Last updated on January 2nd, 2020 at 10:08 am
Naples park has camping, kayak trails, lovable historic dredge
As you head into the southwest corner of Florida, the world gets wilder and wetter. Vast stretches look like thickly forested land, but they’re actually mangrove swamps, impenetrable except by boat.
Collier-Seminole State Park preserves 7,271 acres of this Florida wilderness.
It’s mostly mangroves, but is also home to an original rare stand of royal palms.
The park is 17 miles south of Naples right on the Tamiami Trail (SR 41.) The only cities down here are beach-front Marco Island and the outposts of Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which are literally at the end of the road.
Collier-Seminole State Park draws people who love the natural Florida for camping, hiking and paddling. It’s also home to the 1924 Bay City Walking Dredge, and how often do you get to visit a “National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark”? The hulking dredge was used to build the first road across the Everglades, a feat many doubted was possible.
The Naples park has plenty going for it. Folks love the picnic grounds and playground across from the river and boat ramp. The riverfront is a great place to hang out; on sunny winter Saturday, we saw people fishing, reading, napping, paddling canoes and enjoying this slice of natural Florida.
Canoe and kayak trail
The canoe and kayak trail on the Blackwater River is another draw. It’s easy to explore: The park concessionaire rents canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards for $25 for two hours or $60 per day. Plenty of never-before-paddlers were giving it a try the day we visited. We spent three hours on the river in a rented canoe and paddled under a twisting, deep-green mangrove canopy to Mud Bay, where we turned around and paddled back.
If you are looking for a longer paddle, you can do the whole 13.6 mile round-trip, which generally requires camping at a primitive camp site on one of the rare strips of higher ground called Grocery Place. (To register to camp or rent a canoe, register at the ranger station.) Visitors in kayaks and canoes should check the tides. Mud Bay becomes an impassable mud bay at low tide.
Our kayak trip was pretty and pleasant, but the scenery is unvarying and, to our surprise, wildlife was scarce. The 13.6 mile trail might be good for those looking for a wilderness experience and the challenge of a longer paddle.
The Friends of Collier-Seminole State Park offer guided canoe trips during season (December – March). Space is limited, call 1-239-394-3397 for reservations. Daytime trips ($30 per person) and moonlight trips ($35 per person) for ages 12 years and up.
Also, boats up to 24 feet can launch from the boat basin and access the Blackwater River, the Ten Thousand Islands or the Gulf of Mexico.
Hiking trails and biking trails
There’s a short nature trail in the park directly across from the boat dock. (It’s just under a mile.) It includes a boardwalk and observation platform overlooking the salt marsh. You’ll pass some of the famous royal palms and see plenty of beautiful native plants, trees and butterflies.
For a longer hike, try the park’s 6.5-mile trail through pine flatwoods and cypress swamp. (The trailhead is on the Tamiami Trail outside the park’s entrance.) There’s a primitive campsite for backpackers along the way; register at the park ranger station.
Off-road biking or hiking is also available on the Historic Marco Road along a 3.5 mile course along marsh, hammock and pine flatwood. When we visited, this trail was closed because of nesting bald eagles.
Here’s a trip report with a long video about this trail. Some good advice from this hiker: Bug repellent is a good idea; expect water on the trail from May to November.
Camping at Collier-Seminole Park
The 120 campsites ($22 a night) book up early for winter dates. Past campers warn about mosquitoes in the park, although we experienced none during a March day-time visit, which included a canoe trip and a few hours hiking and exploring in the park. (Mosquitos are sure to be an issue May to October. Winter visitors should still be prepared, although their presence might be less intense.)
Some of the campsites are shaded and beautifully situated. Sites are close together, however, particularly for large RVs. The smaller camping loop for 19 tent campers provides a pleasant, wooded alternative for the non-RV crowd. The park offers full-facility camp sites with water, electricity and restrooms.
The historic Bay City Walking Dredge
The huge monster-like walking dredge is on display in the park, testimony to one of Old Florida’s great stories: How Baron Collier built the first road across the Everglades. Begun in 1915, the Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, thanks in part to the Bay City Walking Dredge.
I’m not the kind of person who is a likely fan of a dredge. But there’s something about Bay City Walking Dredge #489 that won we over. I think it’s the way the signs explained that Meece Ellis and Earl Ivey (can’t you just hear a banjo-accompanied folk song with those names?) operated this machine six days a week in sweltering, mosquito-infested Florida heat, digging the Tamiami Trail. (Never mind that the road was a very bad idea for the plumbing of the river of grass; Meece and Earl couldn’t know that.) The dredge is the last of its kind in existence.
There are both saltwater and freshwater fish in the brackish Blackwater River. To keep freshwater fish, you need a freshwater license; to keep saltwater fish, you need a saltwater license.
Collier-Seminole State Park
20200 E. Tamiami Trail
Naples, Florida 34114
Camping reservations via ReserveAmerica
Things to do nearby, in Naples and Everglades City
- Our favorite Everglades kayak trail is the Turner River, eight miles from Everglades City.
- Minutes from Collier-Seminole, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is the biggest state park in Florida. It’s wild, with panthers, black bears and a cypress swamp with wild orchids. It’s great to explore on foot or by kayak.
- A great saltwater kayak trail nearby is Sandfly Loop, which gives you a taste of the Ten Thousand Island. For this, you launch from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park, which is five minutes from Ivey House.
- An adventurous outing: Kayak camping on a beach in the Ten Thousand Islands.
- Halfway Creek is another kayak trail quite close to the Turner River. (It’s where we kayaked the time water was too low in the Turner River.)
- There are two good boat tours offered at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
- Everglades City is the base for many stone-crab fishermen, so it’s a good place to indulge in the seasonal seafood. Here’s where to eat stone crabs in Everglades City plus general background on the city.
- Visit one of our favorite, off-the-beaten-track stops, historic Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee, just four miles away. (Its docks are a lovely place to watch the sunset.)
- Our guide to the scenic drive across Florida via Tamiami Trail is full of good places to hike, picnic and explore nearby.
- Nearby Ochopee Post Office on the Tamiami Trail is the smallest in the US. And so cute.
- Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park: Excellent trail for bicycling and wildlife viewing in Everglades National Park.
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery: It’s always a thrill to view his large-format black-and-white photos of Florida’s wilds.
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk: This is a beautiful spot worth a short walk. One of the prettiest boardwalks in the Everglades region, and it’s free!
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (west of Naples) is a spectacular boardwalk through a pristine old growth cypress forest about a half hour away.
Interesting Everglades City places to stay and eat: