Manatee Park picture
Ai Angel Gentel/Getty Images

Key Info

10901 State Road 80

Details

Zoos and Aquariums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
4.0

scorecard

  • 4.5Value
  • 3.5Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

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 pockets of water to escape chilly temperatures. Since the park is directly on the warm water discharge canal of the Florida Power & Light company, it's a popular spot for these gentle creatures. There are a handful of observation decks to see the animals up close, but you can also hop into a kayak and paddle out to spot them. You probably won't see manatees if you visit in summer, but you can enjoy the park's 16 acres in kayaks or on guided tours. Recent visitors to the park say when its cool out (and with a little patience) you can see upwards of 50 manatees at the park. 

General admission to the park is free, but there is a small fee for parking ($5 a day, year-round). Kayak rentals and concessions are available from December to March from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the rest of the year concessions are closed and kayak rental is by reservation only. After catching a glimpse of the manatees, you can also explore the extensive on-site butterfly garden. You can check the website to see if manatees are present at the park on any given day. 

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Time to Spend
#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 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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