Roseate Spoonbill at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge
Entrance to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Park in Sanibel
Entrance to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Park in Sanibel

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge offers a 4-mile Wildlife Drive. You can drive on the wide and well-maintained paved road, making stops along the way to climb an observation tower and take a stroll down one of the side trails. But our choice mode of traveling the Drive is on bikes.

Ding Darling Wildlife Drive
Ding Darling Wildlife Drive

Boardwalk

Electric bikes with wider tires will make the 2-mile gravel path that runs somewhat parallel to the first 2 miles of the paved drive a viable option. It’s on this gravel path that you’ll come to the boardwalk observation area that also has steps up one level for a better view.

On our trip today, we got our first view of an alligator in the refuge! We also got to ask questions of park guide stationed at the boardwalk. He offered lots of information about the birds we saw in this area.

Roseate Spoonbills

After leaving the boardwalk area, looking through the trees, we spotted these pink birds. Of course, my first thought was that these were flamingos displaced from their natural habitat in the Caribbean to our south due to hurricanes. And this is what I happily announced to all those on the path that had yet to reach this place. Later I reviewed the “Birds of the Refuge” boardwalk sign to learn that what we actually saw were Roseate Spoonbills.

Luckily, those that knew better didn’t shame me for my lack of knowledge or they appreciated the birds as flamingos too! Ha! Ha!

Stops along the Way

The gravel path became a paved path accessible to bikes and pedestrians only for a very short distance before it merged again with the wider paved Wildlife Drive. In this last section, we came across a covered viewing area. There were lots of tiny crabs that weren’t even noticeable at first. The spot was a worthwhile stop just to get out from the sun and drink some water. At the point where the bike/pedestrian path met the Wildlife Drive, restrooms were available.

Ding Darling Covered Viewing Area
Ding Darling Covered Viewing Area

Wildlife Drive

The smooth paved surface made the bike riding very comfortable. There were numerous reasons to pull over along the way including the observation tower and another big-gravel trail that led to the bayside of Sanibel. We’ve been told that manatees are often seen at the end of this trail. No luck for us though.

End of the Drive

The Drive is only in one direction, so when you see the end of Drive sign, you’ll be heading out of the park and back towards the Sanibel-Captiva Road.

Exit from Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Park in Sanibel
Exit from Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge Park in Sanibel

While still on Sanibel, there is a roadside bike trail the length of this road. We like to continue towards Captiva and have lunch at The Green Flash restaurant on the bay.

Bike Riding on Captiva

Captiva does not have a separated bike trail, but it does have less traffic, a slower speed limit and paved area bikes can use to the right of the white road line. And the view as you approach the business area of town is spectacular.

Bayside Dining in Captiva

We love stopping at the Green Flash restaurant in Captiva for a wonderful lunch with a wonderful view! We also top off our water bottles for the ride back to our car!

Summary Notes

The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is closed on Fridays! Keep this in mind when planning your trip. We bring our bikes, but you can rent electric or pedal bikes on Sanibel and start your ride from the bike shop. Since the hurricane has shut down many businesses, we choose to park in the lots where there is nothing open so we aren’t impacting open business. Since we bring our bikes, we could choose to park for free at Ding Darling, but we are always looking to get as much riding in as possible.

The Refuge entrance does have an education center with bathroom facilities. You may want to check out the building for one or both! There is also a $1 fee per biker or pedestrian onto the Wildlife Drive. Cars are $10. The fee is collected at the Drive entrance.

The ride from the bike shop rental areas in Sanibel, through Ding Darling Wildlife Drive, to Captiva for lunch and then all the way back to the car is around 24 miles. Bring water. Wear sunscreen. Maybe pack snacks that will be welcomed should you find yourself spending more time stopping along the way.

There are beaches along the way and more to see in Captiva. We’ll save that for another blog post.

There is a toll to drive the Sanibel Causeway to the island, but not on the way off. If you don’t have SunPass or EZPass, I believe you’ll be billed by license plate, possibly with a surcharge. The toll is $3 per axle.

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