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J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

#1 in Best Things To Do in Fort Myers

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge picture in Fort Myers
D E N N I S A X E R photography / Getty Images

Key Info

Details

  • Parks and Gardens, Recreation Type
  • Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.3
Overall
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Scorecard

  • Value
    4.0
  • Facilities
    4.0
  • Atmosphere
    4.0

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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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#1 J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge 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 ... Read more » D E N N I S A X E R photography / Getty Images

#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 ... Read more » Courtesy Edison & Ford Winter Estates

#3 Manatee Park It's best to stop by Manatee Park, a refuge for Florida manatees, during the winter season (between December and February). During the colder months, the animals flock to warm ... Read more » Ai Angel Gentel / Getty Images

#4 Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium You'll see a wide range of animals native to Florida at the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium, including bald eagles, alligators, hawks and owls. There are also daily shows ... Read more » RHZ / Getty Images

#5 Spring Training Although the nearest major league baseball teams are in Tampa and Miami, those visiting Fort Myers still see big league action in the form of spring training. Every March, the ... Read more » Courtesy Florida Sports Foundation

#6 IMAG History & Science Center Future scientists and engineers (and their families) come to the IMAG History & Science Center to explore topics, such as earth and space science, Florida history, technology, marine animals,  ... Read more » Courtesy IMAG History & Science Center

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge picture in Fort Myers
Edison and Ford Winter Estates picture in Fort Myers
Manatee Park picture in Fort Myers
Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium picture in Fort Myers
Spring Training picture in Fort Myers
IMAG History & Science Center picture in Fort Myers
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge picture in Fort Myers
Edison and Ford Winter Estates picture in Fort Myers
Manatee Park picture in Fort Myers
Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium picture in Fort Myers
Spring Training picture in Fort Myers
IMAG History & Science Center picture in Fort Myers

If you want to catch the maximum amount of wildlife at the refuge, visit from November to April during low tide.  D E N N I S A X E R photography / Getty Images

The estates encompass 20 acres of homes, gardens, a laboratory and a museum to explore.  Courtesy Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Manatee Park is a noncaptive warm water refuge for the sea cows that inhabit southern Florida's waters. Your best chance to spot them is during the winter months.  Ai Angel Gentel / Getty Images

One of the many opportunities to appreciate the great outdoors, the Calusa Nature Center is unique in that it includes an on-site planetarium.  RHZ / Getty Images

Both the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox call Fort Myers home during spring training Courtesy Florida Sports Foundation

The IMAG History & Science Center caters to families with young children thanks to its variety of interactive exhibits. Courtesy IMAG History & Science Center

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