Visits to Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City areas are often filled with dining out at the many great local restaurants and enjoying tropical cocktails. But enjoying these pleasures need not inhibit your wellness initiatives.
The destination offers many enjoyable ways to get active, and a great choice for visitors is hiking.
Hiking in Florida's Paradise Coast
is about much more than exercise. You can explore the area's abundant natural beauty, improve on or learn new skills like digital photography or knowledge of native Southwest Florida flora and fauna, and spend quality time with the important people in your life, all while watching your fitness tracker rack up big numbers for steps and calories burned.
Boardwalks are a great introduction to the area's rich and diverse ecosystems, including cypress swamps and marshes, which you can explore without getting your feet wet.
You might as well start at the top at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
, which is the Southern Gateway for the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail.
The 2.5-mile boardwalk adventure winds through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and finally into the largest old growth bald cypress forest in North America. Prime photo opportunities await around every turn of the boardwalk. A white board at the beginning of the boardwalk trail lists species of birds and animals seen that day by visitors, which can include wading birds, songbirds, raptors, alligators, otters, deer and occasionally even Florida panther and black bear.
One of the most-visited boardwalks in Southwest Florida is the Big Cypress Bend
boardwalk along Tamiami Trail within Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Keep an eye out for the pair of eagles with a nest visible from the boardwalk.
Farther east on Tamiami Trail, the Kirby Storter boardwalk
within Big Cypress National Preserve takes you deep into the beauty and coolness of an Everglades cypress dome.
Combine a hike with some beach time at Clam Pass Beach Park
, located directly behind Naples Grande Beach Resort. Instead of taking the free tram ride over the boardwalk to the beach, walk the three-quarter mile boardwalk then walk all the way down the beach to Clam Pass and back.
You can bike, walk, jog or kayak along the Gordon River Greenway
in Naples. There's a large, free parking lot located between two popular natural attractions – Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida – offering easy access to this handy urban hiking spot that's great for birdwatching.
The CREW Land & Water Trust conservation organization has several public hiking trails. Check out the CREW Marsh Trail and the Cypress Dome Trails and Caracara Prairie Preserve, accessible off the eastern end of Corkscrew Road. The popular Bird Rookery Swamp trail remains closed while repairs from Hurricane Irma damage are underway.
The Marsh Trail
in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a 2.2-mile round trip easy hike that features a two-story observation tower. This is a great place to spot wading birds like egrets, white ibis and roseate spoonbills. There is a large paved parking lot located just off Tamiami Trail between Collier-Seminole State Park and Port of the Islands.
There are some challenging hikes available in Big Cypress National Preserve
that are best for highly experienced hikers, including the southern end of the 1,000-mile Florida Trail. Start safe by taking advantage of free ranger-guided activities including Wet & Wild Walks and other activities offered during the winter months. These strenuous strolls take you through the swamp and sawgrass in search of wildflowers.
The Collier-Seminole Hiking Trail at Collier-Seminole State Park is a 6.5-mile rugged adventure that will take you through wet cypress strands even in the dry season. For tamer adventures, this Florida state park also offers a nature boardwalk and a shorter bicking or hiking trail.
Guided swamp walks are available at famed Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery and at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, known as the Native Orchid Capital of North America.
On Marco Island, there's an easy hike through a hardwood hammock at Otter Mound Preserve
. Several interpretive signs provide information about the habitat and the archeological and historical aspects of the property.
Near Lake Trafford in Immokalee, the Pepper Ranch Preserve
offers multiple hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails as well as camping. The preserve is open from November through June.
Picayune Strand State Forest
offers both hiking and equestrian trails, although the most popular section of the 22-miles of horse trail is currently closed for repairs.
Education, events and resources
For seminars and classes on a variety of topics that will make your hikes more enjoyable including birding, digital photography and more, check out the extensive list of events at Rookery Bay
that happen throughout the tyear. Their annual Festival of Birds takes place every January and always includes exceptional field trip hikes where you can learn from wildlife experts and meet others passionate about exploring the outdoors.
For one of the best and most comprehensive sources of information about hikes in Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, spend time at FloridaHikes.com. Sandra Friend and John Keatley, authors of the Florida Trail Guide and other hiking books, offer a treasure-trove of information on not only where to go hiking, but how to get started, gear reviews and more.