Discover the Coastal Wonders at Rookery Bay Reserve

Rookery Bay is a National Estuarine Research Reserve, home to wildlife and their various habitats. Enjoy birding, guided wildlife tours and walking trails in this unique habitat.

Two kayaks on the water

Rookery Bay is a National Estuarine Research Reserve, home to wildlife and their various habitats. This 110,000-acre reserve extends from Naples to the Ten Thousand Islands and provides visitors an accessible getaway enveloped in wilderness. Here, you can find different species of birds and animals throughout the mangroves and the brackish waters. And because Rookery Bay Reserve hosts numerous islands, there’s always something new in nature to discover on this slice of Florida’s Paradise Coast.

Birding at Rookery Bay

Rookery Bay is a birdwatcher’s ultimate paradise, being an important reserve and bird habitat for local and migratory birds, who often make their nesting and feeding grounds at the Bay.  Avid birdwatchers can see several species ranging from the predatory birds like Bald eagles, osprey, hawks, and owls, to beach-nesting birds like least terns, black skimmers, and plovers. Coastal water birds make their home here too. Herons, egrets, ibis, pelicans, and cormorants can be spotted on the beaches. Birders will enjoy making this destination an important stop to add to their bird-viewing goals.

Four kayakers posing with their paddles in the air


Guided Wildlife Tours

Learn more about the wildlife at Rookery Bay through guided tours that help you understand your surroundings. Being one of Florida’s leading educational destinations on estuarine habitats, brackish waters, and the wildlife that lives within it, guided tours are an excellent way to learn more about the coastal environment and how best to preserve its wildlife.

There’s even more to discover at Rookery Bay when you head out on the water. Take a boat tour and see Rookery Bay’s extraordinary wildlife of wading birds, osprey, fish, and dolphins. A two-hour guided kayak tour of the Bay lets you paddle through backwater bays and mangrove forests.

Guided tours are paired with research and education, and the area’s eco-aware citizens host several festivals and events throughout the year to raise awareness about Rookery Bay nature preservation.

Rookery Bay Walking Trails

If guided tours and discovery aren’t for you, you can always venture out on your own and stroll the walking trails. Near the end of Shell Island Road, the “Trails Through Time” hiking area is a series of trails, each about one-quarter mile long. Signs are placed along the trails to help hikers identify native trees and foliage, like ferns, American Beauty Berry, Coco Palm, Cherokee bean, Wax Myrtle and others. Snail Trail, Slash Pine Trail, and Catbird Loop connect to each other, making these three trails 1.5 miles long if you want to try all three together.

Briggs Boardwalk is a self-directed, half-mile nature trail passing through unique habitats and ponds. Birdwatchers should make it a point to explore this trail, as it is part of the Great Florida Birding Trails. Shell Mound Trail starts at the RBNERR field station and follows a mangrove shoreline. Hikers can learn about the native peoples and pioneers who previously inhabited the area, the history of Rookery Bay, and how the local community plays a role in establishing and maintaining the Reserve.

Little girl holding a fish


Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is an educational, research and training facility complete with research laboratories, a 140-seat auditorium, classrooms, aquariums and a visitor center, which hosts interactive exhibits for all ages, an art gallery, nature trails, and picnic areas. Large windows in the Reserve’s laboratories allow visitors to observe research in-progress. A monitor shows scientists in action through education-led programs. A movie theater showcases a 10-minute documentary produced by Elam Stoltzfus, which shows the natural beauty of Rookery Bay. Finally, a 2,300-gallon mangrove aquarium serves as the centerpiece for the Learning Center, providing up close and personal views of mangrove roots within its walls.

Experiencing the diverse landscape of Rookery Bay through guided tours, walking trails, and the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center will bring out the eco-adventure in everyone. With so much to see, do and explore, a visit to Rookery Bay will make you fall in love with nature again and again.