Island Tales
Explore the Islands!©
- Libby Boren McMillan

Adventurers, take note! Several local outdoor enthusiasts have helped Times of the Islands compile a list of favorite trails, paths and waterways. This issue, we'll focus on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. How many of these popular routes have you already discovered?

Bikers and Hikers

Cyclists agree the most unique stretch of Sanibel bike paths lies between Middle Gulf and West Gulf Drives. Veering away from the road, the path meanders past an old Sanibel cemetery and the road to Algiers Beach. Another favorite section of paved bike path runs between Sanibel-Captiva Road and West Gulf Drive, parallel to Rabbit Road. Cyclists pass a spacious pond that offers dependable alligator-watching. (Remember to never feed an alligator - it's illegal and can result in the gator's destruction).

Nearby, in the J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge, explorers with bikes or on foot will find the 2 1/4 mile Indigo Trail. Splitting off to the left shortly after the park's entrance, this off-road trail lets explorers visit the heart of the Refuge with no motor vehicles in sight. Accessible seven-days-a-week, the trail also begins as a boardwalk from the Visitor's Center, and is the only part of the Refuge open on Fridays.

Bailey Tract, Sanibel Island
Bailey Tract at dawn

A separate part of the Refuge is found on Tarpon Bay Road, just south of Sanibel Boulevard. Known as the Bailey Tract, this 100-acre park is home to pig frogs, marsh rabbits, soft-shell turtles, red-shouldered hawks and even the elusive Florida bobcat. (Don't worry, the most you'll see of this rare creature might be his scat). Well-marked, with educational signage throughout, the Bailey Tract provides a natural history perspective of Sanibel Island. Several trails run through the tract - the longest being 1.2 miles - with one wooden sidewalk spanning a wildlife-rich, spartina cordgrass marsh. Rich in island folklore as well, the tract holds the key to the tale of an important Sanibel seaplane, as well as a mysterious woman named Hell Roar'n Smith. Cyclists and hikers are welcome from sunrise to sunset, and there's no charge for admission.

An altogether different setting that offers tranquillity, as well as the chance to get wet, lies at the end of Bailey Road. Running north from Periwinkle Way just west of Causeway Road, Bailey Road stops at the bayshore of Sanibel. A lovely little stretch of partially shaded beach awaits, as does a fabulous view of the causeway and the many dolphins that frequent these waters. Wear a swimsuit under your riding shorts, or you'll wish you had. A new bike path now connects the Causeway to the beach via a trail that enters the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce parking lot. While it is legal to cycle across the causeway, no additional lane is available.

Canoes and Kayaks

If you desire a more unusual route of discovery, several water-based exploration options are available. Local naturalist Bird Westall will take you on a guided canoe tour of 'Ding' Darling, pointing out various wildlife and flora and answering any questions you may have about the unique environment of the Refuge. Call 239-472-5218.

Another way to paddle your way through the park originates at Sanibel's Tarpon Bay Marina. A choice of kayaks and canoes are offered; visitors to Tarpon Bay may either go with a professional guide or on their own self-discovery trip through the well-marked trails of the Refuge. Reservations are necessary in high season. Call 239-472-8900.

Kayaking has become extremely popular on the islands in recent years. Warm water temperatures and the lack of dangerous currents contribute to the sport's appeal. Wildside Adventures on Captiva Island rents kayaks and canoes for back bay exploration, as well as trips to nearby Buck Key. Unbeknownst to many, this neighboring, uninhabited island has several trails through it. Owners Greg and Barb LeBlanc can help you decide which time of day will work best with the tides for a Buck Key adventure. Wildside also offers full moon kayaking on the bay should you be lucky enough to be on-island at that time of the month. Located at McCarthy's Marina, 239-395-2925.

'Tween Waters Inn on Captiva also rents canoes, and professional guide Brian Houston gives kayak tours and instruction. Call 239-472-5161.

However you choose to explore, the islands offer a multitude of spots worth discovering. Have fun!

* Originally published in the Premier Issue of Times of the Islands - 1996
© Libby Boren McMillan - Legal Rights Apply

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