at Ocala onto Route 27 northwest. In Williston, take Route 27 ALT northwest to Bronson. In Bronson, turn left onto Route 24 southwest to Cedar Key. In Cedar key, turn left (east) onto 2nd street and go three blocks to the public beach on the right (south).
  • GPS: N 29.13677 W 083.02946 degrees (actual )
  • Fee: None
  • Description: Public beach
  • Parking: paved
  • Facilities: Restrooms and pavilion, restaurants and hotels adjacent to launch point. Atsena Otie also has a restroom and information kiosk on the hiking trail to the cemetery. We were fortunate to stay at the Old Fenimore Mill where we launched on a nice sand beach just outside our balcony on the gulf.
  • Special Handicap Access: None

Where We Paddled and What We Saw

Paddling south from the beaches of Cedar Key, Atsena Otie key is the closest large island about a mile away.

Today's Cedar Key waterfront, shown at right, reflects the rich history of the area. Artifacts indicate native American residents in the area as early as 1300 AD. These first inhabitants created a 28 foot high shell mound nearby, one of the largest on the gulf coast over a period of some 3500 years (2500 BC to 1000 AD).

Fortunately for today's paddlers, conveniently closest to the beaches of Cedar Key there is a normally sandy beach on the north side of Atsena Otie Island at:

GPS: N 29.12619 W 083.03363 degrees (actual )

But paddlers should beware of many other beaches and "sand bars" with sharp clam shells that can scratch a kayak or canoe or worse; cut feet.

Once known as "Depot Key", Atsena Otie was first used by the military in 1839. Later, a military hospital was built.

In 1843, a hurricane destroyed these facilities with a 27 foot high tide, which also destroyed the wharf. So the military abandoned the post by 1844 after the Seminole War.

Just west from the beach landing point was the sign shown at right marking the hiking trail to the cemetery. We first passed an information kiosk with a nice timeline of the area history and the restroom.

In 1843, Augustus Steele bought the buildings destroyed by the hurricane and began the development of the keys as a steamboat port for trade on the Suwannee River whose mouth is just to the north.

The Eberhard Faber Mill, built on Atsena Otie to produce pencils, became the major industry in the area. In 1858, the town of Atsena Otie becomes incorporated.

By 1861, a railroad linked nearby Way Key across the state to Fernandina. But the onset of the civil war and the federal blockade hampered the growth of trade during this time. The Union troops damaged the rail line to disrupt Confederate resupply lines.

In 1862, during the civil war, Atsena Otie had a few residences and a gun emplacement to protect the area's population of 80 to 100 people. by 1864, Union forces built an outpost on "Depot Key".

By 1884, the area had become prosperous with 3 sawmills and considerable trade. It seemed like Depot Key would be a profitable area forever. But that year, the South Florida Railroad completion to Tampa quickly made that the preferred port, drawing ships away from the Cedar Key area and starting an economic decline.

1896 saw a major hurricane devastate what was left of the area, destroying the saw mills on Atsena Otie and Way Key. The economy did not begin to recover until tourism and fishermen rediscovered its beauty in the latter 20th century.

The cemetery at the end of the 1/3 mile hike on Atsena is a nice place to reflect on all this history. However, we suggest taking insect repellent as we were swarmed by mosquitoes at the entry to the cemetery on a beautiful, cool November day.

We paddled south along the east side of Atsena Otie Key and continued to Snake Key, another island about 2 miles from Atsena Otie. Along the way, we gingerly paddled the interior channels on the east side of Atsena Otie while the tide was receding. There are also gorgeous sand beaches on the southeast side of Atsena Otie.

At right is the gorgeous view of Atsena Otie Key from our balcony at the Old Fenimore Mill. Terms of Use


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