NAPLES — Few South Floria hiking or biking trails rival Bird Rookery Swamp Trail near Naples for scenery and wildlife. It’s a gem; the relatively new trail deserves to be known outside the Naples area.
I had been to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary many times and have always loved it. But I did not know about this 12 mile trail on adjacent land, a few miles south, which opened in 2011.
Nine reasons why CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail is great
- It’s free. It’s owned and managed by the South Florida Water Management District as part of CREW, the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.
- It’s a great trail for fat-tire bikes. The trail, following a roadway built for cypress logging 50 years ago, is a wide grass path above the water level, so it is rarely muddy. It is a wonderful surface for walking. After we hiked 8 miles of the trail one day, we returned a second time to bike the whole loop. There is occasional soft ground, but the scenery and experience were worth it.
- It’s 12 miles long, but you don’t have to go the whole way. That’s a great length for bicycles and means hikers can make a day of it and go as far as they’d like. Those who want a shorter hike can enjoy a quarter-mile-long wooden boardwalk that starts about a block from the parking lot. At the end of the boardwalk is a pretty section of trail that features deeper ponds (and a huge gator on our visit.) Many families with strollers or less mobile members were using this first section of the Bird Rookery Swamp Trail.
- It is full of wildlife. We saw dozens of gators, some sunning on the pathway so close we gingerly walked around them, some in ponds alongside the trail, including one pond with 13 baby gators about 18 inches long, some piled atop each other. Visitors have seen deer, bobcats, otters, black bear and even Florida panthers. (This is prime panther habitat.)
- The cypress swamp is exquisite. Most of the trail is lined with forested wetland dominated by bald cypress and red maples trees. The trees are full of airplants; the water is clear with duckweed and water lettuce. It is the best of pure natural Florida.
- It’s so quiet. I love a trail where all I hear are birds and nature – no road sounds, no power tools.
- The trail is very well-marked with excellent signage.
- The birding is excellent. Even before we started the Bird Rookery Swamp trail, the pond next to the parking lot had a woodstork, great white egret and a tricolor heron. Along the way, we saw hawks, big pileated woodpeckers, kingfishers and the whole range of Everglades wading birds. Better birders probably would have identified many songbirds and barred owls are often seen too.
- There are other CREW trails too, including the 5.5 mile Marsh Trail and six miles of Cypress Dome Trails.
Clearly, this facility is a hiker’s and biker’s dream, with enough options to warrant repeat visits.
Visiting CREW Bird Rookery Swamp Trail
Address: 1295 Shady Hollow Blvd. West, Naples. CREW Trust: 239-657-2253.
Guided walks: CREW offers a schedule of guided walks in winter.
Hours: The trail is open sunrise to sunset seven days a week.
Amenities: There is a portable toilet in the parking lot and benches and a few picnic tables along the trail.
Directions: From I-75, take exit 111, Immokalee Road, CR 846, and head east. Follow that road as it curves north and watch for Shady Hollow Boulevard, where you’ll turn left. From Alligator Alley, exit on SR 29 west and take a left on Oil Well Road, taking you east. Turn right on Immokalee Road and head north until Shady Hollow Boulevard, where you turn left.
Things to do in Naples
- Naples, Florida: Rich in nature, beach and boating activities
- Biking and beach-hopping in Naples.
- Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
- Clam Pass Beach in Naples
Things to do just north of Naples
- Koreshan State Park
- Paddling the Imperial River in Bonita Springs
- Lovers Key: Great beach, kayaking, manatees
- Mound Key Archaeological Park
- Fort Myers Beach is a charming seaside getaway
- Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs
Things to do east of Naples
- Stops along scenic Tamiami Trail in the Everglades.
- Everglades canoe trails new Naples: Turner River. Less busy is nearby Halfway Creek.
- Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park
Things to do south of Naples
- Saltwater kayaking in Ten Thousand Islands. An easy paddle: Sandfly Loop. A more ambitious kayak camping trip to Indian Key.
- Tigertail Beach in Marco Island
- Collier-Seminole State Park
- Historic Smallwood Store
- Everglades City and fresh seafood and stone crab
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.