Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a haven for wilderness wonders, including the world’s largest remaining stand of virgin old-growth bald cypress forest. Sometimes called the Muir Woods of the East Coast, Corkscrew features a 2.25-mile boardwalk that brings visitors among trees that are more than a hundred feet high, can exceed 24 feet in circumference, and are estimated to be nearly 600 years old. Inside Tip: Owned and managed by the National Audubon Society since 1954, the more than 13,000 acres of rigorously maintained wetlands are also home to the largest rare ghost orchid ever found—it produced 40 flowers in 2014.
When to Go: The sanctuary boardwalk is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (the entrance closes at 4:30 p.m.). Admission is $12 for adults and valid for two days. The snowbird season between November and May is when most regularly scheduled activities take place. Inside Tip: During the dry months of winter or drought, Corkscrew's wildlife congregates on ever shrinking pools of water. Wading birds may go into a “feeding frenzy” as they compete for higher concentrations of fish, making for spectacular viewing.
Must Dos: The main attraction here is the boardwalk, constructed of sustainable wood. The walkway wanders through habitats that include prairie marsh and pine flatlands and continues into the heart of the old-growth forest, offering a taste of primeval Florida. From October through March, free 1.5-hour-long guided tours along the one-mile short loop of the boardwalk are offered daily; in summer and early fall, tours are available Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Other regularly scheduled activities include photography workshops and swamp hikes, or you can browse Corkscrew's art exhibits and nature store. The popular monthly After Dark events—when Corkscrew stays open until 9 p.m. for independent and guided boardwalk strolls complemented by music, art, children's activities, and more—take place October through March. Best Bet: The sanctuary holds the World Wetlands Day Festival on a weekend near World Wetlands Day. Festival events include photography and art workshops, swamp hikes, hands-on children's activities, music performances, and art exhibits. Inside Tip: Make reservations for backcountry swamp-buggy tours during the festival, which allow you to venture into the remote areas of the sanctuary.
Fun Fact: Corkscrew is a top spot for birding, according to BirdLife International, and is on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Look for species such as the barred owl, limpkin, or painted bunting. Best Bet: Go on an Early Bird Walk, led by Corkscrew staff from November through April.
Photograph by Carlton Ward, Jr., National Geographic Travel
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park covers one of the last remaining undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast. So when you picture your perfect beach, it likely looks like one you can find here: unspoiled scenery, plenty of room to spread out on the sand, and clear, warm water for swimming and fishing. Best Bet: Get out on the water by renting a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or canoe from Naples Beach Adventures.
Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park
Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park on 342-acre Little Hickory Island in Bonita Springs is considered one of the state’s “living beaches,” one constantly reshaped by wind and water without human interference. The beach park also is one of the best at making nature accessible to guests with disabilities. Park rangers use a six-passenger golf cart to lead the Nature Walk on Wheels down the one-mile Alice Saylor Nature Trail. Other touring options include ranger-guided canoe trips through the estuary from January to April. Also from January to April, the Friends of Barefoot Beach host a free lecture series on Saturday mornings that features biologists, historians, and other park and nature experts.