Charlotte Harbour Aquatic Preserve
Explore the Limitless Waters of Southwest Florida
One of Southwest Florida’s greatest natural assets is collectively known as the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves. Consisting of five contiguous state preserves within the greater Charlotte Harbor estuary complex covering 4,500 square miles, the vital, interconnected waters are stretching along six Florida Gulf Coast counties.
Rimmed with mangrove and salt marsh communities, these renowned estuaries are rich with seagrass beds, tidal flats and oyster colonies—teeming with mullet, spotted sea trout, red drum, flounder, blue crab, pink shrimp, stone crab, snook, tarpon, grouper, snapper, sheepshead and several species of shark. They are also home to 86 species listed as endangered or threatened by the state, including the Florida manatee, sea turtles and wading birds.
Because of its vastness, you can explore these waters in many different ways, from kayaking or paddle-boarding to visiting a local shoreline or state park. You can also dig deeper through the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) for a fun and educational daytrip. The nonprofit organization, promotes awareness, research and stewardship of this important resource. CHEC offers wading sea-grass adventures, pontoon boat journeys and guided hikes for children and adults. Learn more atchecflorida.org.
DAY TRIP IDEAS:
Alligator Creek Preserve, 10941 Burnt Store Road, Punta Gorda, (941) 575-5435
Adjacent to the 30,000-plus-acre Charlotte Harbor State Park Preserve, this site offers a free visitor center and four miles of nature trails. Interpretive trail walks are provided year-round. The visitor center has free brochures and a gift shop featuring books on Florida ecology and unique, local items. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The trail is open sunrise to sunset every day.
Cedar Point Environmental Park, 2300 Placida Road, Englewood, (941) 475-0769
This 115-acre park borders Ainger Creek, Oyster Creek and Lemon Bay and has three hiking trails. The visitor center is free and open to the public. The park has been the home of nesting American bald eagles since 1992 and hosts an observation hive of honey bees. The honey is for sale. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The trail is open sunrise to sunset every day.