Bike & Hike / Southwest Florida

Biking Sanibel Island: Bicycle trails take you to all the best spots

Biking Sanibel: By bicycle, you can stop at beach access spots that don't have vehicle parking.

Biking Sanibel: By bicycle, you can stop at beach access spots that don’t have vehicle parking.

When you glide around Sanibel Island on its 25 miles of bike trails, you are apt to think: All of Florida should be like this.

Alas, it’s not, which is why it’s a treat to tour Sanibel by bike.

Sanibel, the barrier island off the Gulf Coast from Fort Myers, is more famous for its seashells and its beaches.

But the island also has bike trails next to nearly all its roads, trails that provide access to beaches where cars can’t park, past beautiful Gulf-front mansions and through the woods to Sanibel’s pioneer cemetery, which is not accessible by car.

Sanibel bike trails are wide, smooth and well-marked.

Sanibel bike trails are wide, smooth and well-marked.

If you can’t bring your own bike to Sanibel, the main drag, Periwinkle Way, has several businesses that rent bikes, including tandems, four-wheel buggy types and trailer-style carriers to pull the kids. (Also, many island hotels have bicycles for guest use.)

You’ll see lots of people of all ages and types on bikes on Sanibel. The trails are separated from the roadways, making them safe for families with children.

Sanibel’s bike trails are wide, smooth and well-marked. There are several water fountains along the trails and there are bike racks everywhere.

You do see performance bikers here too. Those interested in speed and distance seem to rise early and use the roads rather than the bike trails for early-morning workouts.

Here are a few suggestions on where to go by bike on Sanibel:

Biking to Sanibel Lighthouse Cafe is a good way to start the day.

Biking to Sanibel Lighthouse Cafe is a good way to start the day.

The eastern (lighthouse) end of the island is fun to explore on bike because it’s shady and you don’t have to worry about parking in what can be a congested area. Lock your bike and visit the picturesque lighthouse (120 years old; not open for tours) and fishing pier.

In this old part of town, several roads remain unpaved. These hard-packed sand lanes end in lovely waterfront sites where cars can’t park.

On our recent visit, we biked about five miles along Gulf Drive, parallel to the beach, to have breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe, 362 Periwinkle Way. (We’ve been coming here for the famous Granula Nut Whole Wheat Pancakes and Whole Wheat Blueberry pancakes for 25 years.)

One Sanibel bike path leads to pioneer cemetery. (Photo via Flickr, courtesy sheeshoo)

The Middle Gulf Cemetery bike trail. East of Casa Ybel Road, the Middle Gulf Drive bike path leaves the roadside. This route goes to Sanibel’s pioneer cemetery, over the river and to the beach at Gulfside Park.

Sanibel bike trails

Sanibel bike trails

Wildlife Drive through J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful way to see birds and alligators. It’s a four-mile loop within the refuge that ends three miles from where you started. The drive, formerly gravel, has been paved for good bicycling. Cyclists pay $1 per person.

The longest stretch of bicycle trail is on the western end of the island, Sanibel-Captive Road. You pass Ding Darling refuge and can continue almost to Blind Pass (the division between Sanibel and Captiva.) Along the way, you can stop at the Shell Museum or Bowman’s Beach. Bowman’s Beach, one of Sanibel’s more remote beaches, is known for great shelling. From the parking lot, you walk a quarter mile and cross a wooden bridge over a freshwater lagoon. It’s a fabulous walk west along an unspoiled beach filled with wading birds and shells. You can walk all the way to Blind Pass.

The Sanibel Causeway is open — and free — to bikes. If you’re staying on the Fort Myers side (where hotels are less expensive, incidentally), you can bike over the causeway and save the $6 toll. The causeway is three bridges connected by manmade islands that are developed as popular parks. One of the thrills of a Sanibel getaway is traveling over Pine Island Sound with gorgeous views of water and islands. Let me warn you, though: It looks like a mighty high bridge to pedal.

Captiva, by the way, does not have bike paths.

Here’s a great resource for planning an outing: A site with a detailed bike-path map of Sanibel.

This blog post is the enthusiastic report of a Chicagoan who discovers the joys of biking Sanibel in the winter sunshine.

 

Sanibel bike trails will lead you to some beaches not reachable by car.

Things to do on Sanibel Island:

 

Bike trails in Southwest Florida:

 

Late afternoon lighting on a Sanibel beach.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Florida is a weird place | Thoughts on the Urban Environment

  2. e lizzle says:

    Wildlife Drive is now entirely paved, so no need to worry about tires, it’s a smooth ride for the entire length.

  3. Very good article. Seen others in biking Sanibel, but none as good as yours.

  4. thanks Bonnie for providing such an oustanding intimate view of the Sanibel island. I will be vacationinig there in a few weeks, so the wealth of information that you have provided in your blog will comes in really handy. I also like your review of Cayo Costa. Any ideas on how to combat the cold inside of the rustic cabins? heard the temps have been running in the upper 30’s to low 40’s.
    John

    • Thanks for the question, John.

      It’s cold here (Fort Lauderdale) today! But that is really rare. I hope you’re lucky and get one of our warm winter weeks when you visit. Florida’s forecast was for a warmer than usual winter, but that doesn’t exclude cold snaps (as we have today.)

      Those wooden cabins on Cayo Costa are designed for hot weather and I doubt there’s much you can do to stay warm inside if you hit a cold spell. The windows have Bahama-type shutters that can be closed to eliminate the breeze you seek the rest of the year. That will make the cabins a little dark, even during the day, so battery-operated lanterns will be important. Warm sleeping bags will help, of course.

      Beyond that, the unpredictability of winter weather here is one reason you can still book cabins in January. If you look at cabins in March — much more reliably warm and still dry — Cayo Costa is pretty well booked up.

      I hope this helps.

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