Captiva, Sanibel, Naples and Fort Myers in southwest Florida lure sun seekers with beautiful beaches as well as protected natural areas. Near the cities, you can still find the natural Florida of estuaries, salt marshes, mangrove swamps, and undeveloped sands. Here are six great outdoor adventures in southwest Florida.
Collect Sea Shells
Captiva and Sanibel islands bring the classic past-times of beach strolling and shell collecting to new heights. Shells—conchs, clams, scallops, and scores of others—wash up on the shores of these barrier islands by the waveful because of the land formations’ east/west orientation. You can keep anything that doesn’t have a live critter inside.
Swim, Sun, Stroll and Fish
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, a recreation area on a barrier island near Naples, features more than a mile of white sand beach. Try your skill at geocaching, fish from the shore at Wiggins Pass, collect shells, and swim (permitted from the southern boundary to the middle of the beach’s parking lot five).
Paddle Board Through a Wilderness Refuge
The footpaths through the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,400-acre reserve, are bordered by salt myrtles, cabbage palms, sea grapes and other native trees. You can also tour the refuge by driving along a 4 mile scenic road. However, the best way to gain a sense of the natural landscape is to go on a guided kayak or stand-up paddle board tour. Paddling through the mangroves along Commodore Creek, you see pelicans, osprey, and herons and learn about the sea squirts, seahorses, barnacles, and oysters that live in the estuary. Contact Tarpon Bay Explorers for guided trips.
Go on a Swamp Safari
As the swamp buggy, a truck-like vehicle with seats and shade, winds through flat lands, cypress swamp and prairie, the naturalist guide tells you about the wildlife and the 90,000-acre ranch that’s inland from Fort Myers. On a Babcock Wilderness Adventures’ tour, you’re likely to pass alligators, turtles, bison, and, of course, cattle. At the tour’s end the guide just might haul out a baby ‘gator for you to touch.
Take a Dolphin and Wildlife Cruise
Aboard Captiva Cruises you get out on the water and feel the wind in your face. On the dolphin cruise, you’re likely to see these playful critters jumping in the boat’s wake as you sail Pine Island Sound. You might even see manatees. The Cayo Costa Beach & Shelling cruise takes you to undeveloped park beaches for swimming and shell collecting.
Walk Through a Swamp
At the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples, a two-and-a-half mile boardwalk cuts through towering bald cypress thickets on this 11,000 preserve. Ferns feather the ground, birds chirp and the ponds bloom with water lettuce. On your walk, keep an eye out for the endangered North American wood storks that nest here as well as alligators and deer. Be sure to bring insect repellant.
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