Florida’s Paradise Coast combines luxury, adventure and miles of white sandy beaches all in one. But there are still plenty of free family-friendly activities. The area includes Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades.
The Paradise Coast is famous for its sugar-white sand beaches that stretch from Barefoot Beach Preserve at the northern tip of Collier County, through the city of Naples, along the four miles of Marco Island’s crescent shoreline and into the deserted Ten Thousand Islands region of the Everglades.
Tigertail Beach Park in particular is a great family beach park, offering visitors bird watching, shelling, tidal pool exploration, breathtaking sunsets, a playground and restrooms.
Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park
There is arguably no better time to experience Big Cypress than in the winter, when free activities including canoe, bicycle and hiking tours led by park rangers are provided. These tours, along with a variety of other activities, are also offered by rangers at Everglades National Park’s Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City – the only one of the three main entrances to the national park with no entrance fee.
Protecting over 729,000 acres of the Big Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diverse collection of wildlife, including the elusive and endangered Florida panther. The Preserve is also open for those interested in camping in the region. The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, Everglades National Park is home to fourteen endangered and nine threatened species.
Explore the Caracara Prairie Preserve Trails
Outdoor adventurers may want to investigate CREW’s (Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed) three miles of new hiking trails. The Caracara Prairie Preserve Trails are accessible from the CREW Cypress Dome Trailhead, located off of Corkscrew Road in northern Collier County. Caracara Prairie Preserve is home to caracaras, gopher tortoises, sandhill cranes, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, swallow-tailed kites, and much more. The active cattle lease provides the additional adventure of seeing cows while hiking.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a celebration of all the natural treasures in the region – the water, land, wildlife and future. The 21-acre nature experience continues putting the finishing touches on its system-wide sustainable renovation. The completely re-imagined Dalton Discovery Center is now open. This interactive museum allows visitors to follow the path that water takes through the various southwest Florida ecosystems and experience the plants and wildlife in each habitat. Popular electric boat rides are available on the Gorden River and several new viewing overlooks provide glimpses of wading birds and gopher tortoises. Admission is free for children under three years old; admission is $8.95 for children 12 and under.