Four Mile Cove Eco Preserve is a rare find in Cape Coral; it is a mangrove forest along the Caloosahatchee River with a 1.2-mile loop trail, a portion of which is on a boardwalk.
The Four Mile Cove Eco Preserve, which is located right next to the Midpoint Memorial Bridge and features a boardwalk through the mangroves along the Caloosahatchee River, is a fantastic place to go bird watching.
With 365 acres, it is Cape Coral’s second-largest nature reserve. As well as a nature trail, it serves as a launching point for kayakers venturing into the maze of waterways that wind through the mangroves, and as a vantage point from which fishermen can cast their lines from a spacious platform into the river.
There is access to the preserve from 8 a.m. until sunset daily. Dogs are not allowed. The Caloosahatchee River allows fishing from the observation deck. The trail is not a place for picnicking or bicycle riding, so please don’t bring anything along. Kayaks can be rented on weekends from November through May. Renting a kayak requires an 800 foot portage along the trail, and kids under the age of six are not allowed to paddle.
From US 41 in Fort Myers, head west on Colonial Boulevard, and then take the Midpoint Memorial Bridge to Cape Coral. Make sure you get off on the Del Prado exit after paying the toll, which is the right lane. Just keep going straight ahead until you reach the “Four Mile Eco Park” signs, and then turn right.
Starting from the visitor center, hikers can head left along the boardwalk into a coastal prairie. A number of benches are conveniently placed along the trail for resting and watching the passing birds. At a distance of 0.2 miles, there is a viewing platform with a bench where you can take in the sights of the needlerush marsh below. The boardwalk then continues along another shady corridor of saltbush after emerging along this marsh.
As you walk further along the trail, the prop roots of the red mangroves will become more and more visible. Out of the low, bitter panicum grass rise tall, giant leather ferns. After passing through some bushes and shrubs, the boardwalk opens up onto the outskirts of a salt marsh populated by needlerush and enormous leather ferns.
At mile marker 5, there is a right turn that leads to a bench. Above the narrow upper end of Four Mile Cove, where the mangroves are located, is an overlook that provides water to a perennial stream. You’re deep in a mangrove swamp, where the predominant colors are red and black.
Views of birds roosting in the mangrove tunnel’s overhead branches are a popular attraction. A narrow canal cuts beneath the boardwalk at the halfway point. It makes one think of the Calusa canals that were dug by hand in the Americas many centuries ago. Beyond that is where you’ll find a bench to rest on.
The trees crowd back over to form a bower above the path as it winds through a corridor of young saltbush. Among the ferns and wild coffee that thrive on the limestone ridge is a transition zone.