THERE ARE PLENTY OF PLACES that sit within striking distance of incredible natural landscapes. Mountains in the distance, a quick drive to the ocean…sure, that’s nice. And yet, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel isn’t your typical “city with easy nature access” — this is more like “nature with easy city access.”

There are the islands with world-class beaches, yes, but you can also venture further into unexpected natural wonderlands here: a kayaking trail that winds through mangrove forest, expansive parks with towering trees, and birds, dolphins, turtles — hundreds and hundreds of species — making their home within it all.

We think you’ll be convinced after just one look that Southwest Florida is your gateway to pristine nature — but just in case, we’re giving you 18.

1

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

This national wildlife refuge makes up a significant portion of Sanibel Island and is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the country. To experience it at its best, hop off Wildlife Drive at any of the designated points to go kayaking, canoeing, or SUPing. Located just a few minutes from the refuge are the Beach Cottages of Sanibel, which can help ensure your stay revolves around Mother Nature.
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2

The wildlife of Southwest Florida

There's plenty of wildlife on land in the Fort Myers area, but the water holds just as many surprises, like this West Indian manatee. Keep an eye out for otters, manta rays, crabs, and sea turtles, too.
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3

Bunche Beach Preserve

Located between Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island on San Carlos Bay is Bunche Beach, a natural preserve replete with mangrove forests, salt flats, and wide open, sandy beaches. It's also great for bird watching—at low tide, hundreds of birds swarm in to mine the mud flats for crabs and worms. To get in on sunsets like this, take a sunset cruise with Pure Florida. But fair warning—every sunset after will likely pale in comparison.
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4

Sanibel sea turtles

Everywhere you look on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, there's bound to be some kind of natural attraction—so be sure to keep your eyes peeled and watch your step. If you're visiting with kids and want to help them learn to respect and appreciate the stunning natural world around them, check out the Friend of the Islands tour from Captain Bubby's IsLAND Tours, one of several themed tours they offer. You can even create your own custom tour, too.
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5

Night skies

All that pristine nature means plenty of spots where you can catch an unadulterated view of the night sky—another natural surprise this region has in store.
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6

The Great Calusa Blueway

It's as pretty as it sounds. The first section of the Great Calusa Blueway runs through Estero Bay, the second to Pine Island and Matlacha Pass, and the third takes kayakers and canoers all the way to the Caloosahatchee River. To stay right along the Caloosahatchee and have options like this at your doorstep, try The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. You can be on the water in seconds.
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7

The living colors of Sanibel Island

The roseate spoonbill is just one of many fascinating species you'll find on Sanibel Island (though others may not be as easy to spot!). For immediate access to the best of Sanibel, combined with the conveniences of private-home living, check out the Sandalfoot Beachfront Condominiums when you're planning your stay.
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8

Koreshan State Historic Site

Today, visitors can fish, picnic, boat, and hike at this historic site, but in the past it was something much different. A colony was built here in 1894 called the Koreshan Unity, whose residents held some interesting cosmological beliefs. The community may be gone now, but structures from as far back as 1882 provide a unique view into the past.
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9

A haven for birds

The aforementioned J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is famous for a lot of things, but what perhaps tops that list is its beautiful (and large) bird populations—there are over 300 species that call this place a seasonal home. If you visit, be sure to bring your binoculars and your camera, as this is bird watching at its finest. Want easy access? Stay at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, an obvious choice for those looking to keep it green.
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10

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

Both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford found Fort Myers so beautiful they purchased land to build vacation homes here. Nowadays, both estates are open to visitors, and the site is also home to a 21-acre botanical garden, where you'll find scenes like the one pictured above. The thousands of exotic plants onsite are a great complement to the historic buildings, like the Edison Ford Museum. Here, it's a one-stop-shop for everything history and nature.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

11

The best of the beach

Soft white sand and teal waters for days. The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are obviously epic for photography and swimming, but parasailing and kayaking (and let's be honest, relaxing) are big here, too. Grab a spot on the sand or get on a waverunner for a dolphin eco-tour—it's all good. For accommodations that let you pick from all of the above attractions, look no further than The Inns of Sanibel. Bonus: They also provide complimentary kayaks, paddle boards, and beach umbrellas for guests.
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12

Captiva Island

Just north of Sanibel Island is Captiva Island, and, yes, it looks like this. It's also a place of legends—pirates roamed the area, conquistadors explored, Calusa Indians called it home, and Teddy Roosevelt threw in many a line. We could go on, but this picture is worth far more than any description. To get views like this, head straight to South Seas Island Resort, one of Captiva's best accommodation options.
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13

Launching into adventure

All those miles of padding trails are tailor made for adventure. Rent a canoe or kayak, grab a paddle, and push on in.
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14

Blind Pass Beach Park

If you're the kind of beach-goer who wants nothing between you and the waves (no lifeguards, free parking, the works), Blind Pass should be on your list. You can swim, boat, and fish here, but what's really great is the shelling. Come after a storm and you'll be sure to walk away with bags of treasures. Oh, and the night skies aren't bad either.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

15

Pine Island

Wherever you are on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, access to the outdoors is never hard to come by—most of the time you only have to take a few steps. A prime example is Tarpon Lodge & Restaurant on Pine Island. The historic lodge dates to 1926 and is located adjacent to the Pineland Marina, from where you can catch a boat to just about anywhere on this incredible stretch of coast.
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16

Estero River, Koreshan State Historic Site

Come to Koreshan for the history, stay for the nature. The Estero River is a short 6.4 miles long and empties right into the scenic Estero Bay. Despite its length, it plays a pivotal role in providing for the area's natural biodiversity. Get on the paddling trail at Koreshan, follow it all the way to Lovers Key State Park, and you'll be sure to spot an alligator, a heron, and any number of other surprises—if you stay alert.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

17

Alligator in the wild

There are three national wildlife refuge trails you can get to via Wildlife Drive in Ding Darling, one of them being the Indigo Trail (4 miles round trip). It's here you're likely to spot alligators, night herons, and white ibis. Fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, and bicycling the area will get you up close and personal, too.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

18

Kayaking the miles of waterways

Let's sum up: Rivers, bays, wetland, ocean—The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are absolutely brimming with options to get on the water, and are possibly best experienced from a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. Consider this your invitation through the gateway to pristine nature.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

This post is proudly produced in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.
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