Secrets to Getting the Family Outdoors

Family on boardwalk

The warm summer temperatures on The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel might make it tempting for kids to sit inside in front of the TV or on a smart device. So here’s a tip: Beat them at their own game by incorporating smart phone cameras and apps and other devices into your summer nature explorations.

Geo-caching is one way to engage them with electronics in the great outdoors. At J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, we have what we call an Earth-Cache that you can find at We also have our own GPS-assisted game app called Discover Ding, which you can download for free and play together or compete against one another.

Another tip: Take advantage of all of Southwest Florida’s nature attractions and their summer programming. “Ding” Darling’s weekly family tours and programs are free and include storytelling, nature crafts, hiking, beach walking, and learning about wildlife. Click here to learn more about the programs.

Other exciting things happening at the Refuge include improved trails at Bailey Tract and interpretive kiosks and signs at the entrance and all along the trails, which loop around a freshwater pond where alligators and shorebirds live. Bailey Tract is a 100-acre property a few miles away from the Refuge’s main campus on Sanibel-Captiva Road. Perry Tract, a small parcel adjacent to Gulfside City Park beach, will also score new signage to make your beach explorations all that more enlightening.

At the main Refuge campus, you can visit the hands-on exhibits inside the free “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center. Manatees, alligators, ducks, sea turtles, birds: We have special interactive exhibits devoted to all of these creatures and more.

Have a look outside the center at a cool in-progress 3-D mural featuring a life-sized mother and baby manatee sculpted from recycled bike tires. Soon, you will be able to see the almost completed underwater scene that leads into Project #LearningLavs – our soon-to-be redesigned exhibit. You won’t believe your eyes!

Scan this QR code with a smartphone app to learn more about #LearningLavs.

After a visit to the center, take your family down a cool, shady walk along Indigo Trail. It leads to our Wildlife Education Boardwalk, from which you can often see baby birds and alligators this time of year. All year-round, kids will love the 12 scat boxes that will have them guessing, laughing, and learning about animals.

Every day is different at “Ding” Darling. Jump on a bike or in a car to make the 8-mile loop around Wildlife Drive and back to the Visitor & Education Center. You never know what you’re going to see in the wetlands and along the short trails. Our recreation concession, Tarpon Bay Explorers, offers narrated tours of the drive, and can set you up with kayak, canoe, or paddleboard rentals and tours. Their morning and sunset pontoon boat cruises take you into wildlife habitat when the animals are most active.

Whatever activity you choose to get the family outdoors in Southwest Florida this summer, you are sure to reap the benefits of immersing yourselves in nature. Studies have shown that active kids are healthier, smarter, and more self-confident.

Please visit our website for tips and information about visiting J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge during your next stay on the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Island.


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