10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a 35,000 acre maze of mangroves and narrow, shallow waterways in Southwest Florida. This refuge is an integral piece in a jigsaw puzzle of state and federal properties that blanket millions of acres, protecting the unique ecosystems of the greater Everglades across nearly the entire southern tip of Florida.
During the last week of March (2014) we explored the 1.1 mile long Marsh Trail (2.2 miles out & back), located along the Tamiami Trail (US 41), east of Naples. And since this trail is right down the street from Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, you can easily explore both amazing places in the same day. It’s striking how different these 2 short walks are.
On the Marsh Trail, you reach the observation tower in just a quarter mile. Since Florida, especially this southern tip, is very flat, you don’t have to gain much elevation to see a great distance, so climbing a couple of flights of stairs to a wide, covered deck is well worth the minimal effort for the 360 degree vistas. A wide variety of birds are ever present, along with alligators, fish, snakes and never-ending mangroves.
Continuing on the trail brings you deeper into the mangrove maze, up close & personal…though the trail is wide and flat. The water grew slightly deeper on both sides of the trail as we walked, so the flora & fauna changed along with it. Bigger alligators, more ducks, larger clusters of mangroves. Overall, the Marsh Trail is a quick and easy way to sample 10,000 Islands…though not the best way.
This refuge is mostly water, especially in the rainy season. While there is just this one overland trail in the entire refuge, there are numerous waterways, including 4 paddling trails that are accessible right along Tamiami Trail. These trails range from a 1.4 mile out & back to a 3.25 mile round trip. Boats with motors up to 25 hp are also allowed, but cautioned that water depth is often 18 inches or less.
The southern end (below the Marsh Trail) is comprised of tidal waters from the Gulf of Mexico that are co-managed with Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. There are 3 major marked channels and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends access by boat at either Goodland or Port-of-the-Islands.
You can also access the waters of 10,000 Islands through Everglades National Park. They offer a Gulf Coast pontoon boat tour of 10,000 Islands from their Gulf Coast Marina. If you’d rather paddle, you can rent equipment at the marina or bring your own. Want an epic paddling trip? Plan at least 8 days to paddle the 99 mile long Everglades Wilderness Waterway.
Marsh Trail WonderMap. NOTE: Click on the waypoint flags for location photos.
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