A forest of mangroves along the Caloosahatchee River, Four Mile Cove Eco Preserve is a rare find in Cape Coral, where most of the landscape has been developed (to the detriment of those little burrowing owls) over the past fifty years. Tucked right up against the Midpoint Memorial Bridge, this park provides a gateway for kayakers to launch an expedition into the puzzle of waterways that snake through the mangroves, and for anglers to cast a line off a generous platform on the river. Hikers, too, have their day in the shade.
Location: Cape Coral
Length: 1.2 miles
Lat-Long: 26.608683, -81.917483
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: moderate
There is a nature center at the trailhead. Kayak rentals are available for exploring the mangrove tunnels by water. Fishing is permitted off the observation deck on the Caloosahatchee River. No bicycles, food or beverages are permitted on the trail.
From US 41 in Fort Myers, drive west on Colonial Blvd across the Midpoint Memorial Bridge to Cape Coral; stay in the right lane at tollbooth and turn off the Del Prado exit. Make the right and follow the signs for “Four Mile Eco Park.”
Start at the visitor center and turn left to follow the boardwalk into a coastal prairie (a rare find in these parts). There are several benches along the way to make birdwatching a cinch. Stop at the observation platform with bench at 0.2 mile looking out over the needlerush marsh. After popping out along this marsh, the boardwalk continues down another shaded corridor of saltbush. Prop roots of red mangroves become obvious as you continue down the path. Tall giant leather ferns poke out of low bitter panicum grass. The boardwalk emerges out onto edge of another salt marsh, with needlerush and giant leather ferns, on the left.
Coming up to marker 5, the trail turns to the right and comes up to a bench. There’s an overlook on the narrow upper end of Four Mile Cove, feeding a constant flow of water beneath the mangroves. A green heron perches on a branch, ruffling its feathers. See the conjoined beans of white mangrove dangling down over your head? You’ve entered a thick tangle of mangroves: red and black predominate.
As you continue into the mangrove tunnel, peer carefully into the overhead limbs to glimpse birds roosting. As you reach the 0.5 mile mark, a slender canal passes under the boardwalk, reminiscent of the hand-dug Calusa canals of thousands of years ago. A bench sits just beyond. The trail continues down a corridor of young saltbush, trees crowd back over and form a bower overhead. There’s a transition zone to a limestone ridge, with limestone-loving ferns and wild coffee outcropping along it. On the right is a dense forest of tall mangroves. At 0.7 mile, a spur boardwalk turns left out to a pier and platform on the Caloosahatchee; you can see the Thomas Edison Home in the distance across the river, one of the region’s first settlements.
When you get back to trail junction, go left. The boardwalk ends and you continue on shell path lined by sand live oak, gumbo limbo, and ficus trees. The trail rounds a marsh on the right, fringed by cattails and duck potato. Pass a Washingtonia palm with old fronds creating a hut-like appearance at the bottom. Two posts indicate end of trail at far end of parking lot, with a kiosk just beyond the posts on left. Completing the walk through the habitat restoration area, you return to the visitor center
0.0 start @ visitor’s center
0.1 boardwalk start
0.2 observation platform with bench
0.2 damp marsh on left
0.3 next marsh on left
0.3 bench on Four Mile Cove
0.7 T, left to pier
0.8 end of pier
0.0 return T, straight
0.0 end of boardwalk, right
1.1 end @ parking lot
1.2 end @ visitor’s center