This 2.5 mile round trip trail is about 30 miles from Bonita Springs (where we are staying) and allows dogs (leashed, of course). We packed a picnic lunch, plenty of water, bug spray, sunscreen, and hats, and left our site in late morning.
Established in 1996, this 35,000-acre refuge protects a portion of the Ten Thousand Islands estuarine ecosystem. The habitats here include:
- Marshes - Both fresh (northern part of the refuge) and salt (southern part) marshes are found here.
- Uplands - Hardwood hammocks that do not flood. Most are found on shell midden (mounds of mollusk shells left by Calusa people).
- Mangroves - These trees invade the salt marshes forming islands that provide the breeding grounds for commercial and recreational fish and shellfish.
- Open water and seagrasses - Seagrasses are homes for manatees (although we did not see any today).
- Barrier islands - These protect the estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands area.
There are four trails here, but the Marsh Trail is dog-friendly and provides a glimpse of the area normally only accessible by water.
A boardwalk leads to the paved area of the trail. The observation tower is .25 miles from the parking lot and is great spot to observe wildlife.
Here are some of the sights from the observation tower.
After the observation tower, the trail becomes a gravel road that was used by the oil industry (yes, oil has been found and continues to be pumped out of this area). But there is abundant wildlife here among the mangrove tree islands.
This alligator looks like he just ate a huge meal! Look at that belly...
We came upon a nesting area for great white egrets that was amazing. The loud call of these majestic birds was something I had never heard before. How many do you see in this photo?
As I stopped to take some photos of the waterfowl, John spotted this gator just a few feet away sunning on the bank of the estuary. Oh my! We were very careful to keep an eye out for them for fear that one might snatch Sadie.
Many birds could be seen flying over the trail, but I loved this one of three pelicans in flight.
This is one of the canoe/kayak launches along the Marsh Trail. These trees with red berries were everywhere along the trail, as were the delicate white flowers.
This trail is approximately 1.2 miles and then we retraced our steps back to the observation tower where we had lunch while enjoying the view. It is the only shaded place on the trail.
In the center of the first photo is a tiny alligator just showing his head on the surface of the water. Nearby was a much larger one.
This is one last scene of egrets as we made our way back to the parking lot. We saw hundreds of butterflies, but rarely did they alight long enough for me to snap a photo. This one's wings were translucent and quite beautiful.
The endangered Florida panther (about 100 in total in the refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Everglades) also lives in the area, but they are very rarely seen. Nocturnal animals, their primary cause of death is automobile accidents (about 20 a year). Each has a large territory of about 200 acres and they prowl the perimeter. Fences along the roads steer them to pathways under the road to help keep them safe.
This was a very enjoyable hike. There were some folks on the trail but not too many beyond the observation tower. The wildlife viewing of waterfowl and alligators was fantastic. And, the fact that it was dog-friendly made it a lot of fun for all of us.
For additional information about things to do at the wildlife refuge, check out their website, https://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/tenthousandislands/.