Naples is a very rich place. It is where Fortune 500 executives retire and by some accounts, it has the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita in the U.S. (In that study, Los Alamos, New Mexico, was No. 1.)
For lovers of the natural outdoors, Naples is also very rich in things to do. There are spectacular beaches, one of the largest swaths of old-growth cypress in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and easy proximity to state and national parks preserving Florida’s wildest lands.
The outskirts of Naples are home to the rare Florida panther and the Gulf waters teem with marine life, with dolphins, rays and all sorts of birds regularly viewed from the beaches. It’s an easy place for nature-lovers to love.
Outdoor things to do in Naples
Naples makes a good base for a variety of activities in the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands, the maze of mangrove islands that form the southwest coast of Florida below Naples. It offers a great variety of places to kayak, hiking trails, some good camping spots and some of the best places to get stone crabs during crab season.
To explore Naples itself, consider bringing or renting a bike, because the older Gulf-front neighborhoods are lush with tropical landscaping, billionaire’s mansions and small beach-access parks where you’ll have the sand and water to yourself. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on biking and beach-hopping in Naples.
Beaches in and near Naples
The beaches in Naples are splendid, starting with the area right around its free historic fishing pier, which is always a great place to see dolphins in the water and the catch of the day being reeled in.
Even folks just driving through town stop for a walk on the 1,000-foot long Naples Pier. First built in 1888, it’s been rebuilt five times after hurricanes. Located at the west end of 12th Avenue South off Gulf Shore Boulevard, it is an especially nice place to watch the sunset. The beach around the pier would be the best beach in any other town, but here it’s just one of many. And it’s fun watching what people catch. Here’s video of an angler catching and releasing a huge endangered sawtooth.
The most popular and family-friendly beach in Naples is at Lowdermilk Park, which has ample parking, a concession stand that serves hot dogs and hamburgers, sand volleyball courts, two children’s playgrounds, picnic tables, benches plus restroom and showers. It’s at 1301 Gulfshore Blvd. North.
Ready to explore? Try Clam Pass Beach in Naples. First, just reaching it is an adventure: You can walk or take a free tram from the parking lot down a three-quarters-mile long boardwalk through a mangrove forest. Then, from the shady mangrove tunnel, you emerge to a beach with sand that is blindingly white and water impossibly turquoise. The pass itself is a narrow river-like opening in the mangroves, shallow enough an adult can stand at the center except at the highest tide. If you hop into the waters of the pass, you are gently swept away by the tide. If the tide is coming in, you float into a shallow mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide is going out, you float out into the Gulf, which remains shallow for a great distance. It’s a natural “lazy river” adventure, where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun. Located at Seagate Drive and Crayton Road.
We also love Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs, proclaimed the second-best beach in America by the professor who goes by the name Dr. Beach. Though it’s easy to reach, Barefoot Beach makes you feel miles away from highways and highrises. It’s one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast. You may find sand-dollars, shells or spot a bottle-nosed dolphin in the water in the distance . Gopher tortoises and their burrows are plentiful along the nature trail that runs between the sand dunes and the hammock. It’s located on Barefoot Beach Road off Bonita Beach Boulevard.
South of Naples, Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is a pristine sand spit with great birding. You wade across a lagoon to reach the beach.
Things to do near Naples
In the heart of Naples, a 2-mile-long boardwalk and trail through wetlands now connects several natural spots. The free Gordon River Greenway opened in fall 2014. Park at 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road in the joint parking lot between Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The trail is designed for walkers and bicyclists and has wildlife viewing stations, benches, educational signs and restrooms. You also can launch kayaks here.
One of the most exquisite parcels of land that has been preserved in Florida is found about 15 miles east of Naples — the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Its 2.25 mile boardwalk takes you into a green and liquid world where at every turn you see scenes so beautiful they could have been arranged by the world’s best floral designer. Birds, gators and all sorts of flora (including rare orchids) can be seen along the boardwalk. Admission is $10 for adults. The address is 375 Sanctuary Road West. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Corkscrew.
Collier-Seminole State Park draws people who love the natural Florida for camping, hiking and paddling. It’s also home to the 1924 Bay City Walking Dredge, and how often do you get to visit a “National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark”? Here’s more about Collier-Seminole.
Get a taste of the Everglades driving the Tamiami Trail into the Everglades. The Tamiami Trail, the main artery through Naples, continues into the Everglades as you take it south and east. It gets you close to Everglades scenery and offers several outstanding stops along the way. Your destination could be Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, 52388 Tamiami Trail. Butcher is a world-renown photographer whose large-scale black-and-white photos are designed to make the viewer feel like he is at the center of the photo. Butcher’s studio overlooks a scenic pond, frequented by alligators and wading birds.
Along the way, be sure to stop at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. It’s just north on U.S. 29 on the Tamiami Trail. The 2,000-foot-long boardwalk through old growth cypress swampland is a stunning place.
Near Naples in Bonita Springs, where you will find a great place to kayak or canoe. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on paddling the Imperial River.
Visiting nearby Everglades City and Chokoloskee
When you’re ready for a visit to authentic Old Florida, head south an hour where the road ends in Chokoloskee, an island just off Everglades City. Here you’ll find Historic Smallwood Store, a general store that is now a museum. It opened in 1906 when Chokoloskee was the Wild West and Ted Smallwood was a pioneer. This wooden building was an Indian trading post, post office and general store. It’s still owned and run by Ted Smallwood’s family.
Nearby, Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center is a good place to take boat tours into the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and get information about kayaking and hiking in the area.
Everglades City is a good place for fresh seafood such as stone crabs and for kayaking into the 10,000 Islands. We’ve written about a “tame” kayak trip from Everglades City and a more ambitious kayak camping trip on one of those islands, Indian Key.
Other places to explore near Naples:
Shark Valley, an entrance to Everglades National Park
For families: Sun-N-Fun Lagoon is a big, busy and happy water park run by Collier County. If offers five water slides, a lazy river, a diving area, and areas that provide water play for younger children in shallower pools. It’s located at 15000 Livingston Road in Naples, 20 minutes north of downtown. Outside of the busy summer months, check the schedule because Sun-N-Fun is closed in October and November and is open limited days in winter and spring.
With so many waterways, Naples is a great place to take a boat tour. We enjoyed the shelling trip aboard a large catamaran Sweet Liberty. It’s three hours, costs $40 for adults and you spend about an hour on Keewaydin Island, the largely undeveloped barrier island just south of Naples. We’ve also enjoyed a sunset cruise to see bird rookeries offered in winter from the Southwest Florida Nature Conservancy.
Average highs in winter are in the 70s with lows in the 50s. Spring and fall temps see highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s. Highs in summer are in the 90s and lows are in the 70s.
Naples is located at 26°09′11″N 81°47′55″W