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!
- Where is the Ten Thousand Islands Florida
- How to Explore the Ten Thousand Islands, Florida
- Get To Know More About The Ten Thousand Islands, FL
- Wildlife at Ten Thousand Islands, Florida
- Top Things to do in Ten Thousand Islands, FL
- How to go Camping in Ten Thousand Islands, Florida
- Best Places to Stay in Ten Thousand Islands
- Ten Thousand Islands Practical Information
- Ten Thousand Islands, Florida Conclusion
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:
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Best Places to Stay in Ten Thousand Islands
ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS ON MARCO ISLAND:
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:
- Best Budget Hotel: The Boat House
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: JW Marriott Marco Islands
- Best Upmarket Hotel: Marco Island Ocean Resort
ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN EVERGLADES CITY:
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:
- Best Budget Hotel: Everglades City Motel
- Best Mid-Range Accommodation: Cozy Everglades City Studio
- Best Upmarket accommodation: Ivey House
Ten Thousand Islands Practical Information
WHEN TO VISIT THE TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS
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.
WHERE TO EAT IN TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS
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:
- Triad Seafood Market & Cafe – American, seafood, and gluten-free options
- Carmellia Street Grill -Vegetarian-friendly, Gluten-Free, and Vegan options
- Havana Cafe of the Everglades – Caribbean, Latin, Seafood, Cuban. Also offer vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options
- Rod and Gun Club – Local cuisine, American, Seafood with a complete bar.
WHAT TO PACK FOR TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, FLORIDA
- 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
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!
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