Top Wildlife Walks and Nature Hikes in Southwest Florida
Even if you want to spend every moment on the shores of Fort Myers, it's worth it to spend some time on land exploring the area's many parks, preserves, and natural wonders. Whether you're looking for a nature hike among pine forests and freshwater wetlands, or an easy stroll along boardwalks and marshy marshes, it's time to trade in your flip-flops for sturdy shoes. Discover some of the best parks, walking trails and biking areas in Southwest Florida.
Pine Island's Flatwood Preserve and nearby Galt Preserve on Pine Island feature several miles of hiking trails, open landscapes, and native wildlife to view. This is the perfect place for birdwatching, where you might spot bald eagles preening and roseate spoonbills soaring. The shallow marshes also attract a wide variety of wading birds, amphibians and reptiles, such as turtles, and even alligators!
If you're looking for a more colorful nature walk, check out the Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens . There is always something memorable in bloom, whatever the season. Don't forget to keep an eye out for the many resident butterflies, turtles and birds.
Four-Mile Cove Ecological Reserve is less of a hike and more of a stroll. The boardwalks that crisscross the marshy area allow you to explore the ecosystem without getting dirty, and also work to preserve the natural environment. Wild otters can be seen here and sometimes even walk on the boardwalk right in front of you. See if you can spot migratory birds, raccoons, snakes and more along the walkway.
The JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge makes up a large portion of Sanibel Island, protecting the largest underutilized mangrove ecosystem in the United States from human development. Many endangered and threatened species like the American alligator, West Indian manatee, and roseate spoonbill live and nest in the 6,400 acres of submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammocks. It’s a unique chance to see such a unique ecosystem up close.
If you want to be sure to see some of Florida's most iconic wildlife, head to Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs. Both a botanical garden and a wildlife rehabilitation center, the garden is home to an ancient botanical jungle, a butterfly garden, and dozens of exotic birds and reptiles (including around 40 alligators) to interact with directly.
For an easy walk in Southwest Florida, be sure to add Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve to your list. With 3,400 acres of wetlands, this protected species habitat allows walkers and hikers to get up close and personal with unique flora and fauna.