The last of the nature trails you’ll find while following Wildlife Drive through Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the Calusa Shell Mound Trail provides a peek into the ancient history of Sanibel Island, with a boardwalk circling around mounds left behind by the Calusa who once populated these barrier islands. This 0.4-mile loop is entirely wheelchair accessible.
Location: Sanibel Island
Length: 0.4 mile
Lat-Long: 26.473566, -82.152568
Fees/Permits: Entrance fee of $5 vehicle, $1 cyclist/pedestrian
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
This hike must be accessed via Wildlife Drive, which is a one-way driving trail through the refuge. The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset daily except Fridays.
Cross the causeway to Sanibel Island (toll) and, at the T intersection, turn right on Periwinkle Rd. Turn right on Periwinkle Rd and follow the “Captiva” signs through Sanibel to Sanibel-Captiva Rd. Drive 5.1 miles to the park entrance on the right. Follow Wildlife Drive through the refuge. The Shell Mound Trail trailhead is on the left, soon after the drive makes a sharp left beyond the Wulfert Keys Trail.
Follow the boardwalk from the trailhead into a tropical hardwood hammock. Snake plants thrive under the gumbo-limbo trees. Tall sea grapes shade the trail. At the trail junction, keep left. Long, thin barbed-wire cactus clambers up and over the saw palmettos, displaying showy yellow blooms in late summer. A giant poinciana drips with huge bean pods like overgrown mimosa seeds, its lacy leaves creating a delicate green screen against the blue sky. Wild coffee sags under the weight of its dark red beans.
The boardwalk continues up and over a shell mound covered in dense tropical vegetation. A citrus aroma pervades the air, coming from a grove of lime trees planted by an early settler. Dropping down off the shell mound, the trail loops into a mangrove forest with enormous trees, white mangroves towering more than 30 feet tall. Sluggish tannic water glows with an orange hue, reflecting the tangled jungle of mangrove roots. Bromeliads flourish in the canopy. The boardwalk rises up to complete the loop. Turn left at the T intersection, emerging at the parking area after 0.4 mile.