Take a Hike. But Don’t Forget Fido
Many great places offer outdoor fun for humans and canines
The mere mention of the word “walk” within earshot of a dog typically brings about a lot of circling, tail wagging and high-pitched whining. Luckily for dogs, and for their owners, there are some great places in Southwest Florida where all can enjoy a good walk. One such place is Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve in North Fort Myers. It is comprised of east and west sides, and leashed dogs are welcome on both. The east side offers a 1.5-mile boardwalk and 3 miles of primitive hiking trails. The west side, which charges parking fees, has a short hiking trail, a boardwalk and an observation deck. Mary Langston of Fort Myers enjoys taking her pooch, Puddle, on the east side for a morning walk. “It’s cool and refreshing that time of day and Puddle loves it,” she says. Another great spot is Wildlife Drive, at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. The drive stretches 4 miles from end to end one way, and offers the chance to see birds, wildlife and native vegetation. Dogs must be under control and are required to be on a 6-foot leash at all times, so as to not disturb the wildlife. “It’s a great way to get exercise for the whole family,” says Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger, adding that it’s important to bring water. Wildlife Drive is open daily except Friday. Admission is $5 per vehicle, and $1 per pedestrian or bicycle. Additionally, there’s Lovers Key State Park on Fort Myers Beach, where leashed dogs can enjoy a walk on the trails. “There’s also a nearby beach that is popular for families and their dogs,” says Elyssa Finkelstein, strategic communications manager with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. She’s referring to Lee County Dog Beach, which borders Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. When headed there, be sure to take along drinking water because potable water is not available. In North Fort Myers, there’s Prairie Pines Preserve. It offers a short hiking path for on-leash dog walking. There’s also plenty of wildlife such as turtles, wood storks, marsh rabbits and red-headed woodpeckers, along with picturesque prairies, flatwoods and marshes. All told, there are 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, which visitors such as John Timmer of Fort Myers likes to enjoy.
It’s a great way to get exercise for the whole family.” —Toni Westland, supervisory ranger at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
“I head out before it’s too hot. I like to bring my dog, Nugget, on the hiking path to get some fresh air and take in the scenery,” he adds. Lastly, there’s Rotary Park Environmental Center in Cape Coral. Leashed dogs are welcome on a 2,420-foot paved loop trail that is surrounded by wooded areas, blossoming gardens and a children’s playground, along with wildlife such as squirrels, butterflies and birds. There is also an on-site dog park. “Shot records and registration are first required for each dog,” explains Honey Phillips. She is an environmental recreation specialist for the city of Cape Coral and adds that “interested parties should inquire at the park.”
Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.
From top: Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve, Lovers Key State Park, Prairie Pines Preserve and J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge are all great places to walk your dog.