Tigertail Beach, a Marco Island adventure, where you wade to wild beach

Tigertail Beach on Marco Island aerial
In this Google Earth image, Tigertail Beach is that white arc along the left. You see the road reaching the beach and path to the beach at the center bottom.

In a wild, remote corner of Florida, surrounded by Everglades and mangrove islands you find incongruous Marco Island, a city of beach-front condo high-rises and manicured suburban streets.

Because of Marco’s intense development, it’s the last place I’d expect to find one of the most beautiful wild beaches in Florida – and one that even promises a few moments of adventure.

Florida's dramatic sky at Tigertail Beach in Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida’s dramatic sky at Tigertail Beach in Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tigertail Beach is a Collier County park, and thus not widely known outside the region. It’s also “new.”

Fifteen years ago, it was an off-shore sandbar. The winds of Hurricane Wilma piled sand on the southern end, and today Sand Dollar Island, as it is called, is connected to the mainland.

Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is unspoiled and uncrowded
Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is unspoiled and uncrowded. (Photo: David Blasco)

Tigertail Beach has a distinct split personality. You pay $8 to park and come to a clean and well-kept park with changing rooms and a first-rate snack bar that serves beer, wines and sandwiches in a flower-lined patio shaded by beach umbrellas. There’s also a great playground and a concession stand that rents kayaks, stand up paddleboards and other beach gear.

This developed part of the park faces onto a salt-water lagoon, where some visitors rent beach umbrellas and set up for the day.

Cross the lagoon, however, and you leave development behind.

It’s three miles of beach with soft white sand, scads of shells, dolphins swimming off-shore, ospreys squealing overhead and so many shore birds that it’s a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Reaching arco Island's Tigertail Beach is an adventure. You have to wade across a shallow lagoon. (Photo: David Blasco)
Reaching Tigertail Beach is an adventure. You have to wade across a shallow lagoon. (Photo: David Blasco)

Crossing the lagoon: Now that’s the fun part.

The lagoon is about 50 yards across and at high tide, the water comes up to waist or chest high at a buoy that marks the cross-over path. The bottom of the lagoon is a squishy, grassy mud. You don’t sink, but you do have to overcome the “yuck” factor.

On the far side of the lagoon, at high tide the path is actually a small channel of water a few inches deep, filled with schools of small fish. When the ground rises a few inches, the sandy soil is home to armies of fiddler crabs, who part like the Red Sea as you walk the path.

Crossing the lagoon is an adventure: People hold their belongings above them, looking like those Oregon Trail scenes of pioneers fording the river.

 

Army of fiddler crabs at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Fiddler crabs on Sand Dollar Island at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island: A sign of abundant wildlife.

Your reward, though, is a stunning vista of blinding white sand and blue-green water.

Walk north and you may feel like Robinson Crusoe.  Along the way, we were enchanted by the seashell tree, decorated with shells in which people had written messages.

Tigertail Beach seashell tree on Marco Island.
A walk down Tigertail beach brings you to the seashell tree. (Photo: David Blasco)

Watch for wildlife: Adjacent to the park is Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area.

The CWA is managed by the state and is a resting site for a variety of migratory shorebirds. Three species — black skimmers, snowy plovers and least terns — nest and raise their young in the protected area of Tigertail.

Osprey 'reads' the sign that helps cordon off the nesting area for birds along Tigertail Beach. (Photo: David Blasco)
Osprey ‘reads’ the sign that helps cordon off the nesting area for birds along Tigertail Beach. (Photo: David Blasco)

Of course, a beach reachable by wading across a lagoon is not for everyone.

A TripAdvisor reader amused me with this review: “Yucky yuk yuk! To get to the beach you have to walk threw a lagoon up to waste high water carrying all your beach stuff and kids. It’s terrible. Things touch your feet and legs and grasses and weeds wrap around your legs. . . It would seem to me such a simple task to build a walkway but for the last 10 years we have come you have to traverse this scary lagoon.” (Sorry, I couldn’t make myself correct the spelling.)

The concession stand at Tigertail Beach is beautifully landscaped and serves both beer and wine. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The concession stand at Tigertail Beach is beautifully landscaped and serves both beer and wine. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A few thoughts for the squeamish: If you consider this a “scary lagoon” and bring young children, consider giving them a ride across on a beach float or rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore and cross the lagoon.

Also, you CAN walk around the lagoon to the south to reach the beach.

It looks like about 20 minutes if you park at the far south end of the parking lot, which is much larger than the small lot you see upon entering the park.

Tigertail Beach is a great place for collecting seashells. I picked up this handful of shells in five minutes. (Photo: David Blasco)
Tigertail Beach is a great place for collecting seashells. I picked up this handful of shells in five minutes. (Photo: David Blasco)

Tigertail Beach
490 Hernando Drive
Marco Island
(239) 252-4000

Best asset: The long, wild pristine beach you reach after wading across the lagoon.

Parking: There are 210 parking spaces including eight hourly parking spaces. There’s an $8 beach parking fee.

Alcohol: Not allowed, but the cafe serves both beer and wine.

Pets: Not permitted.

Hours: 8 a.m. to sundown

Directions: There is no sign for the turn off the main road. From North Collier Boulevard/State Highway 951, go north on   Kendall Drive. This will take you through a residential neighborhood.  Turn left at Hernando Drive, where there is a sign directing you to Tigertail Beach. Hernando dead-ends into the park.


A 360-degree view of Tigertail Beach.

 

Planning your visit to Tigertail Beach in Marco Island

Tigertail Beach makes a good addition to a trip that might include a great variety of nearby Everglades recreational activities:

Seashell tree at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Seashell tree at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Visiting nearby Everglades City and Chokoloskee:

5 Comments

  1. nina fetzer

    really looking forward to experiencing tiger tail, either wading or kayaking. anyone know how long a kayak trip it is? got some squeamish friends that won’t walk the lagoon but i can’t wait!

  2. Pingback: Outdoor things to do in Naples, FL: Nature, beaches, boating | Florida Rambler

  3. rhonda downing

    I love tiger tail beach !! The first time I went there, was 35 years ago.It was a little hike thru jungle and stream.The crossing of the lagoon is creepy so I take the long way around and stay on dry ground. It takes about 25 minutes one way. If you decide to go thru lagoon – I seriously would take a boogie board to float across.At least wear tight fitting water shoes!I live in southern california but go to florida every year to go to tiger tail.

  4. Wow, this is beautiful. Pristine. Love the fish highway.

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