Ten Thousand Islands, Florida: A Travel Planner’s Expert Guide

Welcome to this ultimate guide on how to visit Ten Thousand Islands Florida, a hidden gem in the USA that is full of natural wonder, rich history, and to discover the canals dug by the first settlers and the thriving ecosystem that exists today, and is considered one of the best places to kayak in Florida.

Located in the second-largest mangrove forest in the world, Ten Thousand Islands is one of the hidden-gems in Florida, and is a destination that will captivate your imagination. This stunning location is a paradise of water and wildlife that will leave you breathless. As you explore the area, you’ll encounter a wealth of unique and fascinating wildlife, such as manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, and alligators. The miles of hiking trails and waterways are waiting for you to discover something new and exciting.

Despite living in Florida for 17 years, I had never heard of Ten Thousand Islands until very recently. But after exploring this hidden paradise myself, I am excited to share with you very helpful insider tips on the top things to do in Ten Thousand Islands, the best places to stay, and where to eat in this unique ecological paradise. So, without any further ado, let’s dive into this guide!

The dolphin in Ten Thousand Islands

Where is the Ten Thousand Islands Florida

Just take a look at the map below to see how unique this region is. Ten Thousand Islands is off Florida’s southwest coast and it is challenging to visit this labyrinth of twisting channels through all the remote mangrove islands.

The  Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Southside of Highway 41, approximately 20 miles southeast of Naples-FL, just between Marco Island and Everglades City, Florida. Ten Thousand Islands is also a great alternative as one of the best day trips from Miami.

The West boundary lies along county road 92. The Gulf of Mexico borders the southern boundary, and the eastern boundary lies just west of Everglades National Park, and FAKA Union Canal in the northern portion of that boundary.

To make it easier, Ten Thousand Islands’ location from the major cities:

15.1 miles (24 km) from Marco Island
27.6 miles (44.4 km) from Naples
80.5 miles (130 km) from Miami
156 miles (251 km) from Tampa Bay Area
185 miles (298 km) from Orlando
Road trip in Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
Road trip in Ten Thousand Islands Florida

How to Explore the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

Ten Thousand Islands by Boat

The refuge is best accessed by boat. There are two prominent boating access points are found in Goodland and Port-of-the-Islands. Take U.S. 41 south out of Naples and drive 12 miles to Hwy 92, turn right and drive 5 miles to Goodland, or continue on U.S. 41 for 5 miles to Port-of-the-Islands.

However, navigating the area can be challenging, so we highly recommend hiring a specialized local guide to take advantage of all the exotic scenery that the area has to offer in a safe and enjoyable way.

Besides boating, the mangrove ecosystem can be explored through various recreational activities, such as sport fishing, bird watching, camping on one of the islands, or simply basking in the natural beauty of this paradise.

Ten Thousand Islands by Car

The ecological refuge is in Collier County, on the southwest coast of Florida. It is located about 40 minutes from the city of Naples and Marco Island, and just 90 minutes from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers.

I recommend booking your car way in advance, and you can quote below, to have access to cars from many major companies which you can compare the best prices and find the best deal for you. You can get a 15% off your rental car when you book through this site. I use and recommend RentalCar because it is the most reliable rental car source, and it allows you to compare the prices of different places.

Get to Ten Thousand Islands by Organized Tours

If you are in rush to organize your own trip to the Ten Thousand Islands, and you still want to have a taste of the Everglades, there are plenty of organized tour options. I have chosen some great options for you:

This 2-hours tour, from Marco Island, will take you on a private journey through the calm waters in Ten Thousand Islands, stopping at the secluded beaches in the area and allow some time to gather sea shells and relax and enjoy the beauty of this eco paradise.

A very popular tour departures from Marco Island, will take you on a journey to go shelling in a place relatively undisturbed. The local guide provides insights on the local animals, flora and fauna. You will have the opportunity to spot wildlife such as dolphins, manatees and a variety of birds.

This 2-hour tour departure from Marco Island, and you will on board with a captain-guide to explore the natural environment of Ten Thousand Islands, catch the dolphin jumping right behind your boat, learn about the amazing mangroves while you listen and learn all about this gem ecosystem.

Nature beauty at Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
Boat tour at the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refugee

Get To Know More About The Ten Thousand Islands, FL

You may be surprised to learn that despite its name, Ten Thousand Islands in Florida is actually home to hundreds of islands, not thousands. But don’t let that fool you, because what these islands lack in quantity, they more than make up for in quality.

Established in 1996, this 35,000-hectare refuge is a haven for wildlife, from vibrant marine species to a stunning array of plants. It’s no wonder that Ten Thousand Islands is considered one of Florida’s best-kept secrets, with its pristine beauty and diverse range of habitats.

Two-thirds of the refuge is made up of mangrove forests, fresh and saltwater marshes, brackish lagoons, winding channels, sandy beaches, and shallow bays that dominate the numerous islands. From the tiniest islands, barely the size of a basketball court, to larger islands that rival the size of a soccer field, each one is a unique and captivating ecosystem.

And that’s not all – Ten Thousand Islands is also home to a rich diversity of native wildlife, including several endangered species. With its protected habitats and flourishing wildlife, this is a destination that’s perfect for anyone looking for an authentic Florida experience.

The second largest mangrove forest in the world is Ten Thousand Islands
Ten Thousand Islands is the second largest mangrove forest in the world

The rich history of Ten Thousand Islands dates back over 3,500 years when Native Americans first settled in this beautiful region. The abundance of seafood was the main draw, and the tribes dug canals, built islands from discarded shells, and used the area as a refuge.

In the late 19th century, European settlers began to occupy the larger islands, and commercial fishing became the primary source of income. But as cities grew, people migrated to areas around Marco Island, Naples, and Everglades City.

Today, the islands are a protected sanctuary, and no one calls them home. This means that the area remains as pristine and untouched as it was when the first settlers arrived, as noted by the Florida Environmental Protection Service.

Indians traces in Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
Native Americans got attracted to the Ten Thousand Islands area because of the abundance of seafood – They built islands made of discarded shells.
Native Americans got attracted to the Ten Thousand Islands area because of the abundance of seafood – They built islands made of discarded shells.

Wildlife at Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

The Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), helps to protect the habitat and multiple species of animals, including many endangered species such as the peregrine falcon, the wood stork, and the Atlantic sea turtle.

The volunteers participate in research and monitoring activities involving the local fauna and flora, and they help to provide protection for migratory birds and endangered species and educate, monitor, and inform the public about the uses and resources of this ecological sanctuary.

Multiple species of animals find shelter in the NWR, including:

Birds: Almost 200 species of birds such as herons, pelicans, and ospreys.
Fish: More than 200 species of fish, including the red drum, snook, tarpon, bass, grouper, and sea trout.
Marine Mammal: Florida manatees and bottlenose dolphins.
Mammals: Raccoons, river otters, bobcats, black bears, and the Florida panther can be seen on the mangrove islands and in the mainland areas of the Wildlife Refuge.
Reptiles: You can find them throughout the year, including sea turtles, various species of turtles, a wide variety of snakes, and many alligators.
The wildlife at Ten Thousand Islands
Various species of turtles can be found at the National Park
Dolphins during Ten Thousand Islands Florida USA boat tour
Bottlenose dolphins playing in the waves during the Ten Thousand Islands Boat Tour
Alligator at the Everglades in Florida
Alligators can easily be found everywhere around the Everglades area

Top Things to do in Ten Thousand Islands, FL

1. Take a Boat Tour at Ten Thousand Islands

Ten Thousand Islands boat tour is the highlight of your visit, as you can see the islands and the wildlife, and I recommend booking your tour in advance to guarantee you don’t miss this awesome activity in Ten Thousand Islands. This is a 2-hour wild dolphin tour, with departure from Marco Island that you will take you to see the best of Ten Thousand Islands and all the landmarks around it.

If you are looking for a budget-friendly option, you also have the option to go on the Boat Tours depart from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center several times a day. You can buy your tickets in person at the gift shop or you can book tickets online. The boat can accommodate 12 guests and has a total duration of 3-hours.

You will have an opportunity to see abundant wildlife up close such as dolphins and manatees. See and photograph wild bottlenose dolphins,  as they feed, play, and often perform amazing jumps around the boat.

Ten Thousand Islands boat tour
Ten Thousand Islands Boat Tour – Respecting social distancing and you can bring your dogs
Ten Thousand Islands boat tour
Ten Thousand Islands boat tour is the highlight as you can see the islands from a close distance and observe the marine life

2. Take a drive on the Loop Road – Everglades

A visit to Ten Thousand Islands isn’t complete without taking a drive down Loop Road, a 25 miles (40-km) gravel road through the Everglades. As you make your way down the road, you’ll have the opportunity to observe a variety of wildlife including alligators, birds, otters, deer, and if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive Florida panther.

One of the best parts of driving down Loop Road is the chance to enjoy the cypress forest and tall pines in complete tranquility. Make sure to bring a pair of binoculars, and keep your eyes and ears open for the amazing wildlife that calls this area home. Remember to drive slowly and be respectful of the natural environment, and be prepared for many stops along the way to take pictures, and appreciate this unique sanctuary.

Driving at Everglades in Florida USA
Driving down Loop Road through the Everglades
Road trip in Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
Cypress forest and the amazing tall pines during the driving at the Everglades

3. Birdwatch at Ten Thousand Islands

If you are a bird lover so, the Ten Thousand Islands NWR is a must-visit destination for you! Keep your eyes on the skies and you’ll be rewarded with sightings of dozens of year-round species including osprey, egrets, ibis, and herons.

During the winter months, the area becomes a temporary home for migratory birds such as the white pelican. So, grab your binoculars and get ready for some incredible bird watching!

4. Visit the Everglades City

The city of Everglades is a charming fishing village, with great food, and long history, and it is known as the fishing and stone crab capital of Southwest Florida. You can explore the historic city of Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island by car, bicycle, or on foot, and be able to appreciate up close a legendary past such as visiting buildings from the 1920s.

Also, Everglades City is the best option for accommodation if you are looking to spend a few days exploring the Ten Thousand Islands. Here you can find shops, restaurants, motels, a marina, a museum, a very small airport, and places to rent a canoe, kayak, bicycle and also, you can take boat and airboat tours. 

Everglades City in Florida USA
The city hall at the Everglades City – buildings from the 1920s
Ten Thousand Islands sunset in Florida USA
Sunset at Choloskee Island

5. Visit the smallest Post Office in the USA

 Another thing to do if you are visiting Ten Thousand Island, make sure to stop at the Smallest Post Office in the USA that is located in Ochopee. It is actually a working Post Office still. This closet-sized, 7×8-foot building used to be an irrigation pipe shed for a tomato farm. It was pressed into service after a fire destroyed the Ochopee general store, which also housed the post office in 1953.

Ten Thousand Island Florida USA smallest post office in the US

6. Go kayaking on Ten Thousand Islands

Ten Thousand Islands offers some of the most unique places to go kayaking in Florida. From Chokoloskee Island, about three miles from the ranger station, it’s a good half-day paddle to the closest keys. Before you go, make sure to study the tides as the current can rip through the narrow mangrove channels and make progress seem nearly impossible. It’s far better to plan your trip out on an outgoing tide, even if it means leaving later than you want to.

It’s a run of approximately 99 miles from Chokoloskee to Flamingo. A powered boat can cover the distance in a day but kayakers and canoeists can take a week to cover the same distance. This journey should be attempted only by experienced boaters and paddlers with good navigational skills and the proper equipment, or you can hire a local guide.

Kayaking at Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
Go on a kayaking adventure in the Ten Thousand Islands is one of the best ways to see this amazing area

7. Go hiking at the 10,000 Islands Marsh Trail

Located at mile marker 31 on US41 or Tamiami Trail, the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a chance to experience nature up close. The Marsh Trail is a mile-long pathway that runs alongside the marshes and is paved most of the way, making it an easy and flat stroll.

Along the trail, there is an observation tower that offers fantastic views of the surrounding landscape. In addition to the Marsh Trail, there are several canoe and kayak trails that allow visitors to explore the area’s waterways and observe wildlife from a different perspective.

Hiking in Ten Thousand Islands
There are many options for hiking around the Ten Thousand Islands

8. Go on a camping adventure in the Ten Thousand Islands

Everglades National Park has 48 designated backcountry campsites. Campers can choose from chickees, ground sites, and beach sites. Chickees are 10- by 12-foot wooden platforms built over the water away from land, and land sites are usually only a few feet higher than the surrounding mangroves. But please, be aware of the Ten Thousand Islands NWR rules and regulations.

Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge offers a unique camping experience for those who want to explore the area up close. From October to April, campers can stay overnight with “Leave No Trace” ethics. Beach sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and reservations are not required. However, it’s essential to know the rules and regulations of the refuge.

The refuge has some restrictions that you need to be aware of. Camping on the beaches of Panther Key, Camp Key, Hog Key, and Bee Key is not permitted from May 1 to September 30 due to the nesting of sea turtles and shorebirds. These animals’ safe emergence is important, and human interference such as campfires, tents, and boats can be disruptive. So, make sure to respect the local wildlife and enjoy your camping experience!

Camping in Ten Thousand Islands Florida USA
Overnight camping in Ten Thousand Islands

How to go Camping in Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

If you are planning to visit the Ten Thousand Islands, and want to go camping, remember that camping on the uninhabited islands has its challenges, which is part of the appeal.

Be aware that once you leave the safety of the launch, you’ll be on your own responsibility. You must bring everything you will need, including food, water, fuel, and medical supplies. Bring some extra, in case you run into bad weather and must stay put.

Camping in the Everglades or at the Ten Thousand Islands NWR requires you to prepare well in advance, and I recommend using eco-friendly camping gear to help to protect the environment.

With no water on the islands, raccoons have been known to chew through plastic just to get a drink, so pack all perishables in the hatch of your boat or kayak. And keep in mind that cell phones and VHF radios don’t work out here in the bush.

As you head southeast along the coast, you’ll find the best spots to pitch a tent on the open water, or windward, sides of the islands, which tend to have the best beaches and, more often than not, fewer bugs.

Safety Tips Before You Go Camping:

Always tell a friend or relative where you’re going.
Check with the ranger about campfires. Because of nearly constant drought conditions, open fires are prohibited many times of the year. Invest in a good, lightweight stove if you plan on doing a lot of wilderness exploring.
Carry plenty of drinking water. Count on at least a gallon a day, more in extreme heat.
Use common sense. Don’t tease the alligators. Don’t pick up snakes you can’t identify. Don’t feed raccoons.
Pack out what you packed in. Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it and “Take only photographs; leave only footprints.”
Remember to always follow the easy 15 tips to be an ethical and responsible traveler. 
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refugee
Manatees can be easily seen on the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refugee
The hidden sanctuary of Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
The hidden paradise of Ten Thousand Islands in Florida, USA

Best Places to Stay in Ten Thousand Islands


Besides Ten Thousand Islands is being in a very unique location, it is also a great option for day tours from other major cities. Marco Island and Naples are a very short drive to Ten Thousand Islands and have many different options for accommodations, from budget to luxury, it depends on your style. I have selected the best options for the value:


The best option, and what I recommend is to spend at least one night in the Everglades City, as you can have the chance to appreciate the unique sunset and to wake up early and go for a full day of exploration.

Check here for a great value for your money:

Ten Thousand Islands Practical Information


The best time to visit is between October and May when the weather is cooler and drier – and there are fewer mosquitoes. If you visit during the summertime, between June and September, book your hikes and outdoor adventures for the morning, to avoid the hottest parts of the day and the frequent summer storms in the afternoon.

Marco Island is close to the Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA


Many come from far and wide,) just to eat at the local restaurants in the Ten Thousand Islands area. All the restaurants are owned by a local who has resided here for years. Some of the great options are:


  • Bring plenty of water: Remember that Florida is humid and hot and you will need to drink a lot of water. I love my LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle. I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack. 
  • Wear sunscreen: You need to be prepared for a visit to the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida is sunny almost every day of the year, this sunscreen is my favorite as it is light and non-greasy when you sweat.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants with UPF 50 protection: The more skin you show, the more you tempt the wet-season skeeters and other biting insects. Wear light hiking pants & a great long sleeves shirts for protection. 
  • Bring Bug Spray: You can buy it at most visitor centers, but that can of Deep Woods Off will cost you double or more.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses: Ten Thousand Islands is a flat, prairie-wetland, which means few trees and no shade, so this is more about personal comfort. Bring a hat with a good face cover like this one and wear a don’t forget to pack a pair of polarized sunglasses
  • Bring proper shoes: Wear comfortable hiking or walking shoes and leave your sandals and heels at home. Even boat and tram tours require some walking 
  • Check the Weather: South Florida is famous for sudden, violent rainstorms – mainly during summer – so pack an umbrella or poncho just in case.
  • Bring along some food or snacks: Eating on trails is prohibited (with good reason), but it’s a good idea to pack trail mix or cereal bars to munch on at visitor centers or in the car.
  • Bring your Camera: The Everglades landscape and wildlife are incredible, so don’t forget your camera
Sunset in Ten Thousand Islands
Stunning sunset at Ten Thousand Islands

Ten Thousand Islands, Florida Conclusion

The National Wildlife Refuge of the Ten Thousand Islands in Florida, is a Hidden Paradise in USA. With a rich ecosystem and a large preserved and remote environmental area, which few have the privilege to visit, and it is possible to have a very private and remote.

If you love nature and off-the-beaten-path destinations I really recommend visiting Ten Thousand Islands Nature Wildlife Refugee. And don’t forget the most important ingredient for any trip through the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands – a spirit of adventure!

Here is some further information I think you might enjoy:

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14 thoughts on “Ten Thousand Islands, Florida: A Travel Planner’s Expert Guide”

  1. I’ve spent many days paddling and overnight camping in the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands are some of my favorite cays to camp on. I’ve fought off many a raccoon there to save my food. But to see all the birds, dolphins and alligators makes it all worthwhile.

  2. That is such an amazing in-depth guide to the Ten Thousands Islands. A few years ago, I did a boat tour around the islands but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore the more remote areas. After reading your post, I have to come back again! 🙂

  3. I would love to see the manatees! Looks like a really great place for wildlife. The city looks interesting as well! Thanks for this great guide.

  4. im literally crying right now, coz i was meant to be visiting this July!! It looks soooo awesome, im saving this for when we are allowed to enter the US!

  5. Oh Tia, I am so sorry about you to have to postpone your trip to the US. This is really a challenging year, but hopefully in 2021 things will get back to normal and you will have an awesome time. If you come to Florida, please let me know and I would love to meet you.

  6. Awesome Cindy, I hope you get to visit the Ten Thousand Islands and I hope you love it too. During wintertime will be even better, because the weather will be cooler to do plenty of outdoor adventures.

  7. I am so glad to hear you enjoyed this guide. And how awesome you did a tour in the islands before, it is such a unique and wild area, I hope you get the chance to go back.

  8. How awesome Karen you spend days paddling this area, it must be amazing and full of adventures. I didn’t have the chance because I visited during summer, it was over 100 degrees and I had my 2 little dogs with me, but I still want to go back to spend a few days paddling and exploring the islands.

  9. Wow this looks incredible! I have actually never heard of Ten Thousand Islands but now I want to visit! Your wildlife photos are incredible!

  10. Hi Krista – I have been living in Florida for 14 years and I just learned not long ago about Ten Thousand Islands. Such a unique and gorgeous place!

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