Last updated on May 13th, 2022 at 12:58 pm
Naples is a very rich place. It is where Fortune 500 executives retire and by some accounts, it has the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita in the U.S. (In that study, Los Alamos, New Mexico, was No. 1.)
For lovers of the natural outdoors, Naples is also very rich.
Our list of what to do in Naples, Florida, starts with spectacular beaches, includes one of the largest swaths of old-growth cypress at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and then takes advantage of the easy proximity to state and national parks preserving Florida’s wildest lands.
The outskirts of Naples are home to the rare Florida panther and the Gulf waters teem with marine life, with dolphins, rays and all sorts of birds regularly viewed from the beaches. It’s easy for nature-lovers to find things to do in Naples Florida.
Naples makes a good base for a variety of activities in the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands, the maze of mangrove islands that form the southwest coast of Florida below Naples. It offers a great variety of places to kayak, hiking trails, some good camping spots and some of the best places to get stone crabs during crab season.
In summer, there are many beach and water-oriented activities. In winter, it’s perfect for hiking, kayaking and exploring historic sites.
Bicycling is a great way to explore Naples and its older Gulf-front neighborhoods with their lush tropical landscaping and billionaire’s mansions.
These neighborhoods have a series of small beach-access parks. They have little or no parking and are designed for use by locals. But by bike, you can sample several of these “secret” beaches and find a stretch of sand and water to yourself.
Looking for things to do in Naples, Florida, for couples? We think biking and beach hopping is perfect.
All the beaches in Naples are all splendid, but be sure to stop at the free historic fishing pier. It’s fun to see what fishermen reel in as catch of the day; it is full of heron, egrets and other birds, and I always see dolphins in the water here. Here’s video of an angler catching and releasing a huge endangered sawtooth.
The 1,000-foot long Naples Pier was built in 1888, but has been rebuilt five times after hurricanes. Located at the west end of 12th Avenue South off Gulf Shore Boulevard, it is an especially nice place to watch the sunset.
The most popular and family-friendly beach in Naples is at Lowdermilk Park, which has ample parking, a concession stand that serves hot dogs and hamburgers, sand volleyball courts, two children’s playgrounds, picnic tables, benches plus restroom and showers. It’s at 1301 Gulfshore Blvd. North.
Ready to explore? Try Clam Pass Beach. It qualifies as one of the “secret places” in Naples, Florida that is off the beaten path.
First, just reaching it is an adventure: You can walk or take a free tram from the parking lot down a three-quarters-mile long boardwalk through a mangrove forest. Then, from the shady mangrove tunnel, you emerge to a beach with sand that is blindingly white and water impossibly turquoise.
The pass itself is a narrow river-like opening in the mangroves, shallow enough an adult can stand at the center except at the highest tide. If you hop into the waters of the pass, you are gently swept away by the tide. If the tide is coming in, you float into a shallow mangrove-fringed lagoon. If the tide is going out, you float out into the Gulf, which remains shallow for a great distance. It’s a natural “lazy river” adventure, where the pull and depth of the water is safe but still fun. Located at Seagate Drive and Crayton Road.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is a great destination: You can enjoy so many activities in one place – kayaking, surf-fishing & a one-mile-long powdery-white sand beach with shaded picnic tables nearby.
The beach is a rare Gulf Coast spot where snorkeling is popular. There is a hard bottom reef that runs parallel to the beach near parking areas one and two. It’s in about 8 or 10 feet of water.
Beach concessions are located in parking lot four, where you can get basic burgers and snacks as well as rent beach umbrellas, floats and beach toys.
All along the beach, there are picnic tables a little ways from the beach, tucked among shade of trees. These make appealing places for a picnic or to relax out of the sun.
An observation deck and short boardwalk are located in coastal hammock at the north end of the park.
Florida Rambler story on Delnor Wiggins Pass State Park.
Nearby, directly across the pass on the north end of Delnor Wiggins is another greate beach — Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs, once proclaimed the second-best beach in America by the professor who goes by the name Dr. Beach. Though it’s easy to reach, Barefoot Beach makes you feel miles away from highways and highrises. It’s one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast. You may find sand-dollars, shells or spot a bottle-nosed dolphin in the water in the distance . Gopher tortoises and their burrows are plentiful along the nature trail that runs between the sand dunes and the hammock. It’s located on Barefoot Beach Road off Bonita Beach Boulevard.
Still looking for a fresh beach to explore? South of Naples, Tigertail Beach in Marco Island is a pristine sand spit with great birding. You wade across a lagoon to reach the beach.
4. Take a stroll on the Gordon River Greenway
In the heart of Naples, a 2-mile-long boardwalk and trail through wetlands connects several natural spots. The free Gordon River Greenway opened in fall 2014. Park at 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road in the joint parking lot between Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The trail is designed for walkers and bicyclists and has wildlife viewing stations, benches, educational signs and restrooms. You also can launch kayaks here.
This boardwalk is one of the best free things to do in Naples, Florida.
One of the most exquisite parcels of land that has been preserved in Florida is found about 15 miles east of Naples — the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Its 2.25 mile boardwalk takes you into a green and liquid world where at every turn you see scenes so beautiful they could have been arranged by the world’s best floral designer. Birds, gators and all sorts of flora (including rare orchids) can be seen along the boardwalk.
I’ve visited Corkscrew Swamp both in winter and summer, and have found it to be a beautiful and quiet place, where you can hear a rustle in the brush that signals a snake’s movement.
In August, the very rare ghost orchid (famous from the Meryl Streep movie, Adaptation) blooms and can often be spotted. (Here’s our story about the ghost orchid.)
Don’t be afraid of a summer visit. The boardwalk is largely shaded and the gambusia fish eat mosquito larva, so the bugs aren’t bad. For those who do not wish to walk the full 2.25 miles, an optional trail shortens the walk to one mile.
Admission is $17 for adults and admission is by advance ticketing. The address is 375 Sanctuary Road West.
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, 17 miles south of Naples on the Tamiami Trail (SR 41), preserves 7,271 acres of this Florida wilderness.
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 signage at the dredge tells its interesting history.
This is a destination best visited in winter, as the mosquitos can be fierce here May to October.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park — the biggest state park in Florida — is a vast, wild place near Everglades City, about 25 miles southeast of Naples. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the Everglades and you can hike for miles here on old logging roads with good possibiities for seeing wildlife. (I’d undertake this kind of hike in winter, not the buggy summer.)
Fakahatchee includes a really special place, one of the prettiest boardwalks in Florida, the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk on U.S. 29 on the Tamiami Trail. The 2,000-foot-long boardwalk through old growth cypress swampland is a stunning place.
While you can make a donation, this boardwalk is one of the best free things to do in Naples, Florida, area.
Near Naples is Bonita Springs, where you will find a a delightful kayak trip through Old Florida scenery.
The Imperial River sounds rather grand, but it is actually a shallow river that flows under a canopy of oaks and pines, narrowing into a twisty cypress-lined creek as it gets too shallow to paddle near its headwaters.
The tea-colored water is clear and the bottom is sandy at spots, allowing visibility to see fish, turtles and, if you’re lucky, manatees. (We were lucky on a March visit.)
A kayak and SUP rental company operates seasonally October through May.
Here’s a Florida Rambler story on paddling the Imperial River.
When you’re ready for a visit to authentic Old Florida, head south an hour where the road ends in Chokoloskee, an island just off Everglades City. Here you’ll find Historic Smallwood Store, a general store that is now a museum.
It opened in 1906 when Chokoloskee was the Wild West and Ted Smallwood was a pioneer. This wooden building was an Indian trading post, post office and general store. It’s still owned and run by Ted Smallwood’s family.
Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Historic Smallwood Store.
While you visit Chokoloskee, be sure to stop in Everglades City for fresh seafood, such as stone crabs, when it’s in season, Oct. 15 to May 15.
Everglades City is a small fishing town about 35 miles south of Naples. Dozens of fishermen are based on its Barron River, and so are several informal, unpretentious seafood restaurants. It’s a picturesque little town, with a historic city hall that has survived terrible hurricanes that have flooded this town repeatedly.
In winter, Everglades City is a good base for visiting the national parks and preserves in this region. The area is very seasonal, with many restaurants closed in the summer.
Nearby, Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center offers information about kayaking and hiking in the area, You also can rent kayaks or book a boat tour into the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
11. Cruise on the Gulf on a shelling or bird rookery boat trip
With so many waterways, Naples is a great place to take a boat tour. We enjoyed the shelling trip aboard a large catamaran Sweet Liberty. It’s three hours, costs $45 for adults and you spend about an hour on Keewaydin Island, the largely undeveloped barrier island just south of Naples. We’ve taken this cruise in the sultry summer and enjoyed it.
We’ve also enjoyed a sunset cruise in winter to see bird rookeries from the Southwest Florida Nature Conservancy.
Florida’s wierdness goes back to its first settlers, and Koreshan State Historic Site celebrates one of our earliest eccentrics. Thanks to this cult leader, though, a lovely wooded site on the Estero River was preserved through the years for us to enjoy.
The walking tour of the grounds and buildings tells the story of Dr. Cyrus R. Teed, who led the utopian community that eventually attracted 200 followers. They were an industrious group, operating a bakery, sawmill, printing facility, even a restaurant and hotel on the main road, U.S. 41.
Today Koreshan State Park offers great natural beauty. Sprawling along the lovely Estero River, there are gardens and exotic bamboo forests left over from the community’s beautification efforts, 11 historic buildings and attractive, shaded picnic sites and an excellent campground.
What to do in Naples, Florida, beyond our top 12 suggestions
Get a taste of the Everglades driving the Tamiami Trail into the Everglades. The Tamiami Trail, the main artery through Naples, continues into the Everglades as you take it south and east. It gets you close to Everglades scenery and offers several outstanding stops along the way. Your destination could be Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, 52388 Tamiami Trail. Butcher is a world-renown photographer whose large-scale black-and-white photos are designed to make the viewer feel like he is at the center of the photo. Butcher’s studio overlooks a scenic pond, frequented by alligators and wading birds.
Naples, Florida, weather
Directly across Alligator Alley from Fort Lauderdale, Naples is blessed with the same balmy winter weather that makes it one of Florida’s more reliable warm-weather destinations. (Even a few hours north can be five or 10 degrees cooler.) Summers are steamy, with surf temperature in the Gulf hitting 90 degrees and the air temperature a few degrees higher.
Average highs in winter are in the 70s with lows in the 50s. Spring and fall temps see highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s. Highs in summer are in the 90s and lows are in the 70s.
A note from the editor:
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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.