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
4.3

scorecard

  • 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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#2 Edison and Ford Winter Estates

The Edison and Ford Winter Estates are home base for history buffs who visit the area. The two American innovators – Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb and the phonograph and Henry Ford, the pioneer of the automobile – were good friends who built their winter homes next to each other about a mile south of downtown Fort Myers. Dating back to the early 1900s, the historic estates are now on display for visitors. Along with the grand homes, the grounds also include a botanical garden (with trees planted by Edison himself), a research laboratory and a museum with hundreds of artifacts and inventions from the entrepreneurs. Guided and self-guided tours are available

The estates are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). The cost of admission depends on the type of tour you sign up for; the garden tour is separate from the homes, museum and laboratory admission. Certain tours, such as the garden tour or a behind the scenes tour are only available once a week. Prices range from $12 to $50 for adults and $5 to $20 for children ages 6 to 12. According to recent visitors, the price of admission is a little high, but worth it for those who are interested in the history of either inventor. For more information on prices and tour times, visit the organization's website

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