In a wild, remote corner of Florida, surrounded by Everglades and mangrove islands you find incongruous Marco Island, a city of beach-front condo high-rises and manicured suburban streets.
Because of Marco Island’s intense development, it’s the last place I’d expect to find one of the most beautiful wild beaches in Florida – and one that even promises a few moments of adventure.
Tigertail Beach is a Collier County park, and thus not widely known outside the region. It’s also “new.”
Fifteen years ago, it was an off-shore sandbar. The winds of Hurricane Wilma piled sand on the southern end, and today Sand Dollar Island, as it is called, is connected to the mainland.
Tigertail Beach has a distinct split personality. You pay $10 to park and come to a clean and well-kept park with changing rooms and a first-rate snack bar that serves beer, wines and sandwiches in a flower-lined patio shaded by beach umbrellas. There’s also a great playground and a bird-watching tower with big views. The concession stand rents kayaks, stand up paddleboards and other beach gear.
This developed part of the park faces onto a salt-water lagoon, not the actual beach. But some visitors rent beach umbrellas and set up for the day right here.
Cross the lagoon, however, and you leave development behind.
It’s three miles of beach with soft white sand, scads of shells, dolphins swimming off-shore, ospreys squealing overhead and so many shore birds that it’s a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Crossing the lagoon: Now that’s the fun part
The lagoon is about 50 yards across and at high tide, the water comes up to waist or chest high at a buoy that marks the cross-over path. The bottom of the lagoon is a squishy, grassy mud. You don’t sink, but you do have to overcome the “yuck” factor.
On the far side of the lagoon, at high tide the path is actually a small channel of water a few inches deep, filled with schools of small fish. When the ground rises a few inches, the sandy soil is home to armies of fiddler crabs, who part like the Red Sea as you walk the path.
Crossing the lagoon is an adventure: People hold their belongings above them, looking like those Oregon Trail scenes of pioneers fording the river.
Your reward, though, is a stunning vista of blinding white sand and blue-green water.
Walk north and you may feel like Robinson Crusoe. Along the way, we were enchanted by the seashell tree, decorated with shells in which people had written messages.
Watch for wildlife: Adjacent to the park is Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area.
The CWA is managed by the state and is a resting site for a variety of migratory shorebirds. Three species — black skimmers, snowy plovers and least terns — nest and raise their young in the protected area of Tigertail.
Of course, a beach reachable by wading across a lagoon is not for everyone.
A TripAdvisor reader amused me with this review: “Yucky yuk yuk! To get to the beach you have to walk threw a lagoon up to waste high water carrying all your beach stuff and kids. It’s terrible. Things touch your feet and legs and grasses and weeds wrap around your legs. . . It would seem to me such a simple task to build a walkway but for the last 10 years we have come you have to traverse this scary lagoon.” (Sorry, I couldn’t make myself correct the spelling.)
A few thoughts for the squeamish: If you consider this a “scary lagoon” and bring young children, consider giving them a ride across on a beach float or rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore and cross the lagoon.
Also, you CAN walk around the lagoon to the south to reach the beach.
It looks like about 20 minutes if you park at the far south end of the parking lot, which is much larger than the small lot you see upon entering the park.
490 Hernando Drive
Best asset: The long, wild pristine beach you reach after wading across the lagoon.
Parking: There are 210 parking spaces including eight hourly parking spaces. There’s an $10 beach parking fee.
Alcohol: Not allowed.
Dogs: Not permitted.
Hours: 8 a.m. to sundown
Directions: There is no sign for the turn off the main road. From North Collier Boulevard/State Highway 951, go north on Kendall Drive. This will take you through a residential neighborhood. Turn left at Hernando Drive, where there is a sign directing you to Tigertail Beach. Hernando dead-ends into the park.
Exploring nearby areas
- Collier-Seminole State Park, for camping, kayaking
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with a boardwalk through a magnificent cypress forest
- Naples Bird Rookery Swamp: A terrific 12-mile trail for hiking or biking
- Tamiami Trail scenic drive
- Other nearby beaches: Clam Pass Park and Barefoot Beach
- Shark Valley, an entrance to Everglades National Park, one of Florida’s very best bicycle trails
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, on the Tamiami Trail
- Ochopee Post Office, on the Tamiami Trail, just because it’s cute.
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, a beautiful short walk
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
- Camping: Koreshan State Historic Park in Fort Myers (a really interesting visit on its own)
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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.