J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island , Florida
Tel: 239 472 1100
Concierge.com's insider take:
If you're lucky, you'll encounter alligators, manatees, loggerhead sea turtles, roseate spoonbills, and even the 11-foot female American crocodile that loves to sunbathe on Wildlife Drive. You'll see and learn plenty in this well-managed preserve, which you can explore by bicycle, four-mile drive, open-air tram ride with naturalist, or two-mile boardwalk trail. You can also paddle a kayak or canoe through Tarpon Bay's mazelike mangrove forest, by yourself or with a guide (239-472-8900; tarponbayexplorers.com). Within the 6,400 acres of wetlands, sabal-palm savanna, and mangrove forests, there are 32 different mammals, 51 types of reptiles, and 238 recorded bird species, including bald eagles, mangrove cuckoos, and two dozen warbler species. Bird-watching is best in the early morning, an hour before or after low tide. Mosquitoes and the annoying no-see-um sand flies are most prevalent at dawn and dusk—avoid those hours, and bring insect repellent at all times.
Wildlife Drive is open Saturdays through Thursdays from 7:30 am until a half hour before sunset. The Education Center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, November through April, 9 am to 4 pm May through October.