Bunche Beach is a favorite among locals, but its out-of-the-way location and status as a county keeps it little known by visitors.
The Lee County park preserves 718 acres of beautiful and unspoiled land — sandy beaches, salt flats and mangrove forests, all along San Carlos Bay overlooking Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach.
There are a few main reasons to visit Bunche Beach Preserve:
- In winter, there is excellent birding. Big beautiful white pelicans winter here. In winter 2016, a lone flamingo took up residence on its salt flats and posed for hundreds of nature photographers. The iconic pink visitor hasn’t returned, but plenty of other birds have.
- Bunche Beach has beautiful mangrove tunnels and kayak trails. In summer, you can kayak here in some shade and spend time in and out of the water cooling off.
- It’s a quiet, uncrowded beach where you can wade far out and children can play in shallow sand flats. People find live shells, sea stars and other critters. There are spectacular sunsets and you can stroll a mile along the beach in either direction from the inlet. With parking at $2 an hour, it’s a relative bargain compared to many options.
A few warnings to you: There is not much beach at high tide (fine for strolling, not great for setting up a sun shade and spending the day.) Also: no see ums can be bad in summer at dawn and dusk; bring bug spray.
Kayaking at Bunche Beach Preserve
There’s an excellent kayak launch site and a friendly outfitter, Kayak Excursions, who can rent you kayaks and stand up paddleboards and explain the various kayak trails.
From the kayak launch site, you can paddle along mangrove creeks and through narrow mangrove tunnels. You also can paddle a short way out Rock Creek into San Carlos Bay.
On a January outing, we combined the two options, canoeing out Rock Creek, past broad salt flats and sandbars, then north along what is called Plover Beach to an inlet where a spectacularly beautiful creek winds its way through mangroves filled with birds. When the creek narrowed, we turned around and returned the way we came. (It is possible to continue, but it gets very narrow with little headroom and the outfitters didn’t recommend going the whole route.)
We paddled a few hours before low tide, which meant the salt flats had only an inch or two of water on our return. And that was just fine — the solid sandy bottom was a joy to walk on. We carried the heaviest items and pulled our boat through the shallows, enjoying the spectacular views and finding live shells along the way.
Bunche Beach wildlife is plentiful
We had two wonderful wildlife encounters.
First, flocks of migratory white pelicans joined the crowd of birds on the sandbars, and we couldn’t get enough of admiring them. With their 9-foot wingspan and 30+ pound weight, these shy birds stood out like giants among the brown pelicans who shared the flats. We spotted so many other birds – magnificent frigatebirds and ospreys overhead, yellow-crowned night herons and kingfishers in the mangroves, reddish egrets, terns and skimmers on the sandbars. (Bunche Beach is a site on the Great Florida Birding Trail.)
Second, as we skirted the sandbars and paddled in deeper waters of San Carlos Bay, we heard the whooshing noise of a dolphin breathing and then enjoyed watching two dolphins actively capturing fish nearby. (At one point, a dolphin flipped a fish high into the air.)
Bunche Beach is one of several dozen designated kayaking routes that are part of the Great Calusa Blueway. A joint project of Lee County Parks and Recreation and the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, the Blueway is a series of marked trails for kayakers. The Calusa Blueway will mail a free set of maps to anyone who requests them.
The interesting history of Bunche Beach
In segregated Fort Myers in 1949, it was a happy day for African American residents when a “colored beach” was opened at Bunche Beach. The dedication was a festive barbecue that attracted 3,000 people from the entire region.
The beach was named for a great man whose story is not well known now, but should be. Ralph Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, the first African American to do so. Bunche was the mediator for the United Nations who reached an accord between Palestinians and Israelis at the founding of Israel. It was difficult and dangerous work – his predecessor in that role had been assassinated in a plot that was supposed to kill Bunche too. Bunche went on to be a civil rights leader who participated in the 1963 March on Washington and other protests.
San Carlos Bay – Bunche Beach Preserve
18201 John Morris Rd, Fort Myers, FL 33908
Phone: (239) 765-6794
Kayak Excursions, outfitters at the Bunche Beach
Parking: $2 per hour parking fee. Approximately 100 vehicles can park near the beach. There is a separate parking lot for two dozen cars and a restroom at the kayak launch site.
NOTE: See our updated Florida Red Tide Report.
More things to do near Fort Myers
- Where to see white pelicans wintering in Florida
- Kayak Orange river in Fort Myers for manatees in winter, Old Florida scenery
- Lovers Key State Park: Great beach, kayaking and manatees in winter
- Koreshan State Historic Site in Naples: Wacky Florida history; lovely spot preserved
- Fort Myers Beach is a charming seaside getaway
- Clam Pass Park, a Naples beach where you ride the tide
- Kayaking Imperial River in Bonita Springs
- Kayak Sanibel and Captiva
- What makes Sanibel so special
- Bicycling Sanibel Island
A note from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.