Wellness Retreats and Ecotours in the Florida Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands
Naples is a beautiful southwest Florida Gulf Coast destination with diverse and abundant outdoor activities. There are many beach cities in the world, but only Naples, Florida sits within an hour of one of the world's most unique ecosystems—where dolphins, manatees, alligators, crocodiles, and panthers all co-exist. Experience your own wellness retreat or ecotour at these beautiful parks and outdoor sites near Naples.
Everglades National Park and Ten Thousand Islands Tours
Explore the Ten Thousand Islands and western portion of Everglades National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the experts at Everglades Area Tours. They offer several fun and educational guided ecotours from their base in Chokoloskee, about a one hour drive from downtown Naples.
The name Chokoloskee (pronounced Chuckaluskee) means "Big House" or "Old Home" in the native Seminole Indian language. When the Seminoles and European settlers first visited the area, they found 180 shell mounds, attesting to the ancient Calusa Indian tribe's long culture there.
On the Everglades Area Tours Boat Assisted Kayak Tour, a power boat ferries guests to remote locations in the western edge of the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge or the Gulf Coast portion of Everglades National Park, then launches kayaks from the boat. At high tide, you might see the highly protected sawfish around the sand bar at Rabbit Key. At low tide, you can walk two miles into the Gulf of Mexico because it is so shallow.
A highlight of the ecotour is Sand Fly Island, once farmed by the Calusa Indians. A huge shell mound rises 10-12 ft above sea level and the artesian well is still flowing. An impressive achievement on an island surrounded by salt water, miles from the mainland.
More Fun Places to Visit in the Everglades Near Naples
Before or after your Everglades Area Tours adventure, consider visiting these attractions.
- Historic Smallwood Store. Ted Smallwood's store, circa 1906, was the primary trading post in this remote and isolated wilderness. Visit the historic structure and learn about life in the Everglades 100 years ago and the history of the area prior to that.
- Museum of the Everglades. The Dade County pine floor on display is one of my favorite things in all of South Florida. Look for lines on the wall marking mud levels from the previous hurricane. The museum has a rotating collection featuring local artists and artifacts, and their window banners are fascinating.
- Ochopee Post Office. The smallest post office in the United States, since 1953, was actually my grandparents' post office for over 25 years. Definitely a fun Instagram selfie spot.
- Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. The center offers exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the Big Cypress Swamp along with an introductory film about the swamp's resources and recreational opportunities.
- Loop Road. The Loop Road takes you back in time to real old school Florida but it can be rough during the wet season. Check at the Welcome Center about current conditions before you attempt the drive. You WILL see gators, tropical birds, and possibly big snakes along Loop Road.
- Everglades night drive. Nothing to me is more relaxing than driving into the Everglades on a clear, coolish night, especially with thunderstorms in the distance. Drive on Tamiami Trail from Naples, turn around at the highway 29 intersection, or continue in any direction. Put the top down, stick to the speed limit, and watch for endangered panthers!
Pure Florida Eco adventure tour
Experience incredible nature and scenery closer to Naples, with Pure Florida tours departing from Tin City. On a recent Ecotour with Captain Nick, we saw many playful dolphins, learned a lot about the local ecosystem, and spent time collecting shells on Keewaydin—a pristine 8-mile-long island between Naples and Marco Island.
The South Florida mangrove forest is the second largest in the world, after Bangladesh. Mangrove forests produces 20% more oxygen than similar sized rain forests, so they are beneficial to the environment. Mangrove leaves that fall into the water from form the basis for the life-giving food web that sustains crustaceans, fish, and other sea life. Florida mangrove trees have been protected for many years and a $10,000 fine (per tree!) is issued to anyone who damages or destroys them.
McCool Travel tip: Captain Nick advised me not to eat South Florida oysters because the water is too hot.
This is one of the coolest places I have visited in recent years. Bird watching is the most popular reason to visit the 13,000-acre Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary. Located 30 minutes east of I-75, Corkscrew Sanctuary was established in 1954 to save bald cypress trees, some over 500 years old, from logging.
The most important feature is the 2.5 mile boardwalk, the longest swamp boardwalk in the world. Within 10 seconds of starting my walk, I heard river otters splashing in the swampy water. Later I witnessed the blooming rare ghost orchid which attracts visitors from around the world. I was fascinated by the Alligator Flag (a plant) and that there are no pythons here. Panther sightings are rare, but they have been seen on the boardwalk and grounds.
More Outdoor Places to Visit in Naples:
- Take a short stroll on the Marsh Trail at Ten Thousand Islands NWR. A flat path leads to an observation tower overlooking a marsh. Maybe, like us, you will spend an extra 10 minutes in the tower because a 10-foot alligator blocked the trail. What a thrill!
- Gordon River Greenway includes a raised boardwalk path and unpaved trails through reclaimed swamp and wetlands. A convenient entrance is located behind the public parking lot shared by Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center.
- Freedom Park, along Golden Gate Parkway, has a veterans’ memorial and a magnificent boardwalk trail over a wetland preserve.
- Naples Pier is a beautiful and popular spot to watch the sunset.
- Sugden Regional Park is a nice place to catch a sunrise.
Whether you venture into the wild on an ecotour, or stick to easy drives and short walks with your wellness retreat, you are sure to experience unique nature along with plenty of peace and quiet in the Naples area.
Charles McCool works with destinations and brands to promote fun and unique travel experiences to highly engaged audiences. Follow him on McCoolTravel.com and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Flipboard.