Fall in love with Lovers Key State Park, which was voted one of the top 10 parks in Florida by the Travel Channel.
It’s said the Key, once only accessible by boat, was only visited by lovers for its quiet, white-sand beach and shallow, tranquil waters.
Times have changed, and while plenty of lovers still frequent the little island, the location of picnic tables under gazebos, barbecue grills, a playground for the little ones, canoeing, kayaking and eco-tours make this a great place for the whole family.
For boaters, the Key has a boat ramp with a concession that sells bait and snacks. Kayak and bike rentals, as well as fishing supplies and snacks, are available at the stand. Other amenities include restrooms, rinse-off showers, a boat ramp and picnic areas. The park is ADA accessible.
Entrance fees are $4 for one person in a vehicle, $8 for 2 to 8 people in a vehicle, more than 8 in a vehicle costs an additional $2 per person; walk-ins and bicyclists are $2 per person. The park is open 8 a.m. to sunset daily. Call 463-4588.
Dogs have their own beach recreation on the Gulf side of New Pass, right next to Bonita Beach. Here, dogs can run leash-free and enjoy the surf. The founders of Dog Beach pride themselves on this critters’ paradise and make sure it stays clean for all to enjoy.
Little Hickory Island
Near Bonita Beach, this South Lee County spot is a shell-laden, white-sand beachfront park. A ramp runs from the parking lot to the sand, allowing handicapped access, and the shore is wide and clean. Surf fishing is a favorite pastime for visitors here. Check the fishing regulations and then cast away! Parking is $2 per hour and on-site restrooms, picnic tables and showers mean creature comforts aren’t far away.
Heading south through Lovers Key State Park, Collier County, and the island of Bonita Beach, Barefoot Beach is another little-known hidden gem off of the well-traveled path of Bonita Beach Road. Park entry fee is $8. Call (239) 252-4000 for more information.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area
Head south from Bonita Beach Road on Vanderbilt Road and make a right onto Bluebill Avenue. Here you’ll discover a natural barrier island, thick with mangroves and native vegetation and wildlife. See “old Florida” as the ancient Calusa Indians did when they fished the pass, hunted and gathered wild plants.
After the fun in the sun, just cool off in the showers, visit the concession for some refreshment and go home to show off the day in the tropics.
Kayak the Estero River
Kayaking has become eco-tourism’s shining example of how nature’s beauty can be enjoyed without fuel, noise or pollution. There’s no better place than Estero River to take it all in by kayak. Kayak rentals at Estero River Outfitters offer a secluded glimpse of the Estero River’s charms: a canopy of mossy trees and meandering cumulus clouds. The river’s still water carries lazily fallen lemon-hued leaves and jutting branches flirt with the rippling waterway casting darting reflections on the silvery water. Grassy banks cradling the winding river.
While gliding west, the engines of careening cars on 41 grow faint, replaced by creaking bamboo trees and the echo of dripping paddles under a defunct cement overpass. Turtles rest on gnarled tree roots and squirrels scamper to the water’s edge.
“On the Estero River, you can see otters, raccoons and birds,” said Paula Stuller, owner of Estero River Outfitter.
The river, a portion of the Great Calusa Blueway a water route developed by Lee County Parks & Recreation that connects bays, rivers, backwaters and shorelines of South Lee County is a great spot to see roseate spoonbills and other birds not often spotted.
Estero River Outfitters offer day rentals or two-hour rentals starting at $17.50. Water adventurers can choose between a kayak or canoe. Kayaks range in size from 9 to 16 feet and double-seat kayaks are also available. Stand-up paddleboards are also available.
Stuller calls the Estero River “user friendly” and welcomes beginners.
“We have a lot of first-time paddlers. This is a great place for people to pick up some kayaking skills,” she said.
Kayak novices receive a quick tutorial on paddle strokes and changing direction from Stuller or her three sons, who help run the family business, before launching from the pier.
Kayakers can paddle east to the river’s end or venture under the 41 overpass traveling west, paddling parallel to the 19th Century Koreshan State Historic Site and eventually to the river’s mouth Estero Bay.
Estero River Outfitters is at 20991 South Tamiami Trail and open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, visit esteroriveroutfitters.com or call 239-992-4050.