If the sand and water whet your appetite for nature, then you’ll be happy to learn that Southwest Florida is home to more than a hundred miles of hiking trails. They can take you from elevated boardwalks to inland waterways and swathes of swamp. While there are dozens of preserves in the area, these are a few of our favorites – perfect for a hiker in search of something new.
CREW is a nonprofit organization that manages 60,000-acres of land and more than two dozen miles of trail. The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail is a rewarding 12-mile hike for adventurers in search of birds, alligators, otters and all the best that Southwest Florida’s ecosystem has to offer. This extensive swath of land also has specific areas for biking, hunting, horseback riding, geocaching and camping. Refer to their website for timely updates on trail conditions and guidelines.
This park boasts 768 acres and 20 miles of trails to enjoy, one that runs parallel with the Caloosahatchee River, an important part of the intercoastal waterway. The river stretches from the middle of Florida and ends at Sanibel Island, providing boaters a safe passage across the state. This is an area rich in history, with the indigenous Calusa people being its first settlers. Sprawling bike and equestrian trails are popular on the park’s north side. Trail conditions change seasonally, so it’s recommended to check the website (leeparks.org) and pick up a map before you hit the trails.
Mitigation parks are one way Southwest Florida offsets land development’s effect on the native plant population. Hickey Creek Mitigation Park consists of habitats of palmetto-oak scrub, pine flatwoods and seasonal wetlands. Hickey Creek itself is part of the Great Calusa Blueway, and popular among paddlers. The park has three looped trails totaling five miles. All are exclusively for hiking and make for a great afternoon adventure.
For a slower pace, try Prairie Pine Preserve. The system includes more than 20 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. It also features a boardwalk and an ADA-accessible loop, complimented by restroom facilities and paved parking. On-leash pet walking is allowed and many of the trails include markers and interpretive signage, making Prairie Pine Preserve one of the area’s friendliest trails for every level of hiker.
Wild Turkey Strand Preserve is one of the area’s largest conservation areas. It’s home to flatwoods, cypress swamps, marshes, prairies – and a fascinating past. During World War II, the area was part of a training base called Buckingham Army Air Field. Multiple military structures are still on site alongside interpretive panels for those wanting to learn more. Go here for more great boardwalks and trails, but check the conditions ahead of time. Some paths can be too wet or underwater during the rainy season.
Our trails don’t end at the water’s edge. The Great Calusa Blueway is a nearly 200-mile-long pathway for canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. In almost any portion, you’ll find abundant wildlife – including manatees – and miles of uninterrupted wetland. First-time and longtime paddlers can find a challenge in the twists and turns of this remarkable trail, unique to Fort Myers & Sanibel.
These parks and preserves are just the beginning. Start planning your trip now.
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