NAPLES — Few South Floria hiking or biking trails rival Bird Rookery Swamp Trail near Naples for scenery and wildlife. Itâ€™s a beaut; the relatively new trail deserves to be known outside the Naples area.
I had been to Audubonâ€™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.
What makes the Bird Rookery Swamp Trail so good?
- Itâ€™s free. Itâ€™s owned and managed by the South Florida Water Management District as part of CREW, the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.
- Itâ€™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. Bicyclists who passed us on our 8-mile hike raved about it as a mountain-bike or hybrid-bike trail. (Some said it was a challenge due to occasional soft ground; all agreed the scenery made it worth the trouble.)
- Itâ€™s 12 miles long, but you donâ€™t have to go the whole way. Thatâ€™s a great length for bicycles and means hikers can make a day of it and go as far as theyâ€™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 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 birding is excellent. Even before we started the hike, 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.
- 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.
- Itâ€™s quiet. I love a trail where all I hear are birds and nature â€“ no road sounds, no power tools.
- The trail is very well-marked with excellent signage.
Clearly, this facility is a hikerâ€™s dream, with enough options to warrant repeatÂ visits.
Visiting Bird Rookery Swamp Trail
Address: 1295 Shady Hollow Blvd. West, Naples. CREW Trust: 239-657-2253.
Guided walks: CREW offers aschedule 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 youâ€™ll turn left.Â 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.
- Audubonâ€™s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
- Clam Pass Beach in Naples
Â 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 scenicÂ Tamiami TrailÂ in the Everglades.
- Everglades canoe trails new Naples: Â Turner River. Less busy is nearbyÂ Halfway Creek.
- Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park
Things to do south of Naples
- Saltwater kayaking in Ten Thousand Islands. An easy paddle: Â Sandfly Loop.Â A more ambitiousÂ 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 crabs
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park — the biggest state park in Florida — is a vast, wild place near Everglades City that is great for hiking and kyaking.