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Visitor Activities

VA Intro, People Bird Watching

The best place to start is at the FREE Visitor & Education Center

  • FREE Visitor & Education Center

    Ed Center

    The Visitor & Education Center features interactive exhibits on refuge ecosystems, the work of Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, migratory flyways, the National Wildlife Refuge System, and a hands-on area for children. The Center is open daily except for most federal holidays. The Center hours are January to April from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and May to December from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Center is located on Sanibel-Captiva Road two miles west of Tarpon Bay Road. The Nature Gift Store is located in the Education Center and is operated by the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society- Friends of the Refuge. Visitors can find numerous field guides, nature books, children's books, shirts, postcards, and many other items. Revenues from the Nature Gift Store help fund many programs at the Refuge.

  • Wildlife Drive

    Wildlife Drive Promo

    Open every day but CLOSED FRIDAYS, come drive, hike, or bike through the 4-mile Wildlife Drive. There are three trails that can be accessed from Wildlife Drive: Indigo Trail and the Wildlife Education Boardwalk (4 miles round trip), Shellmound Trail, and Wulfert Keys Trail. Common sightings include a large variety of waterbirds and shorebirds especially during the winter months, as well as raccoons, alligators, marsh rabbits and occasionally otters and bobcats. Fees apply to Wildlife Drive and the Indigo Trail.

    Click here for a map of Wildlife Drive

    Click here to see hours and admission

  • Hike the Trails


    Indigo Trail and the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, Shellmound Trail, and Wulfert Keys Trail can all be accessed through Wildlife Drive. For a short hike, we suggest the Indigo Trail. The entrance to Indigo Trail is located at the bottom of the ramp of the Visitor & Education Center. The Wildlife Education Boardwalk, a boardwalk over water with a two-story observation pavilion, has educational scat panels and tracks throughout the boardwalk. Common sightings on any of the three trails are a large variety of wading and shorebirds especially during the winter months, as well as raccoons, marsh rabbits, alligators and occasionally otters and bobcats. Fees apply to Indigo Trail.

    Click here to see hours and admission

  • The Bailey Tract

    Habitats Promo

    The Bailey Tract is an interior wetland located off Tarpon Bay Road. This 100-acre parcel is a unique area of the Refuge dominated by freshwater plants and wildlife. The trails can be accessed by walking or biking from sunrise to sunset. Entrance is FREE.
    Click here for a map of the Bailey Tract

  • Bird Watching


    Given that the Refuge is part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the United States, it is the perfect location for birds to feed, nest, and roost. The Refuge is home to over 245 species of birds. Would you like to know which bird species have been seen recently throughout the Refuge? We are now using eBird to track the weekly bird observations by Refuge volunteers and visiting birders who enter their observation data into eBird. The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society also posts weekly wildlife sightings.
    Click here to see the Refuge birding checklist brochure

  • Kayaking, Canoeing, and Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

    Paddle Boarding

    There are two designated kayak/canoe launch sites along Wildlife Drive (east end of the Drive: 26.451724 N, 82.112908 W; west end of the Drive, near Colon's Point: 26.471914 N, 82.140134 W). Guided kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddle board tours of Commodore Creek and Tarpon Bay are offered by our official Refuge concessionaire Tarpon Bay Explorers. There is also a canoe/kayak trail through Buck Key off Captiva Island. 

  • Fishing/Boating


    Salt water fishing is popular along Wildlife Drive, in Tarpon Bay, and in the backwaters of the Refuge. Common fish include sheepshead, snook, redfish, and spotted sea trout. All Florida state fishing laws apply. Boating is allowed in the Refuge in designated areas; however, the Refuge has some restricted access areas including a No Motor Zone and a Pole/Troll Zone. Be sure to consult the refuge Fishing and Boating brochure for closed areas and non-motorized zones.

Page Photo Credits — Credit: USFWS
Last Updated: Dec 17, 2014
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