The hidden ecological paradise of The Thousand Islands in Florida USA
The hidden gem of Ten Thousand Islands in Florida, USA is an ecological paradise that is little known even to most Floridians, and one of the most unique places to visit in Florida. I have been living in Florida for exactly 14 years and had never heard of Ten Thousand Islands until very recently.
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), is a maze of mangroves, where the waters of the Everglades meet the Gulf Coast, forming a labyrinth of water. It is the second-largest mangrove forest in the world, only surpassed by Bangladesh.
With the 2020 travel restrictions, the positive part is that I decided to take road trips around my hometown 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 Florida, which I now bring to you so that you can also get to know, and maybe one day, also explore.
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!
In this Ten Thousand Islands Travel Guide, you will find:
- Ten Thousand Islands Orientation & Map
- Best Places to Stay when you visit Ten Thousand Islands
- Ten Thousand Islands How to Prepare for your visit
- History of Ten Thousand Islands
- How to get to the Ten Thousand Islands
- How to Explore Ten Thousand Islands
- How to go Camping in Ten Thousand Islands
- Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife
- BONUS SECTION: Trip Planning Resources with all you need to plan and book your trip to the Ten Thousand Islands and make your experience as easy, safe, and fun as possible!
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, FLORIDA ORIENTATION AND MAP
Just take a look at 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 Refuges is located on the Southside of Highway 41, approximately 20 miles southeast of Naples-FL. If you are in this area, make sure you check on the best things to do in Naples, since there is plenty to explore here.
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
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, FLORIDA Where to Stay
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, FLORIDA How to Prepare
- 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, or check some great options for great value here
- Travel safe: Don’t forget to buy Travel Insurance. Considering that anything can go wrong with any trip, we don’t want to risk the fun, right?
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, FLORIDA GET TO KNOW MORE
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.
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS HOW TO GET THERE
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, as you can slowly explore and see the stunning places in each corner of this paradise. Check here for great rental car deals to explore the Ten Thousand Islands.
Go on an organized tour
If you are in rush to organize your own trip to 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:
Book a tour for an Airboat at the Everglades National Park– Experience the South Florida Everglades, observe by the close distance the wildlife, including alligators, and take an education and exciting airboat tour of the National Park.
Check out this awesome Everglades Day Safari from Fort Lauderdale – Explore the wetlands of the Everglades with a naturalist guide, and explore the wild flora and flora.
Click here to for an exclusive airboat tour from Miami – Glide across a river of grass on a small airboat and experience the Florida Everglades and the rich wildlife.
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS HOW TO EXPLORE
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.
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.
Bird 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 known as the fishing and stone crab capital of Southwest Florida.
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.
Visit the section TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES below for recommendations for accommodations and places to eat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS how to go camping
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.”
- Remember to always follow the easy 15 tips to be an ethical and responsible traveler.
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS PRESERVATION OF THE WILDLIFE
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 sea 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.
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS final thougths
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 check the Trip Planning Resources section below to make your trip to the 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.
I am proud to announce that my article about the Ten Thousand Islands even made a magazine cover in Brazil (article from pages 50-55).
TRIP PLANING RESOURCES
PLANNING A TRIP TO TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS
If you are going on a trip to the Ten Thousand Islands Florida, pre-planning, research, and understanding what you are looking for will help make your travels far more successful and safe.
Here is some further information I think you might need to plan your RV rental road trip:
- A great place to start is on my TRAVEL PLANNING – where you can find the 10 easy steps to plan and book your trip easy and safe.
- For more unique trips destinations in the USA and incredible travel guides to travel around the country, visit the USA Travel Itinerary
- Looking to explore more Florida, check the 17 most unique things to do in Florida and Fun things to do in Orlando for adults.
- If you are planning a vacation in Florida to just relax by the beach, check this very complete guide about Honeymoon Island & Caladesi Island.
- If you planning RVing in Florida, check this guide with Everything you need to know before you rent an RV.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT TEN THOUSAND ISLAND
- 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
WHEN TO VISIT 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 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.
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.
FLORIDA GUIDE BOOK
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:
Check my article about Ten Thousand Island in Florida, USA was magazine cover in Brazil – Article from page 50-55
WHERE TO STAY IN EVERGLADE CITY
If you are planning to stay Everglade City, I have selected the best hotel options for all budgets:
WHERE TO STAY IN MARCO ISLAND
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.
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR YOUR TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS TRIP
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.
BEST TOUR OPTIONS AT EVERGLADES AREA
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.