One of the lesser-known trails at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at the Bailey Tract, separate from the other nature trails that are found along Wildlife Drive.
This separate tract of the refuge is closer to the Gulf of Mexico and includes a series of impoundments that make for excellent early morning birding.
Since the entrance to the Bailey Tract is off Tarpon Bay Road, this tract, unlike Wildlife Drive, is open on Fridays. The trail system offers loops of 0.3 mile to 1.1 miles around the impoundments.
Location: Sanibel Island
Length: 1.1 miles (shorter hikes possible)
Lat-Long: 26.428600, -82.080600
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily. The trails are shared with bicycles.
Cross the causeway to Sanibel Island (toll) and, at the T intersection, turn right on Periwinkle Rd. Follow it to the end and turn left on Tarpon Bay Rd. Drive 0.5 mile; the Bailey Tract entrance is on the right just after the pedestrian crosswalk sign.
One of two outlying tracts of Ding Darling NWR, the Bailey Tract protects part of Sanibel’s sensitive freshwater marshes. Check the map on the trailhead kiosk before heading out on the trails so you can plot your route – the route described here follows the perimeter red loop. Cross the boardwalk over to the dike, walking past a shallow tannic pond edged with cordgrass and cattails.
The trails are marked by a series of colored arrows. At the next kiosk, marking the trail junction, you see another trail map and interpretive information about the creatures that live in the freshwater marsh. Turn right to start a counter-clockwise loop, following the narrow track along the dike.
This is a quiet place, where the sea breeze rustles through the cattails. Off to your right are the freshwater marshes; to your left, the brackish impoundments with their mangrove islands. The orange-blazed trail takes off to the left, following a dike. Continue straight, along the buttonwoods. Thick crowds of giant leather ferns remind you of a tropical nursery as you come up to the blue-blazed trail at 0.2 mile.
Continue straight, passing the trail junction with the blue and yellow arrows. As you reach a bench on the left, the trail turns sharply left to follow the outer edge of the impoundments. Off to your right, marsh ferns grow between scattered buttonwoods, and cattails ring deeper spots in the marsh.
When you reach the T intersection, turn left; the gate on the right marks the eastern boundary of the Bailey Tract. At the next trail junction, the blue-blazed trail comes in from the left. Walk down it a little ways to the bench, where you can sit and watch the osprey fishing in the impoundment.
Return to the outer loop and turn left. The trail turns a corner, making a sharp left to follow a canal lined with fancy homes. You walk past several tall shell mounds on which gumbo limbo and cabbage palms grow. An arrow sign indicates a left turn off the dike and across a wetland of sand cordgrass, bridged by a boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk, turn left to pass by a tall birdhouse. You arrive at the large kiosk at the start of the loop. Continue straight past the kiosk to finish your hike at the parking area after 1.1 miles.