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kayak and boat tours

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is an irreplaceable natural treasure. You can now explore this unique ecosystem via small boat tours that offer an up-close and personal experience. With a maximum of six passengers these on-the-water adventures are the only Rookery Bay tours actually conducted by our exclusive ecotour partner, Rising Tide Explorers. The relaxed pace and emphasis on learning is designed to help visitors develop a true sense of place and a deeper connection to this unique coastal wilderness. Several different trips are available, each with a different theme.

All tours provide a chance to see a diversity of native wildlife and offer a comfortable platform for photography. Tours include free admission to the Environmental Learning Center on day of trip and proceeds support the non-profit Friends of Rookery Bay, Inc. 




  • All boat tours cost $109 per person (10% off for Friends of Rookery Bay members).
  • All boats have a max of 6 passengers
  • Please scroll down for complete tour descriptions

History Mystery Tour

Essence of the Estuary Boat Tour

Have you ever visited a place with the hope you might come away with a profound understanding of its essence rather than just a snapshot? This tour will “get you there”. Wander through the backwaters of Rookery Bay Reserve, learning about plants and animals and how they fit into the complex tapestry of this place we call an estuary. Journey back in time and learn how human and natural history intersect. Your guide adapts the tour to changes in weather, tides, and participants’ interests so no two tours are the same.

Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.


High Points Tour

High Points Boat Tour

Come along on this small boat cruise through back bays and winding creeks to visit a particularly unusual place in Rookery Bay Reserve. After disembarking, take a short hike to one of the highest points in Collier County, an ancient sand dune relic from the Pleistocene Era. Your naturalist guide will help you see and appreciate the geologic history of Sand Hill as you enjoy the remarkable view. You will also learn about the specially adapted trees, shrubs and wildflowers that survive in this coastal scrub ecosystem. This tour allows guests the opportunity to experience a place few visitors get to see. Participants must have the physical ability to get into and out of a boat tied to shore. Closed-toed shoes are recommended. 

Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.


Life is a Beach

Life's A Beach Boat Tour

This tour provides an opportunity to explore Keewaydin Island, a natural, living barrier island with an incredible diversity of life and some of the best shelling in Florida. Stroll the beach with your naturalist guide and learn about all the things you are seeing: specially adapted native plants, gastropods, bivalves, crustaceans, corals, sea squirts, snails, sponges, worms, fishes, birds, reptiles, and more. This island is a wonderful example of the life and death reality of plants and animals "living on the edge". Also included is a leisurely cruise through the Rookery Bay mangrove estuary, one of the richest and most productive ecosystems on the planet. Participants must have the physical ability to step down into, and up from, the boat at a dock. Closed-toed shoes are recommended for the walk across the island (and can be removed on the beach).

Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.


Sunset to Starlight

Sunset to Starlight Boat Tour

This one-of-a-kind tour takes place in the evening and is often (but not always) around the time of the full moon. Guests will visit a remote section of Keewaydin Island, renowned for its shell-strewn beaches and pastel sunsets. Stroll along and enjoy beachcombing until the magical moment when the sun sinks into the Gulf. As darkness gradually enfolds you, begin the leisurely return cruise through the back bays of the reserve, becoming immersed in the sights, sounds and sensations of night in a mangrove-forested estuary. If the tide permits, you will ease by the rookery island where hundreds of herons, egrets and ibis gather for the night. Participants must have the physical ability to step down into, and up from, the boat at a dock. Closed-toed shoes are recommended.

Note: Tours are scheduled around the full moon each month. Click "book now" button above to see dates and availability.



Treasure Island Tour

The treasure on this interesting island isn't gold, silver or pirates' booty. It is the amazing ecological treasure of a rare tropical hardwood hammock. You will enjoy a leisurely boat trip through the estuary to the island, disembark, and hike about 1/2 mile on a primitive trail in a shaded forest dripping with ferns and bromeliads. Your naturalist guide will introduce you to the fascinating plants that make this community of life unique and will share interetsing stories of how human history and coastal ecology intertwine. This tour requires the physical ability to step down into, and up from, the boat at a dock and walk 1/2 mile on uneven terrain. Closed-toed shoes required.

Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Boat Tour FAQs

Are the tours suitable for children?

On all regularly scheduled tours the minimum age for passengers is 12. This is based on your captain’s years of experience as a professional educator and as a long-time instructor in the Florida Master Naturalist Program. Some of the interesting environmental science covered during these tours is oriented toward, and preferred by, an adult audience. Interpreting the natural and cultural history of the area for young children requires a different approach than for adults. Trying to do both at once means neither is done well. Private charters may be arranged for families with young children.  

Can I come without a reservation?

Advance reservations are required. These tours are designed to be a unique and intimate natural experience and are limited to
no more than six passengers. Special private charters may also be arranged. Please call to inquire.

Can I take photos?

Absolutely. Rookery Bay Reserve has always considered photography and art to be a meaningful and effective way to gain a “sense of place”. The light, colors, textures and wildness of this area make it a fantastic natural setting for photographers.

Can the general public access these same places?

Yes and no. Most of the Reserve is completely open to the public. However, some locations used as a part of these tours may be restricted for various reasons. These sites are typically marked by signage indicating that public access is not allowed.

Do you offer private charters?

Sorry, but no. Our current schedule prevents us from offering any additional tours.

Is the tour boat handicapped accessible?

It depends on the nature of the handicap or disability. Call in advance to inquire.

May I bring my own refreshments on the boat?

It's okay to bring your own refreshments but alcohol is not permitted. You are responsible for carrying your items to the beach and back (a short hike, in the dark). Big coolers are a bad idea, and on the boat Captain Randy is very specific to request all guests to be careful that nothing blows overboard (plastic bags).

These trips are pricey - how can I get a discount?

Our tours are intimate, nature-viewing and learning experiences, limited to ONLY six passengers per tour. Our tours are competitively priced, and proceeds support the Friends of Rookery Bay. For this reason the only discount offered on these tours is 10-20% off, available to Friends of Rookery Bay members. Learn more about membership.

What kind of boat is used?

The boat is a 24ft. Carolina Skiff specially outfitted for this purpose. The boat is extremely stable and perfect for negotiating the narrow creeks and shallow backwaters of the Reserve. There are comfortable individual seats for each passenger (maximum of six), a fully shaded canopy, a very quiet four-stroke Yamaha outboard engine and all required safety equipment.

What kind of wildlife might we see?

It depends on which trip you are on and the luck of the day. Other visitors on these trips have seen: bottle-nosed dolphins, manatees, wild hogs, deer, raccoons, bald eagles, magnificent frigatebirds, peregrine falcons, black-crowned night herons, roseate spoonbills, spotted sandpipers, American oystercatchers, gopher tortoises, mangrove tree crabs, sea slugs, Bartram’s hairstreak butterflies and a host of interesting native plants and wildflowers.

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