4 Surprising Outdoor Gems in Marco Island and Naples, Florida

Florida’s Paradise Coast truly is heaven for nature lovers. Just 30 minutes away from the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park and its vast birding, boating and wildlife-watching opportunities, Naples and Marco Island offer their own special gateway to a vast expanse of Florida wilderness.

Ten Thousand Islands

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The Ten Thousand Islands are a magical place to explore. (Photo: Getty Images)

Take a guided personal watercraft tour from Marco Island through the Ten Thousand Islands to learn firsthand about the transition zone between freshwater river and marine environments.

You can explore protected mangroves, see eagles, kites, hawks and wading birds, and watch for dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. Naturalists will explain the delicate estuary ecosystem, while the nature of the watercraft makes navigating the shallow backwaters an even more personal experience.

You also can take a guided kayak tour into nearby Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of the last undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. Hearing only the calls of the birds and the splashdown of leaping mullet will make you cherish the solitude. A visitor center features an aquarium, interactive displays and a store.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

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Take a stroll along the Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk. (Photo: Getty Images)

Another fascinating and fragile area just northeast of Naples is Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which the national Audubon Society considers the crown jewel of its refuge system. The last stand of virgin, old-growth Bald Cypress forest in the country, the sanctuary is home to native Florida reptiles, raptors and deer.

Explore a variety of habitats along the preserve’s 2.5-mile boardwalk, or time your visit with special events such as a night excursion in the Corkscrew After Hours series.

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park

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Keep an eye out for birds like the roseate spoonbill. (Photo: Getty Images)

Home to spectacular birding and wildlife watching as well as a pristine beach, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park also features snorkeling along the hard-bottom reef, shelling on the shore and hiking the estuaries of the Cocohatchee River. Park naturalists will take you to try to spot birds of prey, loggerhead sea turtles, manatees and the endangered gopher tortoise.

Urban Escapes in Naples

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Head into Naples for some surfing adventure. (Photo: Getty Images)

You can also get up close with nature in the heart of Naples. At Clam Pass Beach County Park, stroll along the boardwalk or ride the free tram through mangrove tunnels, crossing over Clam Pass on the short ride to the beach.

At the beach find a concession offering equipment rentals and beachside food and beverages. Just a few miles inland, the scenic Gordon River Greenway has boardwalks and paved trails that parallel the mangrove-lined Gordon River. This idyllic escape is ideal for walkers, runners, cyclists, kayakers, birders and nature lovers.

Getting There

Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) is just 40 minutes to the north of the Naples area in Fort Myers, an easy drive via Interstate 75. Most major domestic airlines serve the airport; Air Berlin direct flights are also available year-round from Dusseldorf, Germany. The airport’s passenger-friendly design makes the entry process fast and easy. Nonstop flights are available to and from 47 destinations.