The Best Places to Spot Wildlife in Fort Myers and Sanibel
If you’re determined to see Florida’s iconic animals, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you visit the wildlife refuges, nature centers, or boardwalks, you’re likely to spot manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, alligators, and several birds.
1 Wildlife Dr, Sanibel, FL 33957, USA
Florida’s nature is alive and well at this wildlife refuge, located on the north side of Sanibel Island. Rich with mangroves and seagrass, the protected, subtropical habitat is home to more than 230 species of birds as well as alligators, manatees, and many land mammals. Head here from October through April to see most of the shorebirds, or during the summer months if you’re looking for manatees in and around Tarpon Bay. All year long, you can also spot alligators during four-mile wildlife drives. Back at the information center, be sure to check out the great displays, which are free to all visitors.
3883 Sanibel Captiva Road
At the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), the staff nurtures injured animals from Sanibel and the surrounding areas with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild. Among the “patients” you may meet here are gopher tortoises, opossums, armadillos, snakes, and ospreys. After checking in on the animals, head to the visitor center, where you can learn all about Florida’s native and invasive species. You can also sign up for a 1.5-hour wildlife walk, during which you’ll hear more about the animal hospital and its projects as well as the diversity of Florida fauna.
1815 Fowler St, Fort Myers, FL 33901, USA
Located in downtown Fort Myers’ River District, this special facility is the place to learn about native Floridian butterfly species. During visits, guests can also observe how the critters are raised and released into the wild. The center focuses on butterflies from Southwest Florida and even teaches how to create an attractive environment for the species in your own backyard. Plan your visit around the butterfly release, which happens every day at 10:30 a.m., and be sure to stop by the onsite gift shop for unique souvenirs.
900 Tarpon Bay Road
Located within the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, this popular outfitter offers thrilling wildlife tours. The Kayak Trail Tour often passes dolphins and manatees, while the Sunset Rookery Paddle, which goes to the refuge’s Rookery Islands, usually features dozens of bird sightings, from ibis and brown pelicans to egrets, herons, and more. Other tours include breakfast cruises through the refuge and standup paddleboard expeditions, allowing guests to choose their own adventure when it comes to experiencing Florida’s wildlife.
2500 SE 24th St, Cape Coral, FL 33990, USA
Located in Cape Coral, this fascinating wetland offers a window into the real Florida and its denizens. Just be liberal with the bug spray when you visit. Families will enjoy taking the boardwalk trail through the preserve for a chance at spotting eagles, raccoons, snakes, and wading birds. Also worth checking out are the two observation piers and the kayak trails (rentals are available onsite but be aware that the trails require about 800 feet of portage and, therefore, are not suitable for children under six).