We are so fortunate to have the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary right here in Southwest Florida. Located on the western edge of the Everglades National Park, 20 miles east of Bonita Springs, this 14,000-acre wildlife sanctuary is a wonderful place to experience Florida’s native habitat, birds, flora and fauna a little better.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is named after the Corkscrew River (now renamed the Imperial River) which wends its way through the Naples, Florida region.
How Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was Founded
The National Audubon Society first began protecting the area as a bird sanctuary back in 1912. It later became apparent that the native cypress trees were under threat of being felled for timber. In 1954, 14 separate organizations joined with the National Audubon Society to purchase this area of swamp and cypress. A boardwalk was built to make it accessible for visitors to enjoy and so the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary began.
Things to See and Do at Naples’ Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
After visiting the Blair Center and watching the informative 14-minute sound and light presentation, head out onto the boardwalk. It’s worth buying a Companion Field Guide from the admissions desk and/or renting binoculars to get the most from your self-guided tour. The hardwood boardwalk runs for 2.25 miles through five different habitats: bald cypress, pine flatwood, wet prairie, sawgrass pond, and central marsh.
The whole route cannot be rushed and takes 2-3 hours to saunter, stop and admire this unspoiled environment. The boardwalk includes a Marsh Observation Platform for seeing the sanctuary from above. A shorter one-mile boardwalk can also be enjoyed by taking a shortcut part way along the route.
Expect to see stands of bald cypress (it’s the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in the world), cabbage palms, red maple, slash pines draped with drifts of grey Spanish moss, strangler figs, and air plants. Permanent and temporary information signs indicate points of interest such as a rare ghost orchid in bloom, a nesting ibis, or perhaps a black-and-yellow argiope spider sitting in its perfectly spun web!
The watery undergrowth is scattered with water lettuce, pickerelweed, cattail, arrowheads, spatterdock, swamp hibiscus, and marsh grasses. You’ll be able to identify them using the handy guide available from the shop. Volunteer naturalists are also on hand to provide information and answer any questions.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to many shy, rare, and well-hidden mammals and over 200 species of birds. You may hear them calling or see muddy footprints as evidence of their presence. The birds, dragonflies, and mosquito fish keep bugs and mosquitos to a minimum. Listen out for woodpeckers, buzzing insects, and the squawks and shrieks of vultures arguing over their prey!
Blair Audubon Center
To avoid disturbing the wildlife in this natural preserve, no dogs, food, or drinks are allowed to be taken on the boardwalk, except for bottled water. Snacks and refreshments are available at the Blair Audubon Center, but they must be consumed in the center or at the picnic area near the parking lot.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has a wonderful program of wildlife-related events, talks, guided walks, stargazing, after hours events, and educational activities. A complete schedule of programs and events can be found on their website. To support this fantastic resource, the Nature Store has a wide range of books, clothing, and gifts which are well worth browsing. The Nature Store is open daily until 5:30 p.m. and the boardwalk is open 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. April through September and 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from October through mid-April.
Admission is $10 for adults with concessions for students, children, and Audubon Society members (February 2018 prices). It’s money well spent to enjoy this superbly maintained attraction and support the ongoing work of this wonderful wildlife sanctuary near Naples, Florida.