NAPLES — One of the most magnificent parcels of land that has been preserved for us in Florida is found about 15 miles east of Naples — the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
The facility’s signage says its special because the endangered wood stork nested here and because it is the largest piece of ancient bald cypress forest preserved in the world.
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.
Many consider Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to be Florida’s best boardwalk.
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.
The Corkscrew Swamp 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 Swamp Sanctuary 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. Frequently, well-informed “Boardwalk Naturalists” in khaki uniforms are out on the boardwalk to answer questions and point things out to visitors.
Every season brings special charms. In winter, birders travel from all over the world. I met a woman from Great Britain who came for the painted buntings. In August, the very rare ghost orchid (famous from the Meryl Streep movie, Adaptation) blooms and can often be spotted. (Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Corkscrew’s ghost orchid.)
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 visitors who didn’t love the place are ones with high, unmet expectations for wildlife sightings. No, you’re probably not going to see a panther.
My advice? Go for the trees and plants, and consider any wildlife a bonus.
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center
375 Sanctuary Road West
Naples, FL 34120
Admission: $17 for adults, $10 for full-time college student with photo ID, $6 for students 6 to 18 and free for kids under 6.
Hours: Off season, timed entry is daily 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. with the boardwalk closing at 3 p.m. From Dec. 16 to April 30, the Blair Visitor Center and boardwalk will stay open until 5 p.m., with the last admission at 3 p.m.
Corkscrew Swamp recommends advance ticketing and reservations. See details here.
Beginning in December, the Cypress Café in the visitor center will be open with limited hours Wednesdays through Sundays until the end of April.
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.
Can I bring my dog? Pets are not allowed.
What birds or wildlife might I see? Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary updates a list of recent sightings here.
Are there guided walks and tours offered? Yes, Corkscrew offers night walks, swamp walks, guided forest tours, guided meditation, back-country off-road bike rides and other programs. These are ticketed with fees in the $20 to $40 range. More on guided programs.
Things to do in Naples near Audubon Corkscrew Swamp 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: 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
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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.