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Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 8:41 AM


Explore Southwest Florida's Natural Wonders


Audubon-Pennington Nature Park

Just minutes from downtown Port Charlotte, Audubon-Pennington Nature Park offers a serene retreat for nature enthusiasts. Open from sunrise to sunset, the park beckons with activities like picnicking, hiking, and nature photography. Two main trails, the half-mile Sandhill Trail and the challenging one-mile Gator Hole Trail, wind through diverse landscapes, including sandhills and wetlands. Smaller trails lead to different corners, ensuring encounters with Florida’s wildlife. Providing a peaceful escape from city life, this easily accessible park promises a refreshing outdoor experience amidst the beauty of nature.

— Boardwalk, hiking trails, nature photography, picnic areas, wildlife viewing 1153 Alton Road, Port Charlotte941-625-7529

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park

Spanning an impressive 42,000 acres, Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park safeguards an expansive 70-mile stretch of shoreline bordering Charlotte and Lee counties, tracing the picturesque expanse of Charlotte Harbor. 

— Boating, canoeing and kayaking, fishing12301 Burnt Store Road, Punta Gorda941-575-5816


Peace River Preserve 

Covering 450 acres, Peace River Preserve features a mix of scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, hammocks, marshes, and mangrove swamp. The western and northern sections support scrub-jay habitat, while the southern and eastern areas transition into high marsh and mangrove communities. Historical fire suppression led to a 1995 wildfire, shaping the uplands into xeric and mesic hammocks. Ongoing management, including prescribed burns and fuel reduction, aim to enhance habitat quality and address drainage issues in depressional marshes, fostering a resilient environment at Peace River Preserve. 

— Birding, nature preserve, nature trail 28000 Sandhill Boulevard, Punta Gorda 941-613-3220 

Punta Gorda Nature Park 

The 19-acre Punta Gorda Nature Park, acquired in the 1990s with funding from the Florida Community Trust, stands as a unique urban oasis. Bordered by residential streets and a canal, the park offers preserved areas for walking, bird watching, and wildlife observation. With an urban interpretative nature walk, it showcases the natural features of pre-subdivided Punta Gorda, providing a serene escape accessible via bicycle and pedestrian pathways connected to the city’s sidewalk system. This hidden gem is conveniently close to residential and commercial areas. 

— Benches, gardens, multi-use recreational trail, observation deck, palmetto forest, parking, picnic tables, salt/high marsh habitats 1623 Aqui Esta Drive, Punta Gorda 



Big Cypress National Preserve 

Since its inception in 1916, Big Cypress has embraced the vital responsibility of safeguarding and preserving the nation’s cherished natural landmarks. Drawing over 318 million visitors annually, this remarkable place offers an opportunity to explore and connect with the essence of the United States. Extending its reach beyond the park’s confines, Big Cypress actively collaborates with tribes, local governments, nonprofits, businesses and individuals. This collaboration empowers communities to honor their unique histories, preserve their cultural heritage and maintain outdoor spaces, inviting families to relish and cherish these invaluable assets. Their mission is to safeguard the natural and cultural treasures of this land, ensuring their enduring presence for the benefit, education, and inspiration of both present and future generations. 

— Canoeing and kayaking, hiking, hunting, ORV use, tours 
Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center 33000 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee 239-695-4758 
Oasis Visitor Center 52105 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee 239-695-2000 

Collier-Seminole State Park 

Sprawling across 7,271 acres, Collier-Seminole State Park is a captivating blend of diverse wildlife, rare royal palms and expansive mangrove swamps. Delve into history by exploring the last remaining Bay City Walking Dredge, a significant engineering landmark pivotal in constructing the Tamiami Trail Highway. The park offers comfortable campground sites and enriching park programs from December through March, featuring insightful presentations on flora, fauna and history. Traverse scenic trails, canoe down the Blackwater River, or utilize the boat ramp for a remarkable wilderness experience.

— Bicycling, boat ramp, camping, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking/nature trail, picnicking, playground, restrooms, showers, wildlife viewing20200 Tamiami Trail East, Naples239-394-3397

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park has reopened its doors for limited day use, welcoming visitors to enjoy the breathtaking mile-long stretch of pristine sugar sand beach—the jewel of this 166-acre tropical paradise. Renowned as one of the nation’s finest, the beach invites beachgoers, boaters, and divers to relish in its natural splendor. From sunbathing and paddling to hiking and birdwatching, this coastal haven offers an array of activities. Anglers can find designated spots in the northern park areas for a chance at trophy catches. Boaters will appreciate the easily accessible launch area into Turkey Bay, allowing exploration of the Cocohatchee River’s delicate estuaries leading to the expansive Gulf of Mexico. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park ensures a memorable coastal experience, providing beach wheelchairs upon reservation and offering a complimentary beach shuttle service from Conner Park, since parking is extremely limited within the park. It’s a destination that invites all to unwind in the embrace of nature’s beauty while adhering to posted guidelines and respecting any closed areas.

— Beaches, boat ramp, boating, fishing, picnicking, restrooms, showers, scuba diving, swimming, wildlife viewing11135 Gulfshore Drive, Naples239-597-6196

 Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park 

For inquiries, contact the Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center at 239-695-4758. Due to Hurricane Ian’s impact, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center is temporarily closed, but the canoe and kayak launch, parking lot, and covered pavilion remain accessible with limited services. Drinking water is not available. Concession boat tours are currently not operational due to ongoing construction. Everglades National Park, spanning 1.5 million acres of wetland in south Florida, offers diverse activities across its three separate entrances. Explore wildlife on the Anhinga Trail, savor panoramic views from Shark Valley’s observation tower, or paddle through mangroves on Nine-Mile Pond. With myriad options, Everglades National Park is an adventurer’s paradise waiting to be explored. 

— Hiking, camping, fishing, canoe and kayak trails, boating, tours
Gulf Coast Visitor Center815 Oyster Bar Lane, Everglades City239-695-4758


 Freedom Park 

Explore the 50-acre Freedom Park in Naples, located at 1515 Golden Gate Parkway. Acquired in 2008, the park includes a 12.5-acre Conservation Collier portion, featuring a 3,500-foot boardwalk and trails with lookout pavilions. Open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk, the park offers vehicle access, free parking, and restrooms in the Exhibition Hall. The ongoing construction of the Freedom Memorial pays tribute to 9/11 and war heroes. Undergoing restoration, the park boasts freshwater marshes, native plants, and diverse wildlife, providing a tranquil retreat. Conservation Collier’s acquisition emphasizes preserving native habitat, surface water resources, and connecting to existing conservation lands. 

— 1515 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples 

Nancy Payton Preserve 

Discover the 71-acre Nancy Payton Preserve’s pine flatwoods, offering smooth hiking trails amidst native vegetation. With 147 plant species, including South Florida slash pine and Sabal palmetto, 82% native, the preserve teems with wildlife. From bobcats to Florida panthers, the habitat supports endangered species. Management efforts focus on enhancing red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise habitats. This refuge, crucial for native species, safeguards biodiversity in Collier County and beyond. 

— Hiking trails, wildlife viewing 1540 Blue Sage Drive, Naples 239-252-2495 

Picayune Strand State Forest 

Critical to the Everglades, Picayune Strand State Forest, located at 1515 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, safeguards ecological balance and wildlife habitats. Once logged and drained for a failed subdivision, it faced disruption from canal systems in the 1970s. Acquired for restoration, the 50,000-acre forest, managed by the Florida Forest Service, now serves vital roles in water quality improvement and public recreation. Explore trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, witness diverse flora and fauna, or engage in freshwater fishing. 

— Biking, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, seasonal hunting, paddling 2121 52nd Avenue SE, Naples 239-348-7557 


 Cayo Costa State Park 
Cayo Costa State Park 

Nestled within the protective embrace of the Charlotte Harbor Estuary, this unspoiled Gulf Coast Island is a sanctuary of wind-sculpted trees, inviting beaches, and the freedom to explore. Accessible solely by boat or kayak, Cayo Costa Island unveils 9 miles of undeveloped shoreline, inviting adventures in swimming, snorkeling, shelling, fishing, and birdwatching. The island is a haven for diverse wildlife, from abundant shorebirds to occasional manatees, porpoises, and sea turtles gracing the offshore waters. When the park is accessible, secure your visit with an online single-use day pass and immerse yourself in the wonders of Cayo Costa. 

— 4 Nautical Miles West of Pine Island (26.685789, -82.245381) 941-964-0375 

Don Pedro Island State Park 

A part of an extensive chain of barrier islands extending along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Don Pedro is accessible only by private boat or ferry. Boaters can tie up at the dock on the mangrove-lined bay side of the island. 

— Boating, canoeing and kayaking, hiking/ nature trail, picnicking, fishing, restrooms, swimming, wildlife viewing Wednesday-Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Monday and Tuesday. 8450 Placida Road, Placida 941-964-0375 

Estero Bay Preserve State Park 

Discover Estero Bay Preserve’s natural wonders through rugged trails, traversing diverse uplands and showcasing abundant wildlife and native plants. Ideal for hiking, ensure you have sturdy footwear, insect repellent, sunscreen, and ample water. The preserve is dog-friendly, requiring pets to be leashed. Dive into unique ecosystems at the Estero River Scrub access, home to mesic flatwoods, scrub, salt flats, and various wildlife. Convenient amenities like pavilions, restrooms, and benches enhance your experience. Explore this natural beauty on foot, embracing nature’s rich tapestry. 

— Bicycling, boating, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking/nature trail, restrooms, wildlife viewing 4940 Broadway West, Estero 239-992-0311

 Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park 

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park unfurls its welcome to all, beckoning visitors to delve into its unspoiled natural wilderness. With a steadfast commitment to preserving its inherent essence, the park meticulously restricts facilities and activities, preserving an authentic and immersive communion with nature. Segmented into four primary zones, the park offers a journey through the scenic Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, the picturesque East River reachable by appointment-only canoe launch, the tranquil Jones Grade lakes and trail ideal for fishing and kayaking, and the expansive Janes Memorial Scenic Drive granting access to an array of hiking and biking trails. Traverse the pristine landscapes and vibrant ecosystems, immersing oneself in the heart of Fakahatchee’s untamed allure. 

— Hiking/nature trail, tour, wildlife viewing 137 Coast Line Drive, Copeland 239-961-1925 

 Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, Gasparilla Island State Park
Gasparilla Island State Park 

Part of the Gulf Coast barrier islands, Gasparilla Island is adorned by the restored Port Boca Grande Lighthouse dating back to 1890. Activities like swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and shelling (best in winter) are enjoyed at the island’s five accessible parking lots. Picnics with scenic views are possible at Sandspur and Boca Grande Lighthouse parking lots, both featuring pavilions. The lighthouse also hosts a museum, open for public exploration. Accessible via the Boca Grande Causeway, this island sanctuary awaits at the south end of Gasparilla Island. 

— Beaches, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking/nature trail, picnicking, restrooms, swimming, wildlife viewing 880 Belcher Road, Boca Grande 941-964-0375 

 J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel 
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge 

Whether it’s a first visit or a routine biking adventure, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge extends a warm welcome to all. Begin at the FREE Visitor and Education Center, offering essential information, a nature store, engaging exhibits and noteworthy facilities. Explore the diverse ecosystems and migratory flyways showcased in exhibits, including a hands-on area for young enthusiasts. The refuge, part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, is world-renowned for its spectacular migratory bird populations. Embark on wildlife discovery through walking, biking, or driving the scenic four-mile Wildlife Drive, granting access to walking trails and canoe launches. Birdwatching and photography thrive with over 245 bird species residing within the refuge. Guided tram tours by Tarpon Bay Explorers unveil the Wildlife Drive, while water activities like stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking enhance the refuge experience. 

— Bicycling, canoeing and kayaking, hiking/nature trail, picnicking, visitor center, wildlife viewing 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel 239-472-1100 

Koreshan State Park 

Nestled by the tranquil banks of the Estero River, Koreshan State Park unveils the compelling story of Florida pioneers. Once home to the Koreshans, a 19th-century religious sect led by Dr. Cyrus R. Teed, this place witnessed their unique beliefs in communal living and a universe inside the Earth. Immaculately restored historic buildings stand as a testament to their industrious lives, surrounded by lush gardens and ancient oaks. Amidst the peaceful ambiance of Fort Myers, this park offers a glimpse into a fascinating chapter of history and a chance to connect with nature’s serenity. 

— Boat ramp, camping, canoeing and kayaking, hiking/nature trail, historic site, fishing, picnicking, playground, restrooms, wildlife viewing 3800 Corkscrew Road, Estero 239-992-0311