Naples park has camping, kayak trails, lovable historic dredge
As you head into the southwest corner of Florida, the world gets wilder and wetter. Vast stretches look like thickly forested land, but they’re actually mangrove swamps, impenetrable except by boat.
Collier-Seminole State Park preserves 7,271 acres of this Florida wilderness. It’s mostly mangroves, but is also home to an original rare stand of royal palms. The park is 17 miles south of Naples right on the Tamiami Trail (SR 41.) The only cities down here are beach-front Marco Island and the outposts of Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which are literally at the end of the road.
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”? The hulking dredge was used to build the first road across the Everglades, a feat many doubted was possible.
The Naples park has plenty going for it. Folks love the picnic grounds and playground across from the river and boat ramp. The riverfront is a great place to hang out; on sunny March Saturday, we saw people fishing, reading, napping, paddling canoes and enjoying this slice of natural Florida.
Canoe and kayak trail
The canoe and kayak trail on the Blackwater River is another draw. It’s easy to explore: The park rents canoes for $25 for the day or $5 an hour, and plenty of never-before-paddlers were giving it a try the day we visited. We spent three hours on the river in a rented canoe and paddled under a twisting, deep-green mangrove canopy to Mud Bay, where we turned around and paddled back.
If you are looking for a longer paddle, you can do the whole 13.6 mile round-trip, which generally requires camping at a primitive camp site on one of the rare strips of higher ground called Grocery Place. (To register to camp or rent a canoe, register at the ranger station.) Visitors in kayaks and canoes should check the tides. Mud Bay becomes an impassable mud bay at low tide.
Our kayak trip was pretty and pleasant, but the scenery is unvarying and, to our surprise, wildlife was scarce. We were happy with our few hours on the river. The 13.6 mile trail might be good for those looking for a wilderness experience and the challenge of a longer paddle.
Hiking trails and biking trails
There’s a short nature trail in the park directly across from the boat dock. (It’s just under a mile.) It includes a boardwalk and observation platform overlooking the salt marsh. You’ll pass some of the famous royal palms and see plenty of beautiful native plants, trees and butterflies.
For a longer hike, try the park’s 6.5-mile trail through pine flatwoods and cypress swamp. (The trailhead is on the Tamiami Trail outside the park’s entrance.) There’s a primitive campsite for backpackers along the way; register at the park ranger station.
Off-road biking or hiking is also available on the Historic Marco Road along a 3.5 mile course along marsh, hammock and pine flatwood. When we visited, this trail was closed because of nesting bald eagles.
Camping at Collier-Seminole Park
The 120 campsites ($22 a night) book up early for winter dates. Past campers warn about mosquitoes in the park, although we experienced none during our March day-time visit, which included a canoe trip and a few hours hiking and exploring in the park. (Mosquitos are sure to be an issue May to October. Winter visitors should still be prepared, although their presence might be less intense.)
Some of the campsites are shaded and beautifully situated. Sites are close together, however, particularly for large RVs. The smaller camping loop for 19 tent campers provides a pleasant, wooded alternative for the non-RV crowd. The park offers full-facility camp sites with water, electricity and restrooms.
The historic Bay City Walking Dredge
The huge monster-like walking dredge is on display in the park, testimony to one of Old Florida’s great stories: How Baron Collier built the first road across the Everglades. Begun in 1915, the Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, thanks in part to the Bay City Walking Dredge.
I’m not the kind of person who is a likely fan of a dredge. But there’s something about Bay City Walking Dredge #489 that won we over. I think it’s the way the signs explained that Meece Ellis and Earl Ivey (can’t you just hear a banjo-accompanied folk song with those names?) operated this machine six days a week in sweltering, mosquito-infested Florida heat, digging the Tamiami Trail. (Never mind that the road was a very bad idea for the plumbing of the river of grass; Meece and Earl couldn’t know that.) The dredge is the last of its kind in existence.
There are both saltwater and freshwater fish in the brackish Blackwater River. To keep freshwater fish, you need a freshwater license; to keep saltwater fish, you need a saltwater license.
Collier-Seminole State Park
20200 E. Tamiami Trail
Naples, Florida 34114
Camping reservations via ReserveAmerica
Things to do in Naples and nearby
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
- Tamiami Trail scenic drive
- Camping: Naples/Marco Island KOA, Koreshan State Historic Park in Fort Myers (a really interesting visit on its own)
- Nearby beaches: Clam Pass Park, Barefoot Beach and Tigertail Beach are all “hidden gems” worth discovering.
- Shark Valley, an entrance to Everglades National Park
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, on the Tamiami Trail
- Ochopee Post Office, on the Tamiami Trail
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Visiting nearby Everglades City and Chokoloskee:
- 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.
- If you visit Everglades City, don’t miss the historic Smallwood Store.
- Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center: A good place to take boat tours into the Ten Thousand Island NWR and get information about kayaking and hiking in the area.
- Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
Interesting Everglades City places to stay and eat: