Many come to Fort Myers Beach just to enjoy the sun, sand and seashells. Others like to explore a wider range of activities as part of their beach vacation. Fort Myers Beach area has wonderful opportunities for those who enjoy outdoor recreation and nature. In addition to beautiful beaches, there are several city, county and state parks that showcase the diverse ecology of the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Matanzas Pass Preserve is on Fort Myers Beach, but will lure you away from the sand with nature trails sheltered by mangroves and oak trees. The Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail has a landing at Matanzas Preserve, so it’s an easy location to launch a kayak or canoe for an afternoon of aquatic exploration. If you choose not to venture onto the water, you can still view Estero Bay from the shade of a pavilion along the trail.

Caloosahatchee Regional Park has almost 800 acres of undeveloped park land and habitat including cypress swamps, pine flatwoods and oak hammocks. There are over 20 miles of trails for hiking, with some trails designated for mountain bikes or equestrian use. You can fish or kayak on the Caloosahatcheee River. Guided walks and kayaking trips are among the programmed events at this county park.

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge
Diana Robinson / White Pelicans at J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida / Flickr

Sanibel Island is a favorite place to spend the day while in Fort Myers. Visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to get out of the midday sun and explore forested and coastal settings. The refuge is on the sound side of the island and is known as one of the region’s best locations to view birdlife. The visitor/education center is where to start if you want to learn about the environmental and historic features of the site. A Wildlife Drive is open to cars, hikers and bikers Sunday through Thursday. Several trails of varying length meander through the site. Guided canoe and kayak tours are also available.

Another excellent spot for birders is Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve. You may see eagles, ibis, herons and other wading or migratory birds while visiting this preserved green space managed by the City of Cape Coral. Boardwalks allow you you to safely cross brackish water wetlands. In keeping with the mission of the site, bicycles, skateboards and dogs are not allowed on the trails.

Estero Bay Preserve State Park was the first aquatic preserve established in the State of Florida. One of the largest parks in the area, it has over 10,000 acres of land. The Park is also part of the The Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, and has much to explore from water or the shore. There are miles of hiking and biking trails with observation decks where you can stop to rest and enjoy nature.

Though these parks are some of the most popular places for Fort Myers Beach nature lovers, there are many other nearby sites and preserves where you can enjoy the native flora and fauna of the Fort Myers region.