A Look into the Great Outdoors of Bonita and Estero
Jan 01, 2016 11:37AM ● Published by Corinne Moore
The weather of Southwest Florida is ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and paddling. From October to May, it’s usually dry and temperatures are pleasant―a great improvement from the northern cold. Even in the heat of summer, you can certainly get out in the relative coolness of the morning or perhaps later, if you take the right precautions.
“Bonita Springs has a variety to offer for the outdoor recreational enthusiast,” according to Nicole Perino, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “The fabulous weather and flat ground are a great attraction for bikers,” adds Darla Letourneau of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition devoted to safe and convenient bicycling and walking routes.
Lee County Parks & Recreation’s Mike Hammond, coordinator of the Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail, says, “The paddling in Estero and Bonita is like paddling back in time. You can start on the beach and kayak up the rivers until you feel like you’re in a jungle.” He sums up the area’s outdoor opportunities: “Estero and Bonita have something for everyone. Nature lovers will love all the native and exotic plants and animals along the shorelines; history buffs will be fascinated by the Calusa and Koreshan culture left behind; and families will love the calm protected waters.”
Hikers, bikers and paddlers can get exercise and enjoy nature’s incredible beauty in the following places in the Bonita and Estero area: (Each website offers more details on location, facilities, fees and hours.)
Barefoot Beach Preserve (colliergov.net/index.aspx?page=455#preserve) is a 340-acre Collier County park on Wiggins Island, south of Estero Bay. It is one of the last undeveloped barrier islands along the Southwest Florida coast. The Alice Saylor Nature Trail goes out a mile and a half toward Wiggins Pass, with another half-mile round trip to the pass itself. Guided tours are available and there is a shaded path through the forest. Barefoot Beach Preserve is a good example of coastal ecosystems. Wildlife includes gopher tortoises. And Barefoot Beach Preserve is one of the best beaches in Southwest Florida.
CREW Bird Rookery Swamp (corkscrew.audubon.org) is within the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, located 1 1.4 miles east of I-75 off of CR 846. A 12-mile loop trail system is open year-round to hikers and bicyclists. The trail, part of an old logging tramway system, offers visitors close-up opportunities to view wildlife in this cypress-maple swamp. crewtrust.org/2013/06/26/bird-rookery-swamp-trail/
CREW Corkscrew Marsh Trails (floridahikes.com/crew-corkscrew-marsh)are located on Corkscrew Road in the northernmost section of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, east of Estero. The CREW Marsh trails feature a series of loop trails that wind 5.5 miles through pine flatwoods, oak hammocks and along the edge of the 5,000-acre marsh. An observation tower allows for birds-eye views of the marsh. crewtrust.org/
Cullum’s Trail (cityofbonitasprings.org/parks/bonita-nature-place/) is a nature trail along the Imperial River at the Bonita Nature Place in Bonita Springs. The trail is less than a mile round trip through forests of oak, palm and cypress. Clear water lets you see the fish swimming in the river. Mostly packed shells with some boardwalks, the trail can become partly submerged during very wet periods. Biking trails also available.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/Delnor-Wiggins), located between Bonita Springs and North Naples, is a166-acre state park right along the coast. Although mainly known for its easily accessible beach, the park also contains a short nature trail. The trail (boardwalk) starts at the far end of the last parking area. Dense vegetation includes cabbage palms and red mangroves. An observation tower about a third of a mile out offers great views of Wiggins Pass and the Gulf. The round trip is less than a mile and is on flat ground, making for an easy walk. Walk out on the beach if you’d like a longer excursion.
Estero Bay Preserve State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/estero-bay) is comprised of more than 10,000 acres. Included are Estero Bay and its islands (the Aquatic Preserve) and the surrounding shore areas and waterways (Preserve State Park). It also includes Mound Key Archaeological State Park and is bordered by Lovers Key State Park. The park is a perfect location for exploring by kayak or canoe, with plenty of wildlife in the mangrove wetlands. For hiking, the Winkler Point Trails above Hell Peckney Bay (near the park’s northern tip) have three interconnected loops: the 2.2-mile Blue, 1.5-mile Yellow and 1.1-mile Orange. Two observation decks overlook tidal ponds. There are mangrove forests, salt marshes and tidal marshes. These low, swampy areas typically flood during the wet season and the best time to hike is January through May.
Estero River Scrub, in Estero Bay Preserve State Park, has four trails that total nine miles and wind through pine flatwoods and tidal salt flats. Trails can be muddy or submerged in the wet season; the best time to hike is October to May. Off-road cycling is also available.
Estero River State Paddling Trail (usgulfcoaststatesgeotourism.com/content/estero-river-state-paddling-trail/gulCE0548603F1DDA7EC) is a nine-mile paddle from Koreshan State Park to Lovers Key State Park. It is considered easy to start but more challenging as you reach Estero Bay with its tides, wind, waves and motor boat traffic. Sites include subtropical hammocks, mangrove swamps and many birds.
Great Calusa Blueway (fortmyers-sanibel.com/calusablueway) is a 190-mile marked paddling trail along Lee County coastal waters and occasionally up some inland waterways. The southern part runs along and up the Estero River to the Imperial River. Marine life and shore birds abound.
Imperial River (floridarambler.com/florida-canoeing-kayaking-paddling/imperial-river-kayak-trail-bonita-springs/) extends nine miles from Bonita Springs to Estero Bay. It’s tree-lined but goes through developed areas. Clear water allows views of fish, turtles and often manatees. The river is easy paddling but gets very shallow toward the headwaters.
Koreshan State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/Koreshan) was a religious colony established in the late 1800s along the Estero River. Its historic structures and landscaped grounds have been fully restored, and guided tours are available. There is a hiking trail along the river and a running trail along the park boundary through a pine flatwoods habitat. Kayak or canoe on the Estero River out to Estero Bay. Canoe rentals are available and paddling tours are also offered.
Lovers Key State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/Lovers-Key) is a favorite place for hiking, biking and paddling. Comprised of four barrier islands, the 1,600-acre park lies between Estero Bay and the Gulf, equidistant from Bonita Springs and Estero. For hiking, the 2.5-mile Black Island Trail and the 1.1-mile Eagle Trail go through maritime hammocks. The trails are typically grass or hard dirt and are easily negotiated. There are five miles of biking trails (to be shared with hikers), including Black Island Trail and Eagle Trail. Bring your own bike or rent one. There are two and a half miles of kayak/canoe routes through the mangrove estuaries. Again, you can bring your own boat or rent one. The park is also great for bird watching.
Mound Key Archaeological State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/mound-key) is an island in Estero Bay accessible only by boat. It likely was a ceremonial center for the Calusa Indians. Shell mounds rise 30 feet above water. A three-quarter-mile trail spans the width of the island, through mangroves and over shell mounds.
Adventures Kayaking (adventureskayaking.com) offers eco-guided kayak tours, with kayaks provided. Its main launch location is on the southeast corner of Estero Bay, just south of Lovers Key on Bay’s Island. Tours include Mound Key State Park, the Imperial River, Koreshan State Park and Estero Bay.
CGT Kayaks Inc. (cgtkayaks.com) also provides eco-guided kayak tours in the Bonita Springs area. Tours include the Imperial River, Mound Key and the “Imperial River Moonlight Bat Paddle.”
Kayak rentals are available at Adventures Kayaking (adventureskayaking.com), CGT Kayaks Inc. (cgtkayaks.com), Estero River Outfitters (esteroriveroutfitters.com) and Lovers Key State Park (floridastateparks.org/park/Lovers-Key).
Additional Info for Bicyclists
Currently, there are not many “true” bicycle routes (public roads with bike lanes or shared use biking/walking paths) in the Bonita and Estero area. However, Darla Letourneau of BikeWalkLee (bikewalklee.org) says there is an “incredible desire” on the part of area residents to have more bike routes. She notes the Bonita area has increased such routes by 12.5 miles in the past four years alone. BikeWalkLee’s website has maps of bike routes throughout Lee County, resources and safety information.
Additional Info for Hikers and Walkers
Hikers and walkers will find route information on the BikeWalkLee website (bikewalklee.org). Also, area malls offer opportunities for general walking.
Other Useful Websites
Outdoor Safety Tips
Heat: Drink plenty of fluids; in summer, limit activities to mornings.
Cold: Occasionally in winter, hypothermia can be a problem especially if one gets wet or is in the water; dress appropriately, stay dry.
Sun: Use sunscreen (SPF30 or higher) and/or protective clothing.
Thunderstorms: Mostly in summer; check forecast and especially radar to determine threat, know basic lightning safety rules (when and where to seek shelter), beware of flash flooding.
Wildlife and Plant Life
Alligators: They often sun themselves along the banks of rivers, ponds and even on paths; give a wide berth, never feed.
Poisonous snakes: Be able to identify them or, better yet, leave all snakes alone.
Black bears: Rare for them to attack people but they will go after food.
Panthers: Wildlife officials report “the species tends to avoid people and does not regard people as a prey, preferring deer, wild hogs and small mammals.”
Insects: Wear protective clothing and use bug spray.
Poisonous plants: Be able to recognize and avoid poisonous plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac, as well as poisonwood and stinging nettles. Wear long pants.
Be aware of hunters.
Keep a cell phone with you for emergencies or if you get lost.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Freelance writer Ed Brotak is a retired meteorology professor turned stay-at-home dad. He and his family live in western North Carolina but they love Florida and vacation there every chance they get.