Time Required: 1-3 hours
Parking: small parking lot at entrance
- Check their website for events
- Address and other information at the bottom of this article
Bonita Nature Place was built on a tract of land that the local Bonita Springs government decided to make into a nature park area for locals and visitors. Nature Place was originally slated to be a residential property, but when the city opted to make it into something more beautiful, the idea was met with support and enthusiasm. Then, the South Florida Water Management District saw the value in the park and deeded an additional 20 acres to them.
It’s a great place to see interesting wildlife, take a walk, and learn about nature. Walking trails are lined with informative signs to tell you what plant you’re looking at. But we don’t want to just repeat everything that you can learn by visiting or going to their website. We like to highlight some of the other features of the beautiful places people work so hard to maintain. In addition to the gopher tortoises, butterfly garden, and tropical plants you can look for, here are a few more gems to keep an eye out for at Bonita Nature Place.
- Trail Steps: These steps are very cool, built-in steps that tell you you’re at the beginning of the trail. Find them nestled into the dirt path once you walk through the Welcome area and start to feel a slight incline. You’ll see a tiny hiker icon telling you you’re going the right way, and it makes a nice little entrance to this free trail.
- Cypress Knees: Once you’ve walked a little ways, you’ll come to a bend that lines up the path with the river. The bank dips down and you’ll see what looks like a thousand little wooden bumps along the water. Those bumps are part of the root structure of the big trees around you. In Florida, someone might confuse cypress knees with banyans (mangroves) because they are similarly leggy roots that hang out near where water and land meet. But, they’re actually very different from mangroves (at least as far as we humans know) because mangrove knees are roots that stick in the air (called pneumatophores). Fun fact: Scientists don’t know what cypress knees are for. (Check out these two awesome sources for more about the secretive nature of Cypress trees: 1, 2)
- The Water Line: You’re likely to see a very different water line than the one we saw, depending on how much rain the area has had lately. Once you spot one on a tree, take a moment to scan the rest of the trees around you. It will show you just how much water was fairly recently in the very place you are standing. Interestingly, the Cypress knees on the path don’t sit much higher than the water line on the trees, which probably means the water line doesn’t go that high very often.
- Fox Squirrels: These little buggers have probably been around you the whole time, skittering around and chattering about their recent finds. But until one bounds across your path, you may never see it. Fox squirrels are recognizable because of their long, bushy tails. While we didn’t get any photos of the squirrels (they are too fast!) we did have a few intercept our journey a few times, and even got fairly close to one that watched us–still as a statue with his front paws pressed together–from the side of a tree. Listen for crackling on the forest floor or little scratches from the trees, and you’ll probably spot a few. It’s worth it to stop and watch for a minute! Let us know if you catch a good photo or video!
- The Underpass: So, underpasses aren’t really “destinations,” and this one isn’t really either. But because the park isn’t strictly sectioned off and the trail heads toward I-75, it’s worth it to go the full length and stand underneath the road. You get to a small sand beach along the river, where mini-whirlpools form as a result of streams of water breaking through parts of the sand and slipping along the changes in the riverbed. Stand and listen to the echo of the water and the travel overhead, marvel at the stark contrast between nature’s architecture and man-made structures, or just watch the water in this tiny part of the Imperial River.
- A Volunteer to Chat With: The goings-on at Bonita Nature Place are mostly run by volunteers. When we were there, we saw a man watering flowers who said hello to us. He asked us if we enjoyed our hike and we began to chat. We told him about the snake we’d seen, and his eyes got large when we described its red, yellow, and black markings, and we got into a discussion of which pattern meant the little guy was poisonous. I sent him a screenshot of the video I’d taken, and he ended up getting back to us later to tell us it was, in fact, a coral snake: one of the most poisonous snakes in Florida. (Don’t let that deter you from going! The likelihood of encountering one is low, and they’re shy little creatures who are unlikely to attack.) The volunteer told us that he worked for the city but loved Bonita Nature Place and volunteered 2-3 days per week. All that time at the park gave him a lot of interesting stories. One included a Florida brown bear having a snackfest in one of the honeycombs after they moved the colony. Another included a video of a panther slinking through the park at night. We could have talked to him all day if we didn’t have plans to go on an amazing boat ride in the Estero Bay later.
We highly recommend checking out Bonita Nature Place. It’s fun and free and full of interesting little quirks that will give you a story to tell. The main trail is well maintained and would make a great place to take a run. There are also other trails that give way to exploration and gems to find (including a mailbox decorated with palm fronds, the possibility of seeing gopher tortoises, and more) — so slap on your shoes and get over there and enjoy this tiny wonder of Southwest Florida!
Address: 27601 Kent Rd, Bonita Springs, FL 34135
Phone Number: (239) 992-2556
Tickets/More Info: (link opens a PDF) http://www.cityofbonitasprings.org/parks/wp-content/themes/rttheme9/forms/BNP.pdf