Time Travel to the Calusa

Things to do on Pine Island, Florida

Go a millennium back in time and trace the footsteps of Southwest Florida’s first peoples.

Before Ponce de Leon landed along the southwest Florida shores in 1513, it was populated by the powerful Calusa. These mound-builders were unique among Native Americans because they gained most of their sustenance from the local waters, not through traditional agriculture.

Throughout the region, vestiges of their society beginning around 100 A.D., remain in the form of burials and shell middens—mounds created from the refuse of clams, fish, mollusks, gastropods and other staples of their diets. The Calusa nation was powerful, commanding tributes from tribes throughout  Florida and the Southeast. They earned their name from the Spaniards and it translates to “fierce.”

At the Randell Research Center (RRC), operated and comprehensively researched by the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History, you can learn about how they lived off the rich estuarine environment. Situated in scenic Pineland on the western shore of Pine Island close to Cape Coral, the Center encompasses 67 acres at the heart of this archaeological site featuring massive shell mounds extending across 100 acres. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Walk in their footsteps at the Calusa Heritage Trail, a .7-mile interpretive walkway that leads visitors on a self-guided tour through the mounds, canals that the Calusa dug with shell tools, and other features. Interpretive signs along the trail provide detailed information on their culture and environment, and the history of Southwest Florida after the Calusa left. The trail also features observation platforms atop the site’s tallest shell mound, trail-side benches, on-site parking, picnic facilities and restrooms.

Make time to stop into the 1920s Ruby Gill House and post office (7450 Pineland Road), where you can buy books about the Calusa and local archaeology; it now serves as RRC headquarters. 

You can also have lunch or cocktails at the quaint Tarpon Lodge across the street, or any of the small establishments in Matlacha, St. James City, Bokeelia and Pine Island.


Location: 13810 Waterfront Drive, Pineland, Florida
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Public guided tours are offered from January through April each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Call (239) 283-2157.

Admission: Requested donations are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for children.