JN 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Southwest Gulf Coast

Named for cartoonist Jay Norwood 'Ding' Darling, an environmentalist who helped establish more than 300 sanctuaries across the USA, this 6300-acre refuge is home to an abundance of seabirds and wildlife, including alligators, night herons, red-shouldered hawks, spotted sandpipers, roseate spoonbills, pelicans and anhingas. The refuge's 5-mile Wildlife Drive provides easy access, but bring binoculars; flocks sometimes sit at expansive distances. Only a few very short walks lead into the mangroves.

Don't miss the free visitors center (open 9am to 4pm), which has excellent exhibits on refuge life and Darling himself. Naturalist-narrated Wildlife Drive tram tours depart from the visitor-center parking lot, usually on the hour from 10am to 4pm. For the best, most intimate experience, canoe or kayak Tarpon Bay.

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