Top Wildlife Walks and Nature Hikes in Southwest Florida

Child using binoculars on a boardwalk

While you may want to spend every moment on the shores of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, it’s well worth it to spend time on land exploring the area’s many parks, preserves and natural wonders. Whether you’re looking for a nature hike among pine flatwoods and freshwater wetlands, or an easy walk along boardwalks and swampy marshes, it’s time to swap your flip-flops for sturdy shoes. Check out some of the best parks, walking trails, and biking areas Southwest Florida has to offer. 

Pine Island’s Flatwood Preserve and nearby Galt Preserve, on Pine Island, include several miles of hiking trails, open landscape and native wildlife to observe. It's the perfect spot for bird-watching, where you can spy on preening bald eagles and soaring pink spoonbills. The shallow marshes also attract a wide variety of wading birds, amphibians and reptiles, like turtles, and, yes, even alligators!

If you’re looking for a more colorful nature walk, check out the Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings. There’s always something memorable in bloom, no matter the season. Don't forget to keep an eye out for the many resident butterflies, turtles, and birds.

Four-Mile Cove Ecological Preserve is less of a hike and more of a walk. The boardwalks that criss-cross the swampy area allow you to explore the ecosystem without getting muddy, 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 J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge makes up a large portion of Sanibel Island, protecting the largest undeveloped 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 guarantee that you’ll see some of Florida’s more iconic wildlife, go to the Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs. Part botanical garden, part wildlife rehabilitation center, the garden has an old-growth botanical jungle, butterfly garden, and dozens of exotic birds and reptiles (including some 40 alligators) to interact with firsthand. 

For an easy-going walk in Southwest Florida, be sure to add Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve to your list. With 3,400 acres of wetland, this protected species habitat allows walkers and hikers to get up-close-and-personal with unique plants and wildlife. Walk the mile-long boardwalk trail on your own, book a guided tour or even inquire about customized tours (by reservation only).

Hiking in Florida is the perfect activity for any outdoor enthusiast, adventure traveler, or family vacationer. If you’re looking for a vacation where you can truly explore your surroundings, make sure to read more about Southwest Florida hiking, walking and outdoor activities on our website.

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