The shortest walk in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one you shouldn’t miss on your drive along Wildlife Drive. Pull off a mile into the refuge to head down to the Red Mangrove Overlook, where the boardwalk tunnels though the roots of the mangroves to emerge at a sweeping view of a shallow salt marsh.
Location: Sanibel Island
Length: 0.1 mile
Lat-Long: 26.465425, -82.133951
Fees: National Wildlife Refuge fee
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
This hike must be accessed via Wildlife Drive, which is a one-way driving trail through the refuge. The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily except Fridays.
Cross the causeway to Sanibel Island (toll) and, at the T intersection, turn right on Periwinkle Rd. Turn right on Periwinkle Rd and follow the “Captiva” signs through Sanibel to Sanibel-Captiva Rd. Drive 5.1 miles to the park entrance on the right. Follow Wildlife Drive through the refuge. The Red Mangrove trailhead is on the right one mile past the ranger station.
The Red Mangrove Overlook is an interesting immersion into the mangrove forest, where brightly-colored mangrove crabs scuttle around on their highways of mangrove roots and limbs. The air is infused with a murky salty smell. As a critical part of the estuarine habitat, mangroves filter the water through their roots, and provide a protected nursery for the young of many saltwater species.
From the observation deck at the end of the boardwalk, you see hundreds of gar shimmering in the shallows. The clear water looks to be only a foot deep, but the soft nutrient-rich muck on the bottom might be more than six feet deep. Look closely at the mangroves around you for the stirring of birds, particularly ibises and egrets roosting in the shadows. Returning to your car, you’ve walked 0.1 mile.