Friday, February 19, 2016

Dog-Friendly J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, FL

Last weekend, we set out on a road trip to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. The majority of the 2.5 hour drive west was on the remote road known as Alligator Alley which passes through Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Miccosukee Indian Reservation.  Once across however, it is only a short drive North to Fort Myers and the white sand beaches of Sanibel Island.

Oz the Terrier dog-friendly beach at Sanibel Island, Florida

We stayed at a dog-friendly hotel on the outskirts of Fort Myers, 6 miles East of Sanibel Island, because prices on the Island are a bit steep for our wallets.  A long causeway and bridge system connects the Island with the mainland and it makes for a beautiful drive.  You can stop, as I did in the above photo, along the many pull-offs on the causeway to enjoy some beach time on the Gulf of Mexico.

Upon arriving on Sanibel Island, you can stop at the Visitors and Information Center. We were happy to report that Sanibel Island is dog-friendly, with accommodations, restaurants and beaches open to well-behaved, leashed dogs. The Visitors Center will even provide you with a list of all the dog-friendly places upon request.

Oz the Terrier list of dog-friendly places on Sanibel Island, Florida

Despite so many dog-friendly things to do on the island, the holiday weekend made it a bit difficult to get near any of the restaurants or beaches. However, our goal was to visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and we did and it was worth it.

“How rich will we be when we have converted all our forests, our soil, our water resources, and our minerals into cash?”
-- Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling

Oz the Terrier dog-friendly J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge was named for Jay Norwood Darling, a pioneer conservationist who blocked the sale of the land the refuge is now on to land developers back in 1945.  The Refuge consists of over 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, submerged seasgrass beds, cordgrass marshes and West Indian hardwood hammocks all of which protect over 245 species of migratory birds.

After a stop at the Education Center, we walked the Indigo Trail. The trail is made from crushed sea shells so we recommend booties for dogs with sensitive paws.  While walking on the trail, you may be lucky enough to come across a spot where an alligator crossed the trail. You can recognize it by the claw marks and squiggly lines made as its tail drags along the shells.  If you listen to the birds, you may be able to spot an alligator in the marsh since the birds call out warnings to each other. We spotted one and he was pretty big, though you cannot see him in our photo.

Oz the Terrier alligator spotted on Indigo Trail J.N. Ding Darling NWR

The Indigo Trail leads you to the Wildlife Education Boardwalk. The boardwalk passes over the marsh and leads to a two-story observation pavilion.

Oz the Terrier Wildlife Education Boardwalk JN Ding Darling NWR

Along the way, you will notice sculptures of scat on the boardwalk railings.  It is a game to see if you can recognize the poop of different species of animals. Once you guess, lift the handle on the box and you will be able to read all about that species and their poop! Ma did way better than Daddy-dog at guessing “Who’s Poop?”.

Oz the Terrier animal scat education walk at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

After the trail walk, you can get back in your car or get on your bike and head out on the 4-mile Wildlife Drive.  There are two hiking trails accessible from the Drive (they have their own parking area) as well as plenty of spots to just pull over and observe the many species of waterbirds and shorebirds. During the winter months, you may even see some marsh rabbits, otters or bobcats.

Since it was a holiday weekend, the Wildlife Drive was packed with cars. We did get out and walk one of the two trails and we saw many different species of birds from the comforts of our car.  Though the winter months may be best for viewing some of the wildlife, we believe it would be better to visit outside of “season” so there are less people around.

If you decide to take a Florida West Coast adventure, we highly recommend a stop at dog-friendly Sanibel Island and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.


  1. I went to Sanibel last September - I had da best time there!

  2. Oh I wish I could have come with you,all the Space to explore,how exciting,xx Speedy

  3. Restaurants, great place to walk and poop. Great holiday!

  4. Pet friendly restaurants!?! WOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!
    My Dad would just luffs to go to The Everglades but I wants to go to your Sanibel now!
    Loves and licky kisses
    Princess Leah xxx

  5. You have no idea what you are doing to me with these photos!!! It reminds me so much of our trip to Destin last year!! That road along Alligator Alley...seemed to last forever! Thanks for letting me share a bit of your sunshine!

  6. Oh, that looks like a fun trip! We'd like to go there sometime!

  7. We have been looking at visiting Sanibel but as you mentioned - it is so expensive on the island and we are looking at places nearby. That was a wonderful trip you had and quite the adventure

  8. That looks like a really great adventure, Oz!!
    Dory, Jakey, Arty & Bilbo

  9. That place is on moms bucket list
    Lily & Edward

  10. We still have no fence at the new house (with no inner nuts) so the pack is still at the old house (with no puter). BUTT once we get to the new house (hopefully with inner nuts by then) we gonna be only 10 miles from Ft. Myers. So if you's ever get this way again, pleeeeeze contact Mom and we can have a get together! :) PawHugs!

  11. Oz, did you camp there? It's only a few months until Ted goes to half-time at work and I'm already planning trips for this summer and fall!

  12. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh mom said she heard Sanibel was gorgeous.
    Guess what guess what the Geek guy is allergic to C A T S...mol mol mol
    He started sniffling about 2 minutes after he arrived. That is ok I was allergic to him furs too
    Hugs madi your bfff

  13. Cool place to visit but we would be leery of the alligators crossing the trials! How funny they have a Who's Poop display. Mom plays that game all the time at home - she can tell you in our yard who's poop is who's BOL!
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  14. OMD what a GRRRRREAT place to have gone....
    Now about that ALLIGATOR Poops.... WE are STUNNED... we thought Gators were too MEAN to Poop.

  15. What a gorgeous place to visit! I think it is hilarious there is a "Guess Whose Poop" game that you can play. BOL! BOL!

  16. Dog friendly are 2 of my all time favorite words! I hate waiting at home...

    Love and licks,

  17. That looks like such a beautiful place, and interesting too! How wonderful that it is dog friendly. I don't think I'd want to see an alligator though...LOL.
    Places like that are often better when they are less crowded, but it sounds like you still had a great time!
    Jan & the crew, Wag 'n Woof Pets

  18. Stop the bus! Alligator Alley?? What the dog? Looks like a wonderful place BUTT, Alligator Alley? We can't get over that!

    Keep Calm & Bark On!

    Murphy & Stanley

  19. Where can you go with poorly behaved pets?

  20. We've been to Fort Myers several times now and it is very dog unfriendly we found. Sanibel does have a few good dog spots, but we also had a nasty experience with sand burrs on the beach there. Sanibel is nice in the off season, when it isn't so packed with tourists we think. Glad you had a nice trip. Thankfully we sold our house down there so we don't have to go there every year anymore. It makes my mom really happy! I think other areas of FL would be much better to visit as a dog.

  21. Thanks for taking us along on your vacation. We especially liked the poop sculptures. BOL!

  22. Loved this place when I was there ... but not with the dog, unfortunately.

  23. What a super adventure Oz! Could you imagine nothing but condos and hotels on that beautiful land? Glad to see you weren't afraid of the gators. Hey is your mom going to Global? Mine is going to be there so she's wondering about yours. Love Dolly


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Cairn cuddles,
Oz the Terrier