The dolphin in Ten Thousand Islands

Florida: Ten Thousand Islands Ultimate Guide on how to explore this paradise (local’s guide)

Then Thousand Island - A Hidden Ecological Paradise in Florida, USA

When you think about Florida in the USA, what comes to your mind?

Gorgeous beaches, with white sand and sipping a margarita while watching the sunset? Or maybe having an epic vacation with your family at Disney or Universal?

But Florida also hides a paradise, called Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a maze of mangroves, where the waters of the Everglades meet the Gulf Coast, forming a labyrinth of water, and it is the second largest mangrove forest in the world, only surpassed by Bangladesh.

The Ecological Sanctuary of Ten Thousand Islands is a real hidden-gem which is little known even to most Floridians. I have been living in Florida for exactly 14 years and had never heard of Ten Thousand Island until very recently.

With the travel restrictions, the positive part is that I decided to take road trips around my home town in Florida, and have the opportunity to start looking for isolated places where it is possible to respect social distancing.

Fortunately I found the ecological paradise of Ten Thousand Islands, which I now bring to you so that you can also get to know, and maybe one day, also explore.

My article about Ten Thousand Islands even made to the magazine cover in Brazil (article from pages 50-55).

Plurale 71 Cover


Ten Thousand Islands in Florida is for anyone looking for an authentic adventure while enjoying some solitude,  being immersed in nature and for anyone who seeks off-the-beaten-path destinations.

You will be surprised to discover this hidden gem in Florida, and fall in love with this destination.

Enjoy it and safe travels!

Jump to:

BONUS RESOURCES:  In this guide you can find all the best tips and practical information you need to travel to Ten Thousand Islands. At the end you can find a bonus section for all the RESOURCES you need  to plan and book your trip to Ten Thousand Islands, and to make your experience as easy, safe and fun as possible.

Road trip in Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
Road trip in Ten Thousand Islands Florida

Ten Thousand Islands - PIN IT FOR LATER!

Ten Thousand Islands: Orientation and Map

Just take a look in the map above 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 approximately 20 miles southeast of Naples-FL, on the south side of Highway 41.

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 Island 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

Ten Thousand Islands
Boat tour at the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refugee

Get to know more about Ten Thousand Islands

Despite the name, the islands in Ten Thousand Islands are hundreds and not thousands and the islands are home to a lot of wildlife, from marine species to a big variety of plants.

Established in 1996, this 35,000-hectare refuge, protects important mangrove habitats and a rich diversity of native wildlife, including several endangered species.

Approximately two thirds of the refuge are mangrove forests, fresh and salt water marshes, brackish lagoons, winding channels, sandy beaches and shallow bays that dominate the numerous islands.

Some of these islands are the size of a basketball court, while others are the size of a soccer field.

Native Americans have inhabited the Ten Thousand Islands region for over 3,500 years. The abundance of seafood was what attracted them to the area for centuries, and the Indians dug canals and built islands made from discarded shells and used the area as a refuge.

In the late 19th century, European settlers occupied several of the largest islands, and commercial fishing was the main source of income. With the rise of cities, people migrated to the areas around: Marco Island, Naples, and Everglades City.

Today, no one else lives on the islands of the sanctuary, and the area is as intact as it used to be when the first settlers arrived according to the Florida Environmental Protection Service.

The sanctuary of Ten Thousand Islands in Florida
Then Thousand Islands a maze of mangroves where the Everglades meet the Gulf Coast
The second largest mangrove forest in the world is Ten Thousand Islands
Ten Thousand Islands is the second largest mangrove fores in the world
Native Americans got attracted to the Ten Thousand Islands area because of the abundance of seafood - They built islands made of discarded shells.

Preservation of the wildlife in Ten Thousand Islands

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 educates, monitors and informs 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 see trout.

⇒ Marine Mammal: Florida manatees and bottlenose dolphins.

⇒ Mammals: Raccoons, river otters, bobcat, 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
Alligator at the Everglades in Florida
Alligators can be easy found everywhere around the Everglades area
Dolphins during Ten Thousand Islands boat tour
Bottlenose dolphis playing with the waves during the Ten Thousand Islands Boat Tour

How to get to Ten Thousand Islands, Florida

Ten Thousand Islands National World Refugee (NWR) is located between Marco Island and Everglades City, Florida.

Ten Thousand Islands by Boat

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.

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 renting a car and driving to the sanctuary of the Ten Thousand Islands, and a service that I always use and recommend is through RentalCar because it gathers the price of several rental companies and you can compare the best options.

Marco Island is located only approx. 30 min from Ten Thousand Islands

Go on organized tour

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

Everglades National Park Airboat Tour – Experience the South Florida Everglades, observe by close distance the wildlife, including alligators, and take an education and exciting airboat tour of the National Park.

Everglades Day Safari from Fort Lauderdable – Explore the wetlands of the Everglades with a naturalist guide, and explore the wild flora and flora. 

From Miami, Florida Everglades Small group airboat tour – Glide across a river of grass on a small airboat and experience the Florida Everglades and the rich wildlife.

How to explore the Ten Thousand Islands

One of the best ways to see and explore the Ten Thousand Islands is by boat. This maze is full of lagoons, mangrove tunnels and shallow ocean passages.

The area is also difficult to navigate, so it is advisable to hire a specialized local guide to be able to take advantage of all the exotic scenery that the area offers, and in a serious way.

The mangrove ecosystem can also be explored by the public in a variety of recreational activities, including sport fishing, bird watching, camping on one of the islands, or simply enjoying the natural beauty of this paradise.

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. 

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 online.

The boat can accommodate 12 guests and a total duration of 3-hours. You will have an opportunity to see abundant wildlife up close such as dolphin 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 close distance and observe the marine life

Take a drive on the Loop Road - Everglades

Another must-see attraction is driving down Loop Road, a 40-km (25 miles) gravel road through the Everglades, which allows you to observe wildlife throughout the year – alligators, birds, otters, deer, even the rarely seen Florida panther can be seeing here. 

The opportunity to enjoy the cypress forest and the tall pines requires a silent attention to the beauty of the tranquility of this place.

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

Birds watch at Ten Thousand Islands

If you are a bird lover, Ten Thousand Islands NWR is heaven!

For bird watching, keep your eyes to the skies for dozens of year round species including osprey, egrets, ibis and herons.  Migratory birds such as the white pelican call the Ten Thousand Islands their winter home.

Visit the Everglades City

The city of Everglades is a charming fishing village, with great food, and long history, and it is knowing 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 to 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 explore the Ten Thousand Islands. Here you can find shops, restaurants, motels, marina, museum, a very small airport and places to rent canoe, kayak, bicycle and also, you can take boat and airboat tours. 

Visit the section RESOURCES below for recommendations for accommodations and places to eat.

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

Go kayaking on Ten Thousand Islands

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 Ten Thousand Islands is one of the best ways to see this amazing area

Go on a camping adventure in 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.

Overnight camping with Leave No Trace ethics is permitted at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge during the months of October-April.

Campers do not need to make a reservation and beach spaces are available on a first come/first serve basis. 

Please be ware of the Ten Thousand Islands NWR rules and regulations

Note that Overnight camping on the beaches of Panther Key, Camp Key, Hog Key, and Bee Key in Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited May 1 -Sept 30 due to nesting sea turtles and shorebirds.

Human influences, including campfires, tents, and boats can disrupt nest site selection and safe emergence of hatchlings. 

Camping in Ten Thousand Islands
Overnight camping in Ten Thousand Islands is one of the most adventurous activities

10,000 Islands Marsh Trail

Just off US41 or Tamiami Trail at mile marker 31 there is a mile-long Marsh Trail within the boundaries of the refuge, you also find several canoe and kayak trails.

The trail runs alongside the marshes, it is paved most of the way and is a very easy flat stroll.

About 1/4 of the way, there is an observation tower that overlooks the marsh and gives you fantastic views of the surroundings.

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

Camping at Ten Thousand Islands: Be Safe & Responsible

If you are planning to visit 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 protecting the environment.

With no water on the uninhabited 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.

Some Safety Tips:

  • 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.”
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refugee
Manatees can be easily seeing 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
Sunset in Ten Thousand Islands
Stunning sunset at Ten Thousand Islands

Final thoughts on a trip to Ten Thousand Islands in Florida

The National Wildlife Refuge of the Ten Thousand Islands in Florida, is a Hidden Paradise in Florida, with a rich eco-system and a large preserved and remote environmental area, where 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 enjoy this hidden paradise in Florida.  

I hope you find this guide helpful, and don’t forget to check the Resources section below to make your trip to Ten Thousand Islands easy, fun and safe. 

And don’t forget the most important ingredient for any trip through the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands – a spirit of adventure.



  • Ten Thousand Islands NWR Headquarters: The headquarters for the refuge is located at 3860 Tollgate Blvd,. Naples, FL, within the Comfort Inn at exit 101 on I-75.
  • Private Boat: There are ramps at the marinas in Goodland (County Road 92) and Port of the Islands (US 41).
  • Entrance Fee: There is no Entrance Fee at the Refuge which is open for public use year round.
  • Public Use Opportunities: Hiking, Wildlife Observation, Canoeing and Kayaking, Photography, Fishing, Waterfowl Hunting, Camping.
  • For more information visit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services: Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Boat tour reservations: Make advance reservations for a guided canoe or kayak trip, a dolphin eco-tour,  with an authorized Everglades National Park operator, such as Everglades Area Tours


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 summer time, 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.


Many come from far and wide,) just to eat at the local restaurants at 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:


Prepare in advance for your trip. Here are some of the excellent guide books that can help you to helped me to prepare for your trip to Ten Thousand Islands: 

My article about Ten Thousand Island in Florida, USA was magazine cover in Brazil – Article from page 50-55


If you are planning to stay Everglade City, I have selected the best hotel options for all budgets: 



Marco Island and Naples is a very short drive to Ten Thousand Islands and have many different options for accommodations, from budget to luxury, it depends on your style. 



Considering that anything can go wrong with any trip, we don’t want to risk the fun, right? Risks are of breaking down, loosing your luggage, or even worse,  having an accident and get injured.

I recommend and also use reliable insurance through World Nomads. You can just do a quick quote below, and you will be surprised to find out how little it can cost, for the benefit you will get. 


If you are planning to rent a car for your road trip in Florida, I recommend to request a quote from a reliable source and compare the prices from different car rentals available. 


There are plenty of awesome activities to explore around the Everglades area. You can find great options for a trip with a family, a couple or solo – there are an adventure for everyone. Check my top pick for you:

Everglades National Park Airboat Tour – Experience the South Florida Everglades, observe by close distance the wildlife, including alligators, and take an education and exciting airboat tour of the National Park.

Everglades Day Safari from Fort Lauderdable – Explore the wetlands of the Everglades with a naturalist guide, and explore the wild flora and flora. 

From Miami, Florida Everglades Small group airboat tour – Glide across a river of grass on a small airboat and experience the Florida Everglades and the rich wildlife.



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Thank you so much for stopping by! I'm Paula, a Brazilian native who calls U.S. home. I am a world traveler, adventure seeker, and an athlete who is always in search of authentic and real-life experiences. I am passionate about cultural immersion, responsible traveling, and to empower people to live a Healthy Lifestyle. Let's Pin the Planet together!

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Comments 14

  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.

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      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.

  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! 🙂

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      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.

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      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.

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