J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

#6 in Best Things To Do in Sanibel Island
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge picture
cletch/Flickr

Key Info

1 Wildlife Dr, Sanibel, FL

Price & Hours

$1 per pedestrian; $5 per vehicle
Hours vary seasonally

Details

Hiking, Parks and Gardens, Zoos and Aquariums Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
3.9scorecard
  • 4.0Value
  • 3.0Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

Named after a political cartoonist and conservationist, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge was originally meant to conserve the Sanibel Island mangrove forest. Now, the refuge (which occupies 6,300 acres of land or half the entire island) shelters those same mangroves, as well as animals like crocodiles, alligators and a countless number of birds. In fact, for herons, cuckoos and ospreys, this refuge is an important stop along their southern migratory path.

You can hike or bike through one of the many refuge trails or along the 4.5-mile Wildlife Drive, which is also open for vehicles and an open-air tram. Recent visitors recommend stopping by a restroom before stepping foot on the beautiful path because there are none along the way. You can also view the refuge from the water, which some preferred over Wildlife Drive.

The refuge's hours vary by month, but you will see the most wildlife if you visit between the months of November and April. It costs approximately $1 (per person) to enter on foot and $5 per car. The guided tram tour costs approximately $13 per person. Visit the official website for more information on pricing and hours.

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More Best Things To Do in Sanibel Island

Bowman's Beach1 of 5
Captiva Island2 of 5
Type
Time to Spend
#1 Bowman's Beach

Bowman's is well known for having beautiful, unusual shells, but you'll have to put a little effort into finding the true gems along this beach. Recent travelers found the best method is to step waist-deep in the water and dig your feet into the sand to find the shells.

Though this area isn't as developed as other areas of the islands, it still offers a few amenities, including picnic tables, grills, bathrooms and bike racks. Plan on bringing your own food instead of visiting one of the popular restaurants located about a mile down Bowman's Beach Road, as they can get pretty pricey. Another unfortunate side effect of visiting this centrally located beach is the $4-an-hour parking fee by the shore. The beach welcomes visitors from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For more information, visit the Lee County website.

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