Located near the historic outskirts of Fort Myers, the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium is a welcoming green space in Southwest Florida operated by a private nonprofit.
Besides a planetarium, a museum, aviary, and butterfly room are among the many exhibits and activities provided by the nature center. Behind it, there’s hiking!
A gentle and dry 0.6 mile loop explores a slough, while a sometimes swamp-tromp loops 1.5 miles around a variety of ecosystems on the 105 acre property.
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Length: 2 miles in two loops
Trailhead: 26.615268, -81.812040
Address: 3450 Ortiz Ave, Fort Myers
Fees: $10 adults, $5 children
Restrooms: At the nature center
Land manager: Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium
Open Tue-Sun, 10 AM to 4 PM. A portion of the trail is accessible.
Take the Colonial Blvd exit off Interstate 75 in Fort Myers and head west for 0.3 mile. Turn right onto Ortiz Ave. In a few hundred feet turn left into the entrance.
Prior to hiking the trail system, you must pay your admission at the nature center, so take time to explore it first.
Follow an accessible boardwalk from the parking area up to the two-story building adjacent to the planetarium.
Inside, a multitude of exhibits display artifacts, ecosystems, and tanks with live animals.
To begin the hike, look for a door at the back of the building leading to the porch, and follow a set of stairs to a concrete walkway.
The path initially leads through a screened room with butterflies and pollinator friendly plants before meandering around a bend to an aviary featuring rescued birds of prey.
A sign next to the cages indicates the direction of the trail with an arrow pointing down a crushed shell walkway onto the Cypress Path.
A forest of pines quickly transitions to cypress as the trail descends into wetlands that are hydrologically part of the Big Cypress Swamp.
Water lines on tree trunks provide evidence of just how swampy conditions get when the trail is seasonally inundated with water.
Reaching an intersection of trails at 0.3 miles, the Pine Loop Trail continues to the right, returning to the trailhead in 0.2 mile.
Continue straight to begin the Wildlands Trail, leaving the crushed shell pathway.
Climbing slightly onto higher ground, the surroundings change dramatically as the sandy corridor leads into a pine flatwoods habitat.
Slight changes in elevation dip the path in and out of a variety of ecosystems while it curves eastward, passing a small shelter with benches at 0.6 mile.
At 0.9 mile, another shelter marks a change in trail conditions as the path leads up onto a tall berm.
The higher vantage point provides excellent opportunities for bird watching, and trailside benches offer resting spots along the way.
Dense clusters of tall melaleuca trees with papery bark occasionally border the elevated trail.
They’re a reminder of how difficult it can be to remove invasive species once they have been established in an ecosystem.
At 1.6 miles, the pathway leaves the berm, weaving through a forest of slash pine for 0.1 mile before reaching the nature center.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.