~ 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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
Things to do on Sanibel Island:
- What makes Sanibel so special — and nine ways to experience it
- Sanibel Island is kayak paradise. Here’s a guide to where and how to explore by kayak.
- On your way to Sanibel: Six Mile Slough is a wild boardwalk minutes off I-75
Bike trails in Southwest Florida:
- Punta Gorda has developed several bike trails in and around the city.
- Shark Valley in Everglades National Park is one of a favorite bike trail.
- Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park is a continuous 20-mile trail.
- Naples is a great place to explore by bike.