Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island, a subtropical barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Island may be accessed by boat or car. By car, the Sanibel Causeway is a beautiful drive. Often we carry a snack or lunch and stop off on the causeway to watch the pelicans or the sail surfers. Both are colorful and in a striking setting.
Once you reach the Island, turn right at the first stop and then continue towards Captiva Island until you come to the Refuge. It is approximately seven miles from beginning of causeway.
Once in the Ding Darling refuge, visitors may take their own car on the drive or bike most of the trails. It is an eight-mile loop along Wildlife Drive or a four-mile loop returning along the Indigo Trail. This is a great place to see migratory birds, alligators, and other animals while experiencing the mangrove ecosystem.
Ideally, the best time for visiting is December through March and at low tide so that you may see more birds feeding. However, remember, the Refuge is always closed on Fridays. Check hours before you go. Usually, they open at 7am but the hours of closing range from 5:30 to 8pm.
Ding Darling is one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in the United State and is known world-wide for its amazing migratory bird inhabitants. We are always thrilled at the numbers of these fabulous birds that we see including the elusive Roseate Spoonbill.
The Visitor/Education Center is open from 9am to 4pm May through December and 9am to 5pm January through April. They display exhibits on the refuge’s ecosystems, migratory flyways, the work of J.N. “Ding” Darling and a hands-on exhibit for children. The bookstore and gift shop is located in the Center with many field guides and nature books.
The three trails that are in the refuge are the Indigo Trail, a four-mile round-trip from the Visitor Center; the Wulfert Keys Trail, a 1/4 mile trail that leads to a view of Pine Island Sound; and, the Shell Mound Trail, also 1/4 mile, with an interpretive boardwalk.
Admission fee is $5 per vehicle or $1 for a hiker or biker.
Admission is free with your America the Beautiful pass or the current Federal Duck Stamp.
You may purchase your federal America the Beautiful pass or Duck Stamp at the fee booth or the visitor center if you don’t already have one. At the fee booth you will be given a booklet for your self-guided tour along Wildlife Drive.