Shell Island - Paddling

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Shell Island is a great place to escape the crowds of Panama City Beach. Spend a day paddling in the calm waters of the bay, watching dolphins and relaxing on the beach.

Written by

Kelsey Kalinski


0.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

8.8 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

Paddling around the island on a calm day is easy and enjoyable for paddlers of all levels. However, if you plan to paddle from St. Andrews State Park to Shell Island, it can be much more difficult, especially if the water is rough or the boat traffic is heavy. You should be experienced if you plan to paddle across yourself. You can rent a kayak and take a shuttle across before starting your paddling adventure.

Time To Complete

6 hours

A trip to Shell Island can be a full day experience. You can paddle, swim, snorkel, go for a walk, look for shells, or just relax on the beach.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

It can be very cold in the winter with the wind on the water, but the rest of the year Shell Island is a great place to spend a day.

Dog Friendly


Most of the shuttles to the island do not allow dogs, and they are not allowed on the beach on the sections of the island owned by the state park and the Air Force Base. There is a section in the middle of the island where dogs are permitted.

Fees Permits


The fee depends on how you choose to reach Shell Island. Paddling from St. Andrews State Park or taking the shuttle over from the park will require paying the entrance fee to the park and purchasing a shuttle ticket. The Eastern section of Shell Island is owned by Tyndall Air Force Base and access requires a special recreational permit, with a cost of $11, in addition to a background check. This is only required to access the land in this part of the island. The water can be accessed without it.



Shell Island is a barrier island located across the St. Andrews Shipping Channel from St. Andrews State Park. The western end of the island, which is truly a peninsula as it is connected on the eastern end to land, is a part of the state park. Shell Island was named for the multitude of shells that once washed up on the island. The shells do still wash up, but in the more heavily-visited areas of the island, they are not nearly as plentiful as they once were. Shell Island is a great destination to spend the day paddling, snorkeling, shelling, or just relaxing on the beach.

What Makes It Great

The safest way to paddle at Shell Island is to take the Shell Island Shuttle from the state park to the island and then rent a kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard to use once you arrive. It is possible to paddle across from the state park but this requires crossing a busy boat channel. If you have access to a boat, you could ferry your own kayaks over to the island also. The water in St. Andrews Bay is protected by this barrier island, so it is often calm and perfect for paddling. As you enter the Gulf of Mexico, the water is often rough and not suitable for beginners at paddling. Watch for wildlife during your excursion, including deer on the island and dolphins, sea turtles, rays, and tropical fish in the water.

With the Shell Island Shuttle, you can bring your own snorkeling equipment or you can rent it as a package with the shuttle. Snorkeling here is an amazing experience, allowing you to get up close and personal with several species of marine life, including tropical fish, crabs, rays, and possibly dolphins!

Who is Going to Love It

Beginner paddlers and experts alike will love spending a day at Shell Island. Families with small children can take the shuttle over and spend the day on the beach, looking for shells and playing in the sand. If the water is calm enough, you might even be able to bring your children in a tandem kayak around the bay. Experienced paddlers can paddle for miles along the island. Snorkelers will love the species of tropical fish that make their home here. Anyone that likes dolphins will love to spend a day here, as they are plentiful in the area.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The easiest way to reach Shell Island is from St. Andrews State Park, which is located across the channel from the island. Parking is available in the park. Shell Island Shuttle runs from the state park. You can just take the shuttle over for the day, or you can have a snorkel gear rental or a kayak rental included with the round-trip shuttle ticket. The shuttle alone, round-trip, is $18.95 per adult and $9.95 per child 12 years and younger. Snorkel rental is $26.95 per adult and $19.95 per child, and a kayak rental with shuttle is $55.00 for the day for a single kayak or $65.00 for a tandem.

You can also take your own boat to Shell Island or rent a boat if you wish. The western end of the island is part of St. Andrews State Park, so your entrance fee to the park will cover this section of the island. The entrance fee is $4 per single occupant vehicle or $8 per vehicle with 2-8 people.

Dogs and alcoholic beverages are prohibited on beaches in state parks, and will not be allowed on the shuttle. 

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