Location: La Costa
Length: 6.5 mile network of trails
Lat-Long: 26.685900, -82.245717
Type: Loop and linear
Fees / Permits: Florida State Parks entrance fee plus ferryboat fee
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to annoying
Bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. Keep in mind that if you’re not camping, you must leave on the ferryboat you’re assigned to, which means being back at the dock in time. The Tropic Star runs from Bokeelia and costs $35 adult, $25 child for a round-trip. Reserve in advance: http://www.tropicstarcruises.com
From I-75 in North Fort Myers, follow Pine Island Road west to Pine Island. Follow Stringfellow Road north on Pine Island until it ends at Bokeelia. You’ll see signs for the Tropic Star.
Once you disembark the ferryboat, the hike starts at the visitor center on Pelican Bay. Just behind the visitor center is a “Quarantine Trail” sign pointing to the right. Headed through the deep shade of a tropical hardwood hammock, the trail passes a junction with the Pinewoods Trail.
Walking in a primordial forest of giant leather ferns and cabbage palms, you come to the Scrub Trail junction. The trail continues straight into a mangrove swamp, where it gets pretty buggy. It ends at 1.7 miles at the site of the old quarantine station, where in the early 1900s, ships headed into Bokeelia were stopped and checked for malaria and yellow fever.
Retrace your path to the Scrub Trail and turn right. The trail rises up onto old dunes into a coastal scrub, where you might see a gopher tortoise. At 2.5 miles, turn right on the Cemetery Trail, which leads to Boca Grande Pass and access to that lovely scene of cabbage palm shoreline captured by Clyde Butcher. Return the way you came, back to the trail junction. Turn right. The Scrub Trail continues to descend towards the sea. As you hear the roar of waves, you reach the Gulf Trail at 4 miles. Take the right fork and keep right. The trail leads you over a high spot and down to the beach.
Return towards the Scrub Trail, following the Gulf Trail past it and to the campground. High spots offer excellent views of the beach and birds around you. At the next trail junction, continue straight to amble into the campground and peek into the cabins. A tram connects the campground and the dock, if you need to hurry back. If not, follow the Pinewoods Trail, which heads into the coastal scrub and comes to a bench at 5.2 miles. Take a quick look down the Cemetery Trail to see the pioneer settlement cemetery from the fishing village of La Costa, abandoned in the 1940s. Follow the Pinewoods Trail and turn right at the bench to head back into the tropical hammock, where you’ll meet the Quarantine Trail once again. Turn right to exit the loop and return to the visitor center and dock.
0.3 Junction with Pinewoods Trail
1.2 Junction with the Scrub Trail
1.7 Quarantine station site
2.1 Return to Scrub Trail junction
2.5 Junction with Cemetery Trail
3.2 Reach Boca Grande Pass shoreline
3.8 Return to Scrub Trail junction
4.0 Gulf Trail junction
4.2 End of Gulf Trail on the beach
4.4 Return to Scrub Trail junction
4.8 Junction with Gulfside Trail
5.0 Junction with Pinewoods Trail
5.2 Junction with Cemetery Trail
5.6 Junction with Quarantine Trail
5.9 Return to Visitor Center