Ahead of the Curve: The Joy of Exploring
Places that’ll thrill nature-lovers
Illustration by Adam McCauley
When you want to commune with nature in Southwest Florida, you’ve got a lot of options. Obviously, for sun worshipping, you can do worse than our miles of wonderful beaches. If it’s a wild experience you seek, there are state and national parks and preserves, from J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. There are the Koreshan State Historic Sites and Everglades National Parks, too, plus dozens of other natural oases. Here’s a sampling of the choices.
Babcock Ranch Preserve
Purchased in 2006 in one of the largest land preservation deals in Florida’s history, the 73,000 acres of preserve in north Lee and southeast Charlotte counties offer myriad opportunities for exploration. From hiking to hunting to paddling to bird-watching to Jeep explorations, this public-private partnership has just about everything a nature lover could want. Prices vary depending on what you want to do. myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/cooperative/babcock-ranch-preserve
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Carved out in a section of land near the intersection of Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway in Naples, this 50-acre park offers a chance to see birds, native plants, and even a gator or two without trekking miles out into the Everglades. With trails, lookout pavilions and a beautiful boardwalk, it’s easy to think you are miles away from town. Free. colliergov.net
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
The preserve was founded in the late 1970s after a group of students put forth a ballot initiative to save 2,500 acres of wetlands—running from northeast of the Colonial-Interstate-75 intersection past Hammond Stadium along, appropriately, Six Mile Cypress Parkway—from logging and forced drainage. Now the slough (pronounced “slew”) is home to thousands of species of plants and animals that can be viewed from the 1.2-mile boardwalk or on guided walks. Free admission, but parking is $1 per hour or up to $5 per visit. leeparks.org/sixmile
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Home to the largest stand of old-growth bald cypress in North America and one of the largest breeding grounds for wood storks in the world, this 13,000-acre Audubon preserve off Immokalee Road is a treasure trove of nature. Depending on when you visit, you might spot a ghost orchid, wading bird nesting seasons or massive wildflower blooms along the 2.25-mile boardwalk. $12 for adults, $6 for college students, $4 for secondary students. corkscrew.audubon.org
161 The number of state-run parks, preserves and historic sites in Florida. More than 25 million people visit them annually.