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Tigertail Beach, a Marco Island adventure, where you wade to wild beach

Last updated on August 18th, 2021 at 03:52 pm

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’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 on Marco Island aerial
In this Google Earth image, Tigertail Beach is that white arc along the left. You see the road reaching the beach and path to the beach at the center bottom.

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.

Florida’s dramatic sky at Tigertail Beach in Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida’s dramatic sky at Tigertail Beach in Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tigertail Beach has a distinct split personality. You pay $8 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 concession stand that rents kayaks, stand up paddleboards and other beach gear.

This developed part of the park faces onto a salt-water lagoon, where some visitors rent beach umbrellas and set up for the day.

Cross the lagoon, however, and you leave development behind.

Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is unspoiled and uncrowded
Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is unspoiled and uncrowded. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Reaching Tigertail Beach is an adventure. You have to wade across a shallow lagoon. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Army of fiddler crabs at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Fiddler crabs on Sand Dollar Island at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island: A sign of abundant wildlife.

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.

Tigertail Beach seashell tree on Marco Island.
A walk down Tigertail beach brings you to the seashell tree. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Osprey ‘reads’ the sign that helps cordon off the nesting area for birds along Tigertail Beach. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

The concession stand at Tigertail Beach is beautifully landscaped and serves both beer and wine. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tigertail Beach
490 Hernando Drive
Marco Island
(239) 252-4000

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 $8 beach parking fee.

Alcohol: Not allowed, but the cafe serves both beer and wine.

Tigertail Beach is a great place for collecting seashells. I picked up this handful of shells in five minutes. (Photo: David Blasco)

Pets: 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.

Seashell tree at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Seashell tree at Tigertail Beach on Marco Island. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Exploring nearby areas

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

This article is the property of and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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What To Do This Winter In Naples (When Your Favorite Events Are Canceled)

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

[…] hike up your shorts, and wade through a shallow marsh to reach the uber-secluded and gorgeous Tigertail Beach. For the ultimate beach and boat day, rent a boat out of Naples Bay and cruise over to Keewaydin […]

Stephen Arnold

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.

Bonnie Gross

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.



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

Bonnie Gross

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.

nina fetzer

Sunday 14th of October 2018

really looking forward to experiencing tiger tail, either wading or kayaking. anyone know how long a kayak trip it is? got some squeamish friends that won't walk the lagoon but i can't wait!

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