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

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Last updated on July 5th, 2024 at 08:13 am

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 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 $10 to park and come to a clean and well-kept park with changing rooms. (It’s excellent concession, which included a snack and rentals of kayaks, stand up paddleboards and other beach gear has not operated since Hurricane Ian.)

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.

It has so many seashells that a recent article in the New York Times recommended it as an alternative to Sanibel. Shelling guide Evan Kuperman (a.k.a. Captain Evan), a Florida master naturalist, told the Times that its position facing the Gulf of Mexico lends itself to accumulating seashells, including rare ones, like the spiny ornamented lace murex and reddish brown banded tulip.

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

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.

tigertail beach lagoon crossing tigertail Tigertail Beach, a Marco Island adventure, where you wade to wild beach
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. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

tigertail beach osprey on bird sign Tigertail Beach, a Marco Island adventure, where you wade to wild beach
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.

tigertail beach tigertail concession cafe Tigertail Beach, a Marco Island adventure, where you wade to wild beach
The concession stand at Tigertail Beach. (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 $10 beach parking fee.

Alcohol: Not allowed.

tigertail beach shells found in 5 minutes Tigertail Beach, a Marco Island adventure, where you wade to wild beach
Tigertail Beach is a great place for collecting seashells. I picked up this handful of shells in five minutes. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

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

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  • Vanessa Jones says:

    Hi Bonnie,
    So hoping you can reply asap. According to your article, there are public restrooms, umbrella rentals, and a concession stand at Tigertail’s parking lot? Or are they on Tigertail
    beach?
    Do you have to cross a lagoon or can you walk on dry ground (sand) to Tigertail?

    Thank you.

    • Bonnie Gross says:

      I read on the county’s website that the concessions there are temporarily closed. The bathrooms were next to the concessions near the parking lot, and I assume they are open, but can’t be sure. The layout of Tigertail is that the parking lot and bathrooms are on the “mainland” but to reach the beach, you either cross the lagoon or walk a half mile south around the lagoon. You’ll see the layout in this map: https://goo.gl/maps/ZSE6KKH4XYRsDTyT6 So when you are on the beach, the bathrooms are quite a trek to reach. Some people set up for the day on the lagoon’s beach and then just take a walk out onto the Tigertail sandspit. I hope this helps.

  • John Wilkins says:

    Bonnie,

    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.

  • James Falkowski says:

    Bonnie can you fish on tigertail beach and the wading robinson Caruso island, thanks Jim

    • Bonnie Gross says:

      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.

  • 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.

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