Located between Naples and Marco Island, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (300 Tower Rd., 239/417-6310, www.rookerybay.org, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Sat. Nov.–Apr., 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri. May–Oct., $5 adults, $3 children, children under 6 free) is a mangrove estuary that is home to more than 150 species of birds and other wildlife.
The Visitor Center–Learning Center at the entrance of the Reserve is quite large, but most of the 16,500 square feet are given over to working research labs and classrooms. The two-story area taken up by the actual visitor center isn’t really worth the price of admission, as it only contains a few interactive exhibits and a large aquarium.
The best way to get a feel for the wildlife in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve lies outside the air-conditioning: Every Wednesday and Saturday the facility offers guided kayak tours (10 a.m.–noon, $35, preregistration required) that take you out into the mangroves and waterways for two hours, giving you an up-close look at the quietly vibrant ecosystem.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition