Protecting vast mangrove forests and coastal habitats along the Gulf of Mexico between Naples and Ten Thousand Islands NWR, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses a mind-boggling 110,000 acres. To get your bearings and understand the importance of the mangrove forest, visit their Environmental Learning Center.
Lat-Lon: 26.050804, -81.700656
For the Environmental Learning Center:
Fees: $3 ages 6-12, $5 ages 13 and up.
Open: Environmental Learning Center open Mon-Fri 9-4, and on Saturdays Nov-Apr
Pets are not permitted
Other sites on the reserve are free to access, and are open dusk to dawn. Camping is permitted at designated sites on islands within the reserve. These are wilderness campsites accessible only by boat or paddling (make your own arrangements for where to park and where to launch). Everything must be packed in and packed out, including potable water for your needs. See the reserve map for campsite locations. Access is restricted at Keewaydin Island, Morgan Beach, and Second Chance Shoal between April and August.
At the Environmental Learning Center, introduce yourself to the Ten Thousand Islands with a movie that provides the backdrop to why this puzzle of mangrove forest along Florida’s shores is so important. Surrounding the cinema is an art galley showcasing rotating exhibits with a natural theme. The Palmetto Patch Nature Store offers fun gifts and books.
Move on to the active part of the center, the Aquaria Showcase, to see underwater habitats and their inhabitants, such as oyster beds and seagrass. A touch tank is offered on occassion. Kids will enjoy playing inside a model boat, learning about tools that the researchers use out in the estuary. After a visit to the working labs, head upstairs for exhibits on local history and an observation deck looking out over the mangroves.
A broad bridge with more views of mangroves leads to the Snail Trail, one of several nature trails inside the reserve. It can only be accessed through the Environmental Learning Center. There is a picnic chickee on the grounds, and a dock out back from which scheduled tours depart; check with the ELC for their schedule.