One of Florida’s least-known beaches is the exotically named Tigertail Beach. Located on the northwest side of Marco Island at the end of Hernando Drive, it is a surprisingly undeveloped natural park. It contrasts sharply with the neat suburban streets, high-rise condos and developed resorts that typify this beautiful vacation island.
Hurricane Wilma Created Tigertail Beach
One reason why Tigertail Beach remains off-radar, even to long-time residents, is that until 10 years ago it did not exist. This beautiful wild beach was an off-shore sandbar until Hurricane Wilma swept across the island in 2005 with wind speeds of over 156 mph.
The stormy seas piled up sand, creating Sand Dollar Island which connected the original sandbar to the mainland. The beach now extends on a curving spit, like a giant tiger tail, into the Gulf of Mexico. It contains a sheltered saltwater lagoon on the leeward side of the sand spit.
Tigertail Beach Park Amenities
Although Tigertail Beach remains a hidden gem, it has a surprisingly well-developed infrastructure. Owned and operated by Collier County, there is parking with daily charges of $8 per vehicle or $1.50 per hour for those without a Collier County beach parking permit (2015 prices). The well-kept park has modern changing rooms, restrooms, a beach café serving food and drinks, picnic tables, and a playground for children.
There is also a concession stand where you can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and other beach equipment. The saltwater lagoon is perfect for such watersports activities and kayaking is a great way to see the wildlife, birds, and fish that are hiding in the mangroves.
Wade Through the Lagoon to Reach Tigertail Beach
The only way to reach the quiet sands of Tigertail Beach is to wade through the shallow lagoon waters to your own private sandy spot on the 3-mile long spit. You need to do this at low tide, as it can be 2-3 feet deep at high tide. It’s still wadeable, but less practical if you are carrying beach chairs, coolers etc.
The best crossing point is marked by a floating buoy and the distance is about 50 yards at that point. As you reach the path through the greenery at the other side, look down into the clear waters and you’ll see schools of tiny fish around your ankles and feet!
PLEASE NOTE: In September of 2017 when Hurricane Irma passed through the area, several breaches formed north of Tigertail on Sand Dollar Spit. The currents now can be strong when the tide is moving in and out. Caution should be used when walking to the north end; walking out at low tide could leave you surrounded by water when the tide rolls back in.
Seashells and Wildlife at Tigertail Beach
Once on the beach itself, you’ll find soft white sand generously sprinkled with treasures of the sea such as tiny pink seashells. Sit back and watch the gently turning waves and you are likely to see pods of dolphins playing offshore. Other wildlife in evidence on Tigertail Beach are the fiddler crabs that can be seen scurrying into the greenery on either side of the sandy path.
As the island is on the Great Florida Birding Trail, you can be sure there will be many shore birds. In spring, nesting birds include terns, white plovers, and black skimmers. There’s always an eagle or osprey overhead, hunting for an easy catch.
Take a walk northwards and have the beach to yourself–almost. A reminder that you are not the first person to discover this beach paradise is the seashell tree, a collection of shells with messages written by past visitors and left for you to find.
Visit MustDo.com for additional information about Marco Island beaches and things to do when visiting Naples and Marco Island, Florida.