Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Top choice park in Southwest Gulf Coast

The crown jewel in the National Audubon Society's sanctuary collection, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary provides an intimate exploration of six pristine native habitats, including saw grass, slash pine and marsh, along a shady 2.25-mile boardwalk trail. The centerpiece is North America's oldest virgin bald-cypress forest, with majestic specimens more than 600 years old and 130ft tall.

Abundant wildlife includes nesting alligators, night herons, endangered wood storks and trees full of ibis. However, two rare species, when spotted, make the news: the famed ghost orchid and the elusive Florida panther. Volunteers help point out wildlife, and signage is excellent; the visitor center rents out binoculars ($3). Corkscrew is as good as the Everglades.

The preserve is southeast of Fort Myers and northeast of Naples; take I-75 exit 111 and head east on Hwy 846/Imokalee Rd to Sanctuary Rd; follow the signs. Bring repellent for deer flies in late spring.