Note: Hurricane Ian devastated Sanibel and Captiva Sept. 28, 2022. The island is not yet ready for visitors. The following story was written before the storm.
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 biking Sanibel Island is such a treat.
Sanibel, the barrier island off the Gulf Coast from Fort Myers, is more famous for its seashells and its beaches.
But Sanibel 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.
Can you ride an electric bike on Sanibel Island trails? In 2019, Sanibel passed an ordinance that limited all e-bikes to Class I only. Florida statue describes Class 1 electric bikes this mean: “electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the electric bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.”
Best spots for biking Sanibel Island
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.
Ding Darling bike trails: 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. (It starts and ends on a bike path, so you can ride it as a loop.) The drive, formerly gravel, has been paved for good bicycling. Cyclists pay $1 per person. Here’s a map of Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
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.
Can you ride a bike across the Sanibel Causeway? Yes, it is open — and free — to bikes and there is a separate bike lane in both directions. But many bicyclists do not consider it a safe ride because of the volume of traffic. The causeway is three bridges connected by two manmade islands that are developed as popular parks, where you can park for free if you want to start your Sanibel bicycle outing from there. Let me warn you, though: It is windy, the bridges are high and half the time you’ll be biking uphill.
Does Captiva have bike paths? No, Captiva does not have a bike path and the road has narrow shoulders.
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.
- Boca Grande has a scenic bike trail where you can stop at beaches and historic sites.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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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.