J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

#6 in Best Things To Do in Sanibel Island
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Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

Key Info

1 Wildlife Dr, Sanibel, FL

Price & Hours

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


Zoos and Aquariums, Parks and Gardens, Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend


  • 4.0Value
  • 3.0Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

Named after a political cartoonist and conservationist, the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge occupies more than 6,400 acres of land and shelters mangrove forests, marshes and seagrass beds, 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 along the 4-mile-long Wildlife Drive, which is also open for vehicles and an open-air tram. If you'd rather walk, try the Indigo Trail (which is accessed off of Wildlife Drive) and Bailey Tract, a wetland within the refuge accessible by walking or biking only. There are additional trails throughout the area. You can also view the refuge from the water with a tour from Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge's official partner.

Recent visitors recommend spending time in the refuge to spot wildlife, calling it a peaceful and relaxing excursion. They also tell travelers to go to the visitor center restrooms, which are intricately decorated and won the Cintas Best Restroom Award in 2018.

You will see the most wildlife if you visit between the months of November and April. Wildlife Drive's hours vary by month and it is closed every Friday. Admission to Wildlife Drive is $5 per car and $1 per pedestrian and bicyclist. Indigo Trail will set you back an additional $1 per person. The guided tram tour, operated by Tarpon Bay Explorers, costs about $13 per adult and $8 per child. Visit the refuge's website for more information.

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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. (You may want to wear water shoes to protect your feet.)

Beachgoers routinely praised Bowman's for its excellent shelling and expansive sands that let visitors find their own spots with ease. Several also enjoyed riding their bikes to the beach, saying that the ride is easy along the nearby path.

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