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Biking Sanibel Island: Bicycle trails take you to all the best spots

Last updated on September 17th, 2021 at 02:23 pm

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.

Biking Sanibel: By bicycle, you can stop at beach access spots that don't have vehicle parking.
Biking Sanibel Island: By bike, you can stop at beach access spots that don’t have vehicle parking. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 bike trails are wide, smooth and well-marked.
Biking Sanibel Island on wide, smooth and well-marked bike trails. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Biking Sanibel Island bike trail map
Sanibel bike trail map

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.

Biking Sanibel Island: Lighthouse Cafe is a good way to start the day.
Biking Sanibel Island: The Lighthouse Cafe is a good way to start the day. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

One Sanibel bike path leads to pioneer cemetery. (Photo via Flickr, courtesy sheeshoo)

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. The drive, formerly gravel, has been paved for good bicycling. Cyclists pay $1 per person.

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.

The Sanibel Causeway is open — and free — to bikes. If you’re staying on the Fort Myers side (where hotels are less expensive, incidentally), you can bike over the causeway and save the $6 toll. The causeway is three bridges connected by 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. One of the thrills of a Sanibel getaway is traveling over Pine Island Sound with gorgeous views of water and islands. Let me warn you, though: It looks like a mighty high bridge to pedal.

Captiva, by the way, does not have bike paths.

Biking Sanibel Island can take you to beaches like this that are not reachable by car.
When you are biking Sanibel Island, You can reach prisstine beaches not reachable by car. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Things to do on Sanibel Island:

Bike trails in Southwest Florida:

Biking Sanibel Island: Late afternoon lighting on the beach.
Biking Sanible Island: Late afternoon lighting on the beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

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Thursday 19th of November 2020

[…] For a more detailed story about bike riding on Sanibel Island, see this story from Florida Rambler.  […]

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Friday 9th of October 2020

[…] A bicycle is the best way to navigate on beautiful Sanibel Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. The island boasts 25 miles of paved trails that take you to beaches, restaurants, shops, and nature areas. It’s OK if you show up without a bike because rentals are plentiful. Some resorts even provide complimentary bikes. Learn more about biking on Sanibel Island in this article from Florida Rambler.  […]

Leslie Reiner

Friday 28th of February 2020

Hi Bonnie, Thanks for the info. It's much appreciated. My husband and I always find your information invaluable. Leslie

Leslie Reiner

Wednesday 12th of February 2020

Hi Bonnie, My husband and I love your blog! We use your detailed information to make the most of kayaking, hiking and cycling in Florida. Is there a good (cheap or free) place to park and then ride on Sanibel Island? Leslie

Bonnie Gross

Friday 28th of February 2020

What a good question! I really had to hunt around for an answer. but I think I have one.

After you pay your $6 fee to take the causeway to Sanibel, there are two Causeway Island Parks. There is no charge for parking there (I called the Lee County government.) This would be a good place to use as a base. Details about the facility are here:

Parking is expensive on Sanibel: $5 an hour at all the city lots.

There are probably lots associate with businesses and restaurants where it's OK, but I hesitate to suggest these as I don't know for sure.

Another possibility would to ask at the large visitor center on Sanibel:

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[…] Bike Shop. There are 22 miles of paved bike paths on Sanibel Island, so renting a bike is a perfect way to get around, plus most of the things to do on Sanibel Island […]

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