Explorer’s Guide: Ten Thousand Islands
This remote, magical wilderness is more accessible than you think.
The Ten Thousand Islands, off Florida’s southwest coast, are remote and spectacular in their quiet beauty. They’re also vast as the area stretches from Marco Island south to Lostmans River, encompassing the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park. It’s been called one of the world’s most mysterious places, so if you’re unfamiliar with it, the uninhabited islands and mangrove clusters might seem challenging to explore on your own. But if you’re open to adventure, there are simple and exciting ways to see it.
EXPLORE BY KAYAK
If you’re staying at one of the beach resorts on Marco Island, it’s an easy paddle to reach several nearby uninhabited beach islands, says JoNell Modys of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. If you don’t have your own vessel, Paddle Marco will deliver kayaks to your hotel, home or condo. They also offer guided tours, which are a good choice if you’d prefer to travel with a pro who has local knowledge. Experienced paddlers (who always travel with maps and use tide tables to plan a trip) might travel as a group down to the one of the beach islands where camping is allowed. They’ll spend the night under a brilliant sky on a deserted stretch of sand.
EXPLORE BY BOAT
The easiest way to see the islands is a guided boat tour like those offered by Marco Island Boat Tours, during which you can sit back and watch dolphins play in the boat’s wake and bald eagles soar overhead. If you prefer a more hands-on experience, you can rent a boat from Rose Marina or take your own, although this option is recommended for those with good navigational skills, as shallow waters and shoals are common in this region. It’s worth it once you get close enough to admire the mangroves. “This is the largest mangrove estuary in North America,” says Modys. “Mangroves are now recognized as crucial to the health of this marine ecosystem and are a protected species.” Mangroves earned the designation of “essential fish habitat” and have been protected from the impacts of development since 1996. From a boat you can also take advantage of the saltwater fishing and shell-covered beaches in the area. “There’s phenomenal shelling along stretches of sand that are always free of crowds and sometimes even deserted,” says Modys. Pack a picnic lunch and relax on your own private beach.
EXPLORE BY FOOT
The Ten Thousand Islands are arguably best approached from the water, but if you’d prefer to travel by land, you can access certain areas from The Marsh Trail. About 2.3 miles long, the trail is located just southeast of Naples and winds through the wetland environment and mangrove mazes of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Birders like to climb the observation tower, an excellent perch from which to photograph the many species in the area.
“The Ten Thousand Islands are very special,” says Modys. “This is a magical place where you can get off the grid to connect with yourself and nature.”
Learn more about Florida’s Paradise Coast at Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.