Florida wildlife and unique habitat makes Marco Island a perfect place to spot wildlife. There are plenty of nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries to explore for both adults and kids. You can easily spot American Osprey, manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, bobcats, panthers, plenty of birds and more! They call the island home, but have plenty of space to roam like mangrove forests, swamps and rookeries. Birding is a major hobby, but there is also kayaking, biking and plenty of walking/hiking trails for those who want a more active vacation.
When planning your wildlife viewing, we suggest you start at these 5 natural areas:
1) Isles of Capri Paddle Craft Park
Specifically for kayakers and paddleboards, this park has facilities such as restrooms, parking and picnic areas. Families love visiting for an easy day of fun among the mangrove tunnels. There are tours available and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and manatees! There is a marina a little further on Marco River, that also has kayak and paddleboard rentals available.
2) Briggs Nature Center
With a boardwalk and two other short trails along Rookery Bay, this is an easy area to take the kids. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is not too far from the Briggs Nature Center, and offers guided kayak tours, a learning center, festivals and plenty of other trails to explore. You might see river otters and many species of birds.
3) Otter Mound Preserve
Located on Marco Island in Indian Hills, this park is smaller but has parking and mulched trail that weaves through the forest in a gentle loop. There are plenty of benches for resting and taking in the beautiful nature and history. Scientists have discovered pottery pieces and artifact they believe are 3,000 years old mean that ancient peoples once called this island home. There is also a wall made of shells constructed in the 1940’s by Ernest Otter, who gives the park its namesake.
4) Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge
The Florida Panther (also called Mountain Lion or Cougar) was almost extinct 20 years ago, but through conservation, the big cats have reentered the Florida food chain. They are elusive and nocturnal so spotting them in the wild is difficult. However, a visit to the Panther Wildlife Refuge is a great place to start your search. Many guests spot panther tracks in the 26,400 acre refuge.
5) Big Cypress
Neighboring the Everglades, the Big Cypress Preserve 729,000 acres is a collection of estuaries and swamps. Highway 41 is a scenic drive with plenty of pull-offs and picnic areas. Visit the Oasis Visitor Center or Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center for maps or trail information. There are ranger-led tours and commercial tours if you are interested in paddling, boat tours or informational hikes. There is even a Triathlon you can participate in!