Ten Thousand Islands, Florida USA | Ultimate Guide on how to explore

Dolphins during Ten Thousand Islands boat tour

TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS IN FLORIDA USA A HIDDEN ECOLOGICAL PARADISE




Discover the ecological paradise of Ten Thousand Islands – one of the best-kept secrets in Florida, USA. Only one hour from Miami you can find this hidden gem even for locals in Florida. In this guide, you can find all you need to know to plan a visit to Ten 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.

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.

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

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.

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

Enjoy this Ten Thousand Islands Ultimate Guide in Florida – USA and safe travels!

The dolphin in Ten Thousand Islands

WHERE IS THE TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS WILDLIFE REFUGE

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 Refuge 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. 

Ten Thousand Islands is also a great alternative as one of the best day trips from Miami or even as an RV road trip in the USA.

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

HOW TO GET TO TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS IN 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, 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. 

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

Get to Ten Thousand Islands by Organized Tours

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 education and an 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.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS FLORIDA

  • 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
    • 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 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.

    BEST ACCOMMODATIONS IN TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, FLORIDA

    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:

    ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN MARCO ISLAND:

    Best Budget Hotel: The Boat House

    Best Mid-Range Hotel: JW Marriott Marco Islands

    Best Upmarket Hotel: Marco Island Ocean Resort

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

    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:

    ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN EVERGLADES CITY:

    Best Budget Hotel: Everglades City Motel

    Best Mid-Range Accommodation Cozy Everglades City Studio

    Best Upmarket accommodation: Ivey House

    Everglades City in Florida USA

    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:

    TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS: PREPARE BEFORE YOU GO

    • 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? 
    The sanctuary of Ten Thousand Islands in Florida USA
    The Thousand Islands a maze of mangroves where the Everglades meet the Gulf Coast

    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 rich diversity of native wildlife, including several endangered species.

    Approximately two-thirds of the refuge are mangrove forests, fresh and saltwater 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.

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

    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.

    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.

    TOP 8 THINGS TO DO IN 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.

    1) 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 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

    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 seen here. 

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

    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) 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.

    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

    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

    7) 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 aware 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 the safe emergence of hatchlings. 

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

    8) 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

    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 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 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
    Sunset in Ten Thousand Islands
    Stunning sunset at Ten Thousand Islands

    PRESERVATION OF 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 educates, monitor, 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, 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

    TRAVEL INSURANCE: SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE

    I never leave my home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. Things can go wrong, and you don’t want to get stuck paying tons of money if you get sick or have an accident without travel insurance. 

    World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover their trip essentials. Especially if you are like me, travel insurance is ideal for adventurous travelers.

    Travel smarter and safer – You can do your quick quote below and find out how little you can pay for the essential benefit of Travel Insurance for your next trip!

    FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS, FLORIDA USA

    The National Wildlife Refuge of the Ten Thousand Islands in Florida, is a Hidden Paradise in Florida, with a rich ecosystem 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.

    WHAT IS NEXT?

    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:

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    14 thoughts on “Ten Thousand Islands, Florida USA | Ultimate Guide on how to explore

    1. Karen says:

      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.

      • Paula Martinelli says:

        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. Travelingfoundlove says:

      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! 🙂

      • Paula Martinelli says:

        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.

    3. Katy says:

      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.

      • Paula Martinelli says:

        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.

    4. galatia savva says:

      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!

      • Paula Martinelli says:

        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.

      • Paula Martinelli says:

        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!

    5. Bettina says:

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

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