Lovers Key State Park is a favorite place for beachcombers thanks to the broad, sunny strand on the Gulf of Mexico and its excellent shelling. But for a bit of adventure, head to the north end of the island to explore the Black Island Trail. Shared with mountain bikers, the trail system at Black Island consists of two separate loops linked by an unpaved service road. Both loops follow fingers of land that were created by dredging many years ago (the better to create more developable waterfront property along Estero Bay), the land colonized by plants of the coastal scrub and tropical hammock habitats. As a result, both trails create long and slender loops down each peninsula, with cross trails to shorten the hike, if you wish. A full walk through the trail system is 5 miles.
Location: Lovers Key
Length: 5 miles
Lat-Lon: 26.394387, -81.876292
Fees: state park entrance fee
Bug Factor: irritating
Restroom: yes, at main parking area
Ask for a trail map at the ranger station when you enter the park, or pick up an interpretive brochure and map at the trailhead kiosk. After a rain, part of the trail will be under water—expect to wade through large puddles.
From I-75 exit 116, drive west on CR 865 (Bonita Beach Rd), crossing US 41 after 3.7 miles. Watch for the park entrance sign after 10.9 miles. Turn left and follow the entrance road 0.8 mile to Parking Lot 2, and park at the trailhead on the left.
Start your hike at the Black Island Trail kiosk, where you can pick up an interpretive brochure and map. Benches flank the entrance. As you walk past a butterfly garden, the trail curves past marker 1 and into the woods on the right, a shell path under the shade of the tropical maritime hammock. A brackish mangrove-lined canal stretches off into the woods. Turning away from a picnic bench, the trail makes a sharp left to follow the waterway, following the slender finger of land between the canals—so slender that parts of the trail almost touch in places. If water flows across this portion of the trail, you’re in for a wet and buggy hike—after a rain, the many low-lying spots in the trail collect water, and the mosquitoes come out in droves.
Rounding a corner, the trail passes under a coconut palm. With blossoms glowing ultraviolet in the sun, morning glories spill across the understory. As the trail turns left, it parallels one of the many canals that break up Black Island, giving it a shape like a hand with fingers—the legacy of dredge and fill operations in the past, likely to create more waterfront property along Estero Bay. Across the canal, you see a picnic grove. Look behind you for a scenic view up the canal.
A shortcut trail goes to the left, creating a 0.8-mile loop. Continue straight up the hill, which at 30 feet is one of the highest points in Lee County. As you drop back downhill, the trail curves sharply to the left.At 0.6 mile, the trail curves left past a covered bench, then drops down into a grassy area. As you come out to the canal, watch for ripples in the water. West Indian manatees drift through the channels in the summer. Past the bench, the trail curves left to follow the canal.
At 1 mile, a shortcut trail goes to the left, leading back to the other side of the trail. Continue straight, walking under the shade of the sea grapes. Beyond the bench, turn left on the spur trail to see a massive laurel fig. Tucked away in the forest, it looks much like a banyan tree, with giant prop roots descending from the tree limbs. A high-rise peeks out over the vegetation on the far side of the canal—marking the one and only developed spot on Lovers Key. As you come up to a sign with an arrow, the trail turns sharply left up and over a hill delineating the end of this spit of land. At 1.5 miles, take the side trail to the right. It leads into the shade of the hammock, ending at another laurel fig above the end of the peninsula, a high and dry spot below which the waters mingle. It’s a nice quiet spot for reflection.
When you return to the main trail, turn right. Heading downhill, the trail curves left to follow the channel. White mangroves cluster along the shoreline. A yellow sulfur alights on a wild lime. Blackthorn grows in the shade of a peeling gumbo limbo. Lantana dangles its metallic blue berries like miniature Christmas ornaments. Just after you pass the bench at 1.8 miles, the shortcut trail comes in from the left. You enter an open area with a shaded bench on the canal and picnic table all around. Continue straight, following the shoreline. At 2.2 miles, the trail turns off the the broad jeep road and into the shade of the maritime hammock. As you walk under an archway of cabbage palms, the shortcut trail comes in from the left. White stopper fills the air with a skunky odor. You notice a change in the environment as pickleweed and sea oxeye intrude into the grass under the buttonwoods.
At marker 10, you reach the picnic bench you first saw at the beginning of your hike. Here’s your final decision point. If you turn left, you can walk back out to the parking lot, completing a 2.7-mile hike. To continue along the longer route, keep to the right. Head straight past the “Service Vehicles Only” sign and keep to the right as the roads fork. Walk down the road under the large clusters of necklace pod amid the white mangroves. Buttonwoods and sea grapes shade the trail.
Watch for a turnoff on the right at the “Nature Trail” sign, where you walk beneath a large sea grape with an umbrella tree growing up through it. Mangroves sprout from the stagnant water on the right. Marked by arrows, the trail parallels the canal. You pass the end of the loop coming in from the left. Continue straight, walking along the waterway past the tall Australian pines. As the trail gradually sweeps to the left at 4 miles, you see the picnic area you’ve already walked through on the far side of the canal.
After it makes a sharp left, the trail completes the loop at a T intersection at 4.4 miles. Turn right, and keep to the left at the trail sign at the fork. When you reach the service road, turn left and follow it back to the fork, enjoying the deep shade along the way. Keep left to return to the picnic bench, and turn right at the picnic bench to exit, passing by the butterfly garden on the way out. When you emerge at the trailhead, you complete your 5 mile hike.