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.
Note: Following Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022, Collier County Parks lists Tigertail among the parks that have reopened. Gulf beach parks further north have not reopened. Here’s the updated list.
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, but the cafe serves both beer and wine.
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)
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
This page may include affiliate links from which we earn modest commissions if a purchase is made.
This article is property of FloridaRambler.com, protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.
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.
Sunday 15th of January 2023
My wife and I are coming to the Fort Myers-Naples area the week of Jan 15th to visit the various parks, birding, hiking and the like. We are both in our late 70s. Is the general condition of the parks suitable for these activities? Looking online gives a mixed message.
Sunday 15th of January 2023
Yes, it is a mixed bag. Most parks have reopened, with a few exceptions. Still closed are Lovers Key State Park on Fort Myers Beach, Delnor Wiggins State Park in Naples and Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs.(Camping is not yet open at Collier Seminole State Park south of Naples and Koreshan State Park in Naples.) One of our writers is working on a story about Naples Botanical Garden, which has reopened and bounced back. I love hiking at Bird Rookery Swamp in Naples https://www.floridarambler.com/florida-bike-hike-trails/bird-rookery-swamp/ and it is open with a few wet spots on the trail. (I haven't been there personally.)
As a general rule, parks on the barrier islands are more likely to be impacted.
You'll find updates on Lee County (Fort Myers and vicinity) here: https://www.leegov.com/parks?fbclid=IwAR2rAqKwUDUJp4kzAIABGPPhjGqCZtBLuGJatayQ15skcQdT4X7D2ZpSCS4
You'll find updates for Collier County (Naples and vicinity) here: https://www.collierparks.com/newsalert/beach-access-facilities-news-alert/
You'll find updates on Charlotte County (Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor area) here: https://www.charlottecountyfl.gov/departments/public-safety/emergency-management/storm.stml
Sunday 27th of February 2022
Bonnie can you fish on tigertail beach and the wading robinson Caruso island, thanks Jim
Sunday 27th of February 2022
You can fish Tigertail Beach, both in the surf and inshore in the tidal pools. From what I've read, the surf fishing is good.
I'm afraid I don't know about Carusa Island.
Thursday 27th of February 2020
Hi Bonnie and others who might be in the know: Is the very wide sand area, perhaps 3 to 5 football fields wide, all natural? Was it built up a lot by Hurricane Wilma, or has it always looked like this? Thanks! It was an awesome place to see last weekend.
Friday 28th of February 2020
Stephen, Isnt' it specacular? So glad you liked it! The sand is always shifting in that shoal area and it is a natural occurance. Here's a bit more about how Wilma changed the sandbar/island. http://www.friendsoftigertail.com/friendsoftigertail.com/Extreme_makeover.html
Thursday 18th of July 2019
Great read! I've just come back from my holiday to Florida and went to Tigertail Beach on the way to Sanibel Island. I was abit sceptical at first as stumbled across this while looking for a beach to sunbathe. I absolutely loved it! I was too scared to walk the lagoon to the beach so we hired a double Kayak and the guys who run it were so helpful. The guy did say there could be a couple of Alligators in the area but think they tend to stay in the mangroves and away from the lagoon because its soo hot and there are quite a few people around. Because in some parts the lagoon the water was so shallow, we got stuck a few times near the beach and ended up just walking in the lagoon taking everything in and pulling the Kayak! Kayak's were $30 each for 2 hours but I think you can get longer. I would highly recommend this, it was so much fun! The beach is beautiful and this was one of the highlights of my holiday.
Ann Marie Petrunak
Friday 7th of June 2019
Is is gators in nearby
Friday 7th of June 2019
No! This is salt water and gators like fresh water, so it is not a place where alligators would be a danger.