Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Hike exquisite cypress forest in Naples
Nov. 14, 2017: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was hit hard by Hurrican Irma. It has re-opened and you now can walk a short loop at a reduced entrance fee ($10 adults; under 18 free.) Sadly, Corkscrew lost two of its iconic Landmark Trees. These were 12 original cypress trees that were hundreds of years old; each was given a name. (Da Vinci and Guy Bradley were the lost trees; the others are fine.)
NAPLES — One of the most exquisite parcels of land that has been preserved for us in Florida is found about 15 miles east of Naples — the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
The facility’s signage says its special because the endangered wood stork nests there and because it is the largest piece of ancient cypress forest preserved in Florida.
But I think it’s special because walking 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. And, of course, they were.
I’ve visited Corkscrew Swamp both in winter and summer, and have found it to be a quiet place, where you can hear a rustle in the brush that signals a snake’s movement. On a recent visit, the air was filled with bird calls and butterflies.
My companion was an orchid lover who got goosebumps when he spotted the trees lush with airplants, resurrection ferns and birds nest ferns, to name only a few.
Corkscrew’s boardwalk travels through a pine upland, a wet prairie, a cypress forest, and a marsh, and excellent interpretive signs help identify plants and ecosystems. For example, we were stunned by the profusion of maple trees with bright red leaves in the prairie. We learned their leaves are red when they first emerge in a sunny locale and turn green in the shade.
The National Audubon Society began its effort to save Corkscrew Swamp in 1912, when it hired wardens to protect egrets and other birds from plume hunters. (A shelter on the trail marks the spot where a plume hunter’s camp had been.)
Sixty years ago, this parcel, the last three miles of a bald cypress forest that once stretched 20 miles, was owned by a lumber company and scheduled for logging. Local folks who loved this swamp — birders, photographers, garden clubs — raised $200,000 and the Audubon Society purchased it.
The Corkscrew trail, largely shady, features benches and rain shelters along the way. The Audubon Society offers many aids to enhance visits — a field guide, a children’s activity book, free wheelchairs and strollers.
Every season brings special charms. In winter, birder travel from all over the world (I met a woman from Great Britain while there) to spot painted buntings and other species. In August, the very rare ghost orchid (famous from the Meryl Streep movie, Adaptation) blooms and can often be spotted.
Don’t be afraid of a summer visit. The boardwalk is largely shaded and the gambusia fish eat mosquito larva, so the bugs aren’t bad.
For those who do not wish to walk the full 2.25 miles, an optional trail shortens the walk to one mile.
If you read the many reviews on Tripadvisor.com, you’ll find the only visitors who didn’t love the place are those with high, unmet expectations for wildlife sightings. My advice? Go for the trees and plants, and consider the wildlife a bonus.
Packing a picnic? There are tables under trees around the parking area and seating on the patio porch or inside next to a snack bar.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center
375 Sanctuary Road West
Naples, FL 34120
Admission: $14 for adults, $6 for full-time college student with photo ID, $4 for students 6 to 18 and free for kids under 6.
- October 1 through April 10: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Related information: The preserve’s website.
Things to do in Naples near Corkscrew Sanctuary
- Naples is great base for a variety of outdoor activities.
- Biking along the beach in Naples.
- Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park: Beaches, kayaking, picnics and more
- Camping: Naples/Marco Island KOA, Collier-Seminole State Park, Koreshan State Historic Park (a really interesting visit on its own)
- Beaches: Clam Pass Park, where you ride the tide for a lazy-river effect, and Barefoot Beach, ranked one of the best beaches in America.
- Kayaking plus wacky Florida history: Koreshan State Historic Site, on the Estero River
- Everglades outpost: Collier-Seminole State Park for camping, kayaking, hiking
Updated March 2017