J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

#1 in Best Things To Do in Fort Myers
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge picture
D E N N I S A X E R photography/Getty Images

Key Info

1 Wildlife Drive

Details

Parks and Gardens, Recreation Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.3scorecard
  • 4.0Value
  • 4.0Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

Named after a political cartoonist and conservationist, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge occupies 8,000 acres of land on Sanibel Island, located southwest of Fort Myer's city center. The refuge, which takes up about half the entire island, was originally meant to conserve the island's significant mangrove forest. Today, it is still home to those mangroves, as well as animals like crocodiles, alligators and countless species of birds. In fact, for herons, cuckoos, ospreys, and other birds, the refuge is an important stop along their migratory path. Recent visitors to the park said it's a unique way to see a variety of wildlife. 

You'll see the most wildlife if you visit between the months November and April during low tide. If you visit in the summer be aware of the high humidity and increased amount of bugs – including mosquitos. You can explore the refuge in whatever way suits your tastes: on foot or bike via trails, in a canoe, or by car. Parts of the park also allow boating and fishing. The park is open every day, including holidays, but is closed all day each Friday. The park also offers a free visitor and education center that's open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May to December and open until 5 p.m. from January to April. Park hours vary throughout the year, so check the website before visiting. The website also includes tide charts to help you plan your visit. Admission is $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian or bicycle. 

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