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Visiting the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

This 6,400 acre refuge is located on the west end of Sanibel Island off of Sanibel-Captiva Road. The refuge gets over 800,000 visitors per year! This is an Everglades type of environment with many different species of animals to observe.

The visitor center should be your first place to stop and tour. The center showcases how different species live on the island and how the center works to protect this wildlife. The Visitors Center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Nov.-April) and 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (May-Oct.). Admission is free to all visitors. The refuge is closed on Fridays but not the visitors center.
The refuge consists of marshes, mangrove forests and seagrass beds and has the largest undeveloped mangrove eco-system in the United States. The refuge is world famous for its migratory bird populations.

When touring thru the refuge you may do so by car, tram or bike. Cost is $5.00 per car or $1.00 per family of bicyclists or walking parties. The tour begins at Wildlife Drive which is a four mile stretch of shell-paved road thru the refuge. There is an observation tower which you can climb and get a panoramic view of the area. Also it is a very good place to view the wildlife prevalent in the refuge. It would be a good idea to bring binoculars for this excursion.

When you take the tram you will have an experienced guide that will help you identify wildlife you may never have seen on your own. The guide will help identify all the inhabitants and tell you the history of the species. The tram guides will stop the vehicle when they see something interesting or unusual. Also by taking the tram it helps keep the refuge a little quieter without so many taking their individual vehicles. The observations tower is also a great place to stop, relax and have a snack or drink on your journey thru the refuge.

While touring keep an eye out for snowy egrets, bald eagles, blue herons, white pelicans and pileated woodpeckers on the sky and on the ground. While looking out over the waters look for manatees, river otters and jumping fish of all kinds. There are raccoons and other small wildlife constantly moving around so be careful not to disturb them in their natural habitat.

There are information markers throughout the drive that you can stop and read. Children and adults alike will love this unique experience.

For more information on the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, please call 239-472-1100.

Sanibel Island Activities

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