Nature Activities for Kids

By Judy Lawrence

Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades is full of natural (and educational) fun for kids.

Group of paddleboarders on the water

Ways for Kids to Connect to Nature

Children are captivated by living things, especially things they’ve never seen. So when you come to Florida’s Paradise Coast, comprised of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades, they’ll have a one-of-a-kind family experience. Bring your sunglasses, sunscreen and video camera because it’s way different than back home, wherever that might be, and your kids are going to love it!

Watch the gentle manatee silently rise from the water or dolphins frolicking in the Gulf or a Florida alligator basking on a golf course. They’re all everyday experiences to those who live here, but magic moments in the eyes of children that will live forever in their memories.

Here are just a few of the many places to stay and things to see.

Where to stay

Many hotels and resorts offer baby-sitting services and swimming pools, while others have carved out eco-friendly activities to stimulate inquisitive minds. A few of them include the following:

The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburón offers a Nature's Wonders eco-activity program led by a team of master naturalists. Nine aquariums, including two touch tanks, acquaint kids with local marine life, including sharks!

JW Marriott Marco Island offers the Tiki Tribe Discovery Day Camp. Kids get to paint a ceramic, play games, explore the beach and take a dip in the pool. Lunch and an afternoon treat are included. 

What to do

See sea turtles up close at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center.

Some of the best beach wildlife-watching is at Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island. This popular area is known for 86 species of wild birds. You can join a free nature walk with guides from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Naples Nature Center. Beach amenities include kayak and umbrella rentals, showers, restrooms, play area, snack bars and chickee huts.

Watch the sun set with the family at Naples Pier and see pelicans dive head-first into the Gulf and come up with a beak full of fish. No one has ever tired of watching them.

To see jaw-dropping looks on their faces, take the kids to the unique Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples known as C’mon. It has hands-on exhibits so they can take a mini-journey through the Everglades swamps, climb a two-story banyan tree and weave through a maze. Curious minds can see what it’s like to be a weather forecaster, farmer, chef, fisherman, artist, architect or veterinarian and much more.  

Naples Zoo has a wide variety of exotic animals rarely seen in zoos, like the African honey badger,  slender horn gazelle, striped hyena and the fosa from Madagascar along with giraffes, lions,  zebras, leopards, and more. Feed the giraffe herd or and catch feeding time with the keepers at Alligator Bay. Prefer monkeys, lemurs and apes? Get on a guided catamaran boat ride through cage-free islands filled with them. You can even talk with professional zookeepers and see the animals they care for up close during special Wild Encounter activities.

Be a "citizen scientist" on a wildlife boat tour.

Dolphin Explorer – This amazing eco-tour lets you get up close and personal to wild dolphins in a three-hour expedition of sighting and studying dolphins in the Gulf. The Dolphin Explorer is a 30-foot catamaran that is ideal for observing marine life. A National Geographic-approved tour makes sure you see dolphins on every trip—up close and personal.

Everglades National Park – Explore the only subtropical preserve in North America—the famous “River of Grass.” It is home to Florida panthers, black bear, manatees, alligators, crocodile, snowy egret, storks, bald eagles and many more. Diverse habitats allow you to enjoy boat tours, canoeing and kayaking, fresh and saltwater fishing and camping in the ultimate wilderness. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City provides access to the beautiful Ten Thousand Islands saltwater portion of the park.

Naples Marina & Excursions – From eco-tours, and paddle boarding to diving, scuba diving to saltwater fishing charters, and much more, there’s plenty of family-friendly outdoor fun to choose from. Group nature tours are for one up to 140.

Manatee Sightseeing Adventure is a private boat trip into a remote Everglades manatee hideout. The huge and gentle creature is an endangered species. They seem to hover in the water, then surface silently to breathe. No trip is complete without seeing one of these awesome giants.

Make magic moments with your kids they will remember forever on the Paradise Coast, comprised of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades.