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Discovering Local Wonders

Hiking Trails in Southwest Florida

We all need a little bit of rest and relaxation sometimes when it comes to living in Southwest Florida, especially during the hustle and bustle of the season in full swing! Through the day-to-day of our busy lives, it’s easy to believe that we may be cut off from the beautiful sights and sounds of our local ecosystem. I have discovered, living in Naples for nearly 3 years, that the Florida Everglades have a tendency to feel further away than they really are. However, we aren’t as detached from the diversity and the lush environments of the Everglades as one may be led to believe. Southwest Florida has an abundance of natural treasures to explore, birds to watch, and gators to watch out for. Let’s take a deeper look at the habitats that lie behind the brush in paradise!

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve (Fort Myers)

 Tucked away in Fort Myers, the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve spans 3,400 acres of wetland sanctuary. The pristinely-maintained 1.2-mile-long boardwalk guides locals through cypress swamps, oak hammocks, and pine flatwoods. There is truly no location better for those in the area looking for a safe, and educational, trailing experience, while also experiencing the sights and calls of local bird species and maybe even a few grunts and growls from the, not so friendly, alligators.

Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (Naples)

In North Naples lies the renowned Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, managed by Audubon Florida. This sanctuary's 2.5-mile-long trail winds through ancient cypress forests, marshes, and wet prairies. This is another local hotspot for hikers searching for a safe experience around other locals, while still basking in the presence of alligators, otters, turtles, and more! Resident birdwatchers will be delighted by the diverse avian population, including the bright colors of the elusive Painted Bunting and Florida’s own majestic Wood Stork!

Caloosahatchee Regional Park (Alva)

Alva's hidden gem, Caloosahatchee Regional Park, offers scenic trails along the Caloosahatchee River. Diverse ecosystems, from riverbanks to oak hammocks, provide a picturesque backdrop for local hikers and winter birds alike! Keep an eye out for river otters, manatees, and the plethora of bird species that call the region home!

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (Near Naples)

Come embrace the wild beauty of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge near I-75 in Naples. Dedicated to preserving the critical habitat of the endangered Florida Panther, this sanctuary provides locals with a unique opportunity to connect with conservation efforts. Just off the highway towards Miami, this short 1.3-mile loop trail offers scenic prairie views with, as the name would imply, rare chances to see the protected, endangered, Florida Panther. The best opportunity to see wildlife here is going to come at sunrise, when the highway noise isn’t a bother to the animals. Whether you’re looking to start off your morning with a stroll, enjoy an afternoon picnic, or even a romantic evening, you can’t go wrong with the sanctuary!

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Venture into the heart of the Everglades with a visit to Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Recognized as the "Amazon of North America," and “Florida’s best-kept secret” by CBS News. This park offers a unique trailing experience through the largest strand swamp in the world. Local hikers can traverse boardwalks and trails surrounded by towering bald cypress trees, discovering rare orchids, 47 species to be exact, and potentially, the elusive Florida panther. This trail, or “tram” is regarded as one of the more difficult and dangerous trailing experiences in Southwest Florida. A lifted vehicle, such as a truck or SUV, with 4-wheel drive is highly recommended as entry to the tram head requires traversing 20-30 minutes of gravel paved, narrow road. A trailing partner and ample gear with protection are a must. While you will be treated to the calming chirps of a few of the most beautiful bird species in the world, this is an area not often disturbed by human interaction, thus the alligators come at their wildest. A snack and ample water for the tram is a must-have if you plan to reach the more scenic portions of the park. A 2.5-mile trek towards the acclaimed “Fakahatchee Hilton” on the East Main Trail will reward you with dock views of prehistoric swamps filled to the brim with wild alligators. This one may only be for those who fancy themselves “danger seekers”, but if you can get out here, it’s a memory you’ll never soon forget.

These trails can offer locals and visitors alike a chance to break away from the usual, and experience what living in this rare, one-of-a-kind ecosystem really means. Residents of Naples are offered a unique opportunity, in not only being able to experience what makes this city paradise, from the amazing restaurants, to the ocean-front views, but also having one of the craziest, most active environments in the world in our own backyard! Whether it be some of the most colorful birds in the world, or these living dinosaurs we lovingly call “gators”, seeing the beauty of this habitat up close is a chance to not be missed. We love these animals dearly, and we aim to protect these environments as best we can, so with that being said, please treat these animals kindly, do not push the limits if you don’t feel comfortable, and most important of all, always try to leave the ecosystem in a better condition than when you found it. Thank you.