A palm-lined oceanfront with gentle waves. A white, sandy beach stretching off into the distance without a condo in sight. Gopher tortoises nosing around in a tropical forest. A nature trail that showcases coastal beauty. In a hidden corner of Collier County, Barefoot Beach Preserve provides this and more along two miles of natural shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico just north of Wiggins Pass.
Lat-Lon: 26.308604, -81.836644
Fees: $8 per car
Open: 8 AM to sunset
Barefoot Beach Preserve is at the end of Barefoot Beach Rd off Bonita Springs Road. You have to drive through a complex of upscale homes and condos to get to it. Don’t bother to stop at the front gate of the gated community if they’ve left a lane open for beachgoers. Don’t park in their community, you will get towed. If the preserve has no more parking, you’ll find out when you get to the preserve gate.
It took us years to get to Barefoot Beach Preserve, and part of that was the fee, which is somewhat steep for oceanfront parks, especially when all you’re planning is a walk in the woods, not a day at the beach. After visiting, we can tell you it’s worth every penny. A Collier County Park, Barefoot Beach Preserve is a truly unique slice of natural Florida, one of the prettiest beaches we’ve ever seen along the Gulf coast. Protecting 342 acres, it’s not just a nature preserve and a beach, but a recipient site for gopher tortoise relocations. You’ll see many along the Saylor Trail, which makes a 1.5-mile loop out towards Wiggins Pass, with another half-mile round-trip out to the pass itself.
The beach is what draws the crowds. The locals know this, and they pack the parking lots early on summer mornings. Your best options are to arrive soon after the front gate opens at 8 AM, and don’t even bother to visit on a weekend. At various times of year, volunteers and park staff lead nature walks and give interpretive programs at two designated areas in the preserve. Stop in at the Nature Center any time of year to pick up a trail map and see interpretive displays. It’s under a chickee at the first parking area.
Most beachgoers pile into the nearest parking lots once inside the preserve, since that’s where the developed facilities are. For a less crowded experience and more nature, continue to the very end of the road for the final parking area, which provides access to the Saylor Trail and to a launch for canoes and kayaks. There are two composting toilets along the trail on the beachfront side.