No one was more surprised than me to discover how much I enjoyed the Fort Myers area in Florida. It was a stopover between our time in the Orlando area and arriving in Key West. Mr. Misadventures said, “there were a few things to do.”
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There are LOTS of things to do, see, and explore in the Fort Myers region. We spent 3 weeks in the area, but in the end, I wished we had one or two more days to spend on Florida’s Gulf Coast. If you tend to think of Florida as beach parties and theme parks, you might be surprised at all of the nature-based things to do around Fort Myers.
Here’s a roundup of the Fort Myers activities we enjoyed during our trip. I’m not going to mention the beaches because that’s the obvious thing to do in Fort Myers. Instead, I’ll tell you the best things to do in Fort Myers that don’t involve sunbathing on the beach but a whole heck of a lot of wildlife!
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
To explore the flora and fauna of Florida, the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a great place to start. Located in Fort Myers, this 3,500-acre park is home to birds, alligators, and many other interesting species including a butterfly garden. There is a 1.4-mile boardwalk winding through the slough, which is a great place to start your exploration. The interpretive center was the county’s first certified green LEED building. Inside, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge about the plants and animals to be found in the slough. If you are wintering in Fort Myers, you may want to look into some of the educational programs and camps held at the center. During our 2-week stay in we visited here multiple times!
Location: 7751 Penzance Blvd, Fort Myers
Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Fort Myers beaches are pretty great, but many Fort Myers visitors also make a day trip over to nearby Sanibel and Captiva Islands. From Fort Myers, take the Sanibel Causeway Bridge, which is $6 round-trip. The beaches of Sanibel Island are regularly touted as the best place to find seashells. Both Sanibel and Captiva Islands have fought to keep a unique environment; barring mega-resorts and chain restaurants. This culture is conducive to a slower pace and relaxed approach to vacationing. Most beaches allow public access from several paid parking lots throughout the islands. Bike rentals are also common, given the plethora of bike paths to explore.
Distance from Fort Myers: 40 minutes
J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Located on Sanibel Island, The Ding Darling Refuge is another great place to explore the natural wonders of Florida’s Gulf Coast. This refuge includes both coastline along Pine Island Sound and mangrove swamps, there are many things to do at the Ding Darling Preserve. Start at the Visitor & Education Center, with free admission and free parking. Next, check out Wildlife Drive, which is a four-mile road through the refuge. You can drive, bike, walk or join a 90-minute narrated tram tour. From Wildlife Drive, there are several hiking trails you can access, and there are also two canoe/kayak launch sites. Occasionally, you can join a guided canoe, kayak, or SUP tour.
We saw (and chased) many birds while staying Florida and The Ding Darling Refuge is the best place (that we found) to see the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill. Sometimes we would see a few while driving from one place to the next, but by the time we could safely pull over, they were usually gone, on the refuge, there is plenty of space to observe them in large groups and get great photos!
Distance from Fort Myers: 50 minutes
Location: 1 Wildlife Dr, Sanibel, FL
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
About an hour south of Fort Myers, you’ll find the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Another excellent place for wildlife conservation and viewing in South Florida, Corkscrew Swam Sanctuary comprises 14,000 acres of wildland filled with native species. The most popular attraction as Corkscrew Swamp is the 2.5-mile boardwalk. As you walk through North America’s largest old-growth Bald Cypress forest, you’ll likely see dozens of alligators, turtles, deer, otters, raccoons, and many different types of birds. Guided walks and interpretive programs are offered throughout the year.
I also saw the most beautiful dragonfly there as well!
Distance from Fort Myers: 1 hour
Location: 375 Sanctuary Rd W, Naples, FL
Big Cypress National Preserve
Continuing south towards the Everglades, the Big Cypress National Preserve is another excellent day trip from Fort Myers. The Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) cuts through the Southern part of the preserve and is the easiest way to visit Big Cypress. A lot of the preserve lies in backcountry areas accessible by hiking, or off-road driving (which we did in our Jeep), but there are a few activities to be found along the main corridor. By joining a ranger-led hike, you’ll see a small percentage of the 729,000-acre preserve. There are also several campgrounds throughout the preserve if you wish to stay over.
Distance from Fort Myers: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Location: 33100 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee, FL
Shark Alley Visitor Center at Everglades National Park
Heading east from Big Cypress, you enter Everglades National Park. At two hours from Fort Myers, you’re still within day-trip range, although it’s also a great stop on your way to the Florida Keys. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is a wonderful place to learn about the Everglades. There is a paved trail that leads you to an observation tower where you can look out over the Everglades. You’ll likely see dozens of alligators from the tower, and along the road. And tons and tons of birds. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the visitor center, or take a guided tram tour along the road.
We took the tram and thought it was well done with plenty of opportunities to get off and take photos. For us, this was our sneak peek into this national park. We didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted and it is on my “must go back” list.
Distance from Fort Myers: 2 hours
Location: 36000 SW 8th St, Miami, FL (the address says Miami, but Miami is actually 1 hour further away!)
BONUS: MLB Spring Training
While Arizona has the Cactus League, Florida has the Grapefruit League. 15 Major League Baseball teams conduct their spring training games in 13 Florida cities. The Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox both play in Fort Myers, while other teams play within day-trip distance of Fort Myers. Imagine seeing the Yankees play the Red Sox for a fraction of the price of a game at Fenway or Yankee Stadium! Even if your favorite team isn’t playing, Spring training is a fun, laidback way to experience America’s Pasttime!
We were visiting in November so sadly we missed this, but now that I live on the East Coast, I am thinking of returning in the future to see some games, I love baseball!
Location: (Boston Red Sox) 11500 Fenway South Drive and (Minnesota Twins) 14100 Six Mile Cypress Parkway
FOOD BONUS: Norman Love Confections
If you are looking for souvenirs to bring home from your Fort Myers vacation, don’t miss out on Norman Love Confections. They have been named the best premium chocolate company in the United States six times since launching in 2001. This local, family-owned business produces high-quality chocolate in beautiful designs and flavors. Choose a gift box of candy chocolates, single-origin dark chocolate pieces, or specialty items like chocolate-covered candies, cookies, and pralines. Visit their locations in Fort Myers and Naples, or look for them at Whole Foods in Fort Myers or Naples.
I have tried this chocolate several times and it is a keeper!
Location: (11380 Lindbergh Blvd)
How about you? Have you been to Fort Myers? Have you visited any of these spots? Do you have others to suggest? Do share! If you haven’t been, are you considering a road trip to Fort Myers? Do tell!
For a visual summary of this post, check out my Fort Myers web story!
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