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Top Hiking Trails in Bonita Springs and Estero

Tiana Burgos
March 16, 2020

The Estero River heads out west before emptying into Estero Bay, an inlet of the Gulf Mexico. On its way, it passes over a beautiful diversity of land, including some of the best State Parks that the State of Florida has to offer. Just off Estero Bay, we have the just-as picturesque Bonita Springs. For those of you who want to explore some truly beautiful land, we’re going to explore some of the top hiking trails in Bonita Springs and Estero

Many of the top hiking trails in Bonita Springs and Estero that we’re going to look over here have been stewarded by the hard work of the Florida Department of Environment Protection. Every visitor, every hiker, and everyone who finds something to love about these trails helps justify the hard work that they do, so let’s take a look at some of the very best trails the area has to offer.

What Do I Need to Know About Hiking in Florida?

Hiking in Florida is a little different from hiking in many other places in the US, due to an especially rich diversity in flora and fauna, not to mention tropical climates that aren’t found elsewhere in the country. As such, let’s address a few points you should keep in mind while hiking throughout.

If you’re aiming for longer journeys, you should be in mind the heat and humidity of Florida, which can be very challenging and can lead to a risk of dehydration. As such, it’s wise to keep to the cooler months, with late October and mid-April being best of all. If you’re hiking in the summer, you want the journey to be over before noon.

When you do hike, make sure you’re wearing light breathable clothing that can deal well with heat and humidity, and bring the resources you need for the trip, including water, food, a map, GPS or compass, and a small first aid kit. Florida Hikes has a wide range of hiking tips worth reading to get ready for your trip, too.

Imperial Loop Trail at Imperial River Preserve 

This 1.2-mile loop trail can be found not too far from Bonita Springs, and it one of the more lightly trafficked trails in the area. It’s a gentle hike, more than suitable for beginners, and offers plenty of spots for fishing and kayaking. You can even bring a dog with you, so long as you keep them on a leash during your trip.

The Imperial River Preserve offers a range of attractions to make a stop at as well, including the following:

  • The Gopher Tortoise preserve
  • A butterfly garden
  • A bat house
  • Tended beehives

This relatively easy walk includes sights of the dense mangrove forest found north of the IMperial River, while Little Hickory Bay lies to the direct west. The site is mostly pristine, with all kinds of red, black, and white mangroves, as well as buttonwood all present, except for the exotic plant species that pop up at the edges of the trail.

Depending on the time of day, you might be exposed to the noise of the traffic on the I-75 next to the trail. Some may find this distracting, but others mention not hearing it at all through the sounds of the Preserve. The 38.95-acre forest just beside the trail also offers campgrounds and other attractions if you like what you see on the trail.

Overall, a great place for beginners as well as those who want a more casual walk with plenty of gorgeous natural sites and preserves to see during their hike, but not as well suited to those looking for a greater challenge.

Cullum’s Bonita Trail 

This trail is one of the more popular trails right by the small town of Bonita Springs. A 1.5-mile nature trail that takes you on a journey from sprawling palms to verdant ferns, this trail is also right next to Imperial River, though further from the I-17 than the Imperial Loop Trail.

The trail begins at the Bonita Nature place, where visitors can find a car park and can follow the pavement onwards. Before long, this turns into a shell path, as the hiking trails deeper into the surrounding woods. The trail varies from shell to dirt to wooden boardwalks, crossing over streams, hills, and dips, with plenty of benches to take a rest on along the way.

The trail leads along the Imperial River, including a branching off point that leads directly to the river’s edge and the kayak launch for those who would prefer to explore the rest of the route by the water. Occasionally, you might hear sounds of the Bonita Beach Road or the helicopters overhead, but these noises tend to recede in the thicker, latter parts of the trail, which follows more closely to the creek of the Imperial River, until finding concrete leading to the highway pass at the trail’s end.

This trail is hugely popular not only as a hiking trail that’s well-trafficked by locals but also as an effort from local environmentalist, Cullum Hasty, who founded the trail and is still working on an upcoming expansion. He chose this location for the trail largely due to the wide variety of local flora and fauna, including old-growth cypress and towering oak trees, and many local residents hold him in high esteem precisely for it.

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Hiking at Estero Bay Preserve State Park

This State Park offers a large amount of undeveloped conservation land, with many an opportunity to explore untouched habitats that act as home to many of the thriving local wildlife populations. However, it’s also popular for the range of trails along the way, as well. There are 12 miles of trails throughout the park, many of which are suited to exploring one or two of the many diverse ecosystems throughout. As such, the Estero Bay Preserve State Park is a place best explored in multiple trips, making sure you hit up all of the hotspots throughout.

  • The Great Florida Birding Trail includes a walk through gentle scrubland that leads out of the State Park and is great for bird watchers who want to catch a glimpse of bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, osprey and other majestic creatures in flight.
  • Meanwhile, from the northern edge of the park, you can find the beginning of the Winkler Point trails, which lead travelers through salt flats, mangrove growths, and calmer Flatwoods. This rugged terrain can be challenging and is not very suitable for those with strollers or wheelchairs. It rewards those who make it through with two observation decks that overlook some of the waterfowl habitats, however.
  • Nearby, there is a challenging pure Flatwoods loop that offers over 8 km of hiking, including 4 m of ascent, in a loop that passes the Estero River Heights at the southern end, and the Shadow Wood Preserve at the north end. This one is best suited to experienced hikers who don’t mind taking on a challenge.

These are just a few examples of the many trails throughout the expansive Estero Bay Preserve State Park. Whatever difficulty, distance, and trail type you’re looking for, this park is likely to offer all of it.

Hiking at Koreshan State Park

Koreshan State Park is one of the most curious historic sites in Lee County, without a doubt. Founded by Dr. Cyrus Teed, it was the “New Jerusalem” of the Koreshan Unity, a religious group that preached celibacy, communism, equal rights for women, and a Hollow Earth theory of the universe in the early 19th century. As the community dwindled, the last surviving members decided to leave their town and some 135 acres to the State in order to be preserved.

For many people, the Koreshan community and its many standing buildings are the main attraction of the park, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of great hiking trails to enjoy there, as well. 

The Koreshan Nature Trail is the best laid-out and best-known trail to follow. It’s a relatively easy trail, good for hikers of all levels and takes you on a 2.4 km loop that sees you climbing elevation of roughly 3m.

Koreshan State Park is pet-friendly, so long as you keep your dog on a leash. It’s also a very kid-friendly trail. While this trail doesn’t take you too close to the community itself, it does take you through some very diverse ecological areas. The bamboo forest is perhaps the greatest attraction of all, but you also have the opportunity to spot all kinds of wildlife along the way, including gopher tortoises, bobcats, gray foxes, North American river otters, and American alligators.

There are also plenty of places to stop and fish, to picnic, or to take the rest of the trail by the river on one of the kayaks or canoes that you can rent from the Friends of Koresham who manage the park.

Hike the Saylor Trail at Barefoot Beach

A shorter 3-mile trip that should take no longer than 45-50 minutes to complete that explores a lot of the Florida coastal ecosystem without being too challenging. Barefoot Beach is well known for attracting walkers, and they have even established an educational center there. You can stop there on your hike to learn a lot more about the local animal and marine life, including the efforts that are taken by volunteers to help preserve and care for the local ecosystem.

One of the highlights of this coastal trail is the opportunity to see a wide range of aquatic wildlife, including dolphins and crabs. It’s a great route for those who like souvenirs, too, thanks to the wide array of shells you can collect on your way.

The Saylor Nature Trail is named for Alice Saylor, a local who worked hard to lay out a path with labeled native plants in the 90s, choosing the area for the shade, peace, and quiet it offered, as well as the raccoons, squirrels, and gopher tortoises that people can meet on their journey through the trail. There is still a bench there in her memory.

The trail begins in a parking lot at the edge of the beach, and completes a loop along the coast and through the woods, including through a tree tunnel that makes it one of the better trails for a nice, shaded evening hike. It’s also a great place to identify a wide range of flowers. There are signs for all the plants throughout, which include QR codes that can be scanned by smartphones to offer even more information on the area, with the help of an app developed by a team from Florida Gulf Coast University.

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Hike CREW Trails in Bonita Springs

CREW Trails, which stand for Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed Trails, are a system of trails that range all throughout southwestern Florida. It’s a carefully maintained ecosystem that offers natural water purification, floor protection, and aquifer recharge, as well as serving as home to many animal species, such as the snail kite, wood stork, and the endangered Florida panther.

Aside from an important reserve for the ecosystem of Florida and natural protection for its human inhabitants, it’s also home to four hiking trails that offer all kinds of fun. The Billy G. Cobb Memorial Trail, named for the member of a family who owned Southern CREW land for generations, is one of those trails. 

Here are the four trails and what you need to know about them:

  • The CREW Marsh Trails are five miles of loops that wind through open pine Flatwoods, around ponds that shift shapes with the seasons, over oak hammocks, and around sawgrass marshes. There are boardwalks to help navigate the marshes, as well as an observation tower that offers a great bird’s eye view over the surrounding 5000 acres.
  • The Cypress Dome Trails are 6.5 miles of trail through Flatwoods, oak and pine forests, and between the two cypress domes that the trail is named for, and are best-known for the explosion of color that comes with the blooming of the Spring wildflowers.
  • The Bird Rookery Swamp Trails are a more challenging 12 miles of trail, including a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that stretches over 1800. This swamp is well known for being home to alligators, otters, Florida panthers, bobcats, white-tailed deer, and a wide diversity of birds.
  • The Billy G. Cobb Memorial Trail is a shorter 1.5-mile trail at Flint Pen Strand that is still challenging due to uneven terrain but offers excellent views of the Kehl Canal, as well as the opportunity to meet fox squirrels, white-tailed deer, bobcats, otters, swallow-tailed kites and bald eagles.

The Billy G. Cobb Memorial Trail is the closest to Bonita Springs and Estero, but if you feel like making the trek, the others are well worth seeing, too.

What to do After a Day of Hiking Trails in Bonita Springs and Estero

Whether you’re taking one of the easier strolls or more challenging hikes, there’s plenty to keep you busy in both the town of Bonita Springs and its neighboring Estero. 

Bonita Springs offers a wide range of beaches, including Lover’s Key and the Barefoot Beach which offers the perfect place to lounge, soak up some sun, and leave all your worries behind. Riverside Park is a great place to visit thanks to the shows, festivals, and live entertainment that are on and Bonita Fairways Golf Course offers one of the few public courses in southwest Florida. If you’re a lover of the four-legged friend, then meeting some canine charmers in the Bonita Beach Dog Park is a must, too.

Estero offers the Koreshan State Park, with guided tours of the old religious community that are well worth going on. The river is right there for all the fishing, kayaking, and swimming fun you could ask for too, and the Mound Key Archaeological State Park offers a closer look at ruins from the Calusa people, including some of their famous ceremonial mounds.

Plan your Next Vacation with Royal Shell

When you’re done with an exciting day in Bonita Springs or Estero, tired from the hike and overstimulated by everything these two towns have to offer, you want a place to lay your head and relax. That’s precisely what Royal Shell can offer with our extensive range of vacation rentals.

We have several rentals of all shapes and sizes, many of them near some of the best hiking trails in Bonita Springs and Estero. Enjoy some of the best-kept vacation rentals with a boutique-style approach to maintenance & housekeeping, local knowledge, and exclusive amenities all at your service. Get in touch with Royal Shell today, and talk to one of our expert rental specialists. We’ll be certain to help you find the perfect place from which to explore the surrounding natural beauty.

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