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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 Reserve staff. 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. 

Tours are offered seasonally from November through April. Please click the green tabs below for complete trip descriptions and pricing. 


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The Treasure Island Tour

Treasure-Island-TourThe treasure on this remarkable island isn't gold, silver or pirates' booty. It is the amazing ecological treasure of a very rare tropical hardwood hammock. Having been diminished due to past human activity, this rich biological community should be elevated from rare to priceless! Accordingly, the Reserve restricts public access to this area to protect it from damage. However, as our guest you will travel by boat to the island, disembark, and hike about ½ mile on primitive trails in a shaded forest dripping with ferns and bromeliads. As you meander along your guide will interpret the unique sights, smells and sounds of the hammock. By slowing down and absorbing the experience with your senses, you will come to know why this island really is a treasure. Guests will also learn how some people currently manage to live on these islands completely off the grid, without any access to public utilities. This tour lasts approximately 3 hours and requires the physical ability to get into and out of a boat tied up to the shore and to walk ½ mile on uneven terrain. Closed-toed shoes are required.

$89 non-members, $79 members
Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

The Life is a Beach Tour

Life is a BeachTake a naturalist-led small boat tour and explore Keewaydin Island, a natural, living barrier island with an incredible diversity of life and some of the best shelling in Florida. Learn about waves, dunes, dune plants, drift algae, bivalves, crustaceans, corals, sea squirts, snails, sponges, worms, fishes, birds, reptiles, and more. The 3-hour trip includes time to stroll the beach with the naturalist and a 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 on and off of the boat at a dock.

$89 non-members, $79 members
Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Essence of an Estuary Tour

History Mystery TourHave 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 2.5 hour small boat tour is designed to "get you there". You will wander through the bays and backwaters of Rookery Bay Reserve, learning about the plants and animals that live here, but more importantly, how and why they fit into the complex tapestry of this special place we call an estuary. Curiosity is rewarded with discovery and discoveries offer insight and understanding. You will explore the effects of time and how human history and natural history have intersected. From mud crabs to manatees, and from mound builders to mullet millionaires, this tour is designed to give you the experience of perspective. Your guide adapts the tour to changes in weather, tides, and participants' interests so no two tours are ever the same. Participants will be on the boat the entire time and must have the physical ability to step on and off of the boat at our dock.

$89 non-members, $79 members
Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

The High Points Tour

High Points TourTake a naturalist-led small boat tour through the back bays and winding creeks of the Rookery Bay Reserve to visit one of the most unique areas of Southwest Florida. After disembarking, take a short hike to one of the highest points in Collier County, an ancient sand dune relic from the Pleistocene Era that is 25 feet above sea level. The view from the top of Sand Hill is remarkable in this predominantly flat landscape, where visitors can see and appreciate this rare and fragile coastal scrub ecosystem marked by sand live oaks, rusty lyonia and Florida rosemary. In Southwest Florida, the diversity of species encountered in a few inches of elevation change is equivalent to thousands of feet of elevation change in other places. Access to this sensitive area is restricted to protect it from damage, so this tour allows guests the opportunity to experience this unusual place that very few visitors ever get to see. Participants must have the physical ability to get into and out of a boat tied up to the shore.

$89 non-members, $79 members
Note: Dates vary each month. Time of tour: 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

The Sunset to Starlight Cruise

Sunset to StarlightThis naturalist-led small boat adventure 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. This tour lasts approximately 3 hours, and participants must have the physical ability to step down onto, and up from, the boat at a dock.

$89 non-members, $79 members
Note: Dates and times vary each month, based on sunset.

Boat Tour FAQs

Who do I call with a tour question or registration problem?

The Friends of Rookery Bay's program department can be reached by dialing 239-530-5972 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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 should I bring on my tour?

We recommend a hat, sunglasses, camera, sunscreen, binoculars, water bottle and whatever else you need to be comfortable. While bugs are seldom a problem, and we keep some bug spray on the boat, you may want to bring your own if you have a preferred variety. Also, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast in advance so you are properly prepared. The temperature is often much cooler out on the water, so a light jacket is always a wise choice.

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.

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.  

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.

Is the tour boat handicapped accessible?

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

Do you offer private charters?

Absolutely. Any time a regularly scheduled tour is open (and other visitors have not already reserved a space) you may charter the entire boat for yourself. At that point you may select which particular trip you would like to take, and we may even be able to customize an itinerary to meet your interests. This is great to celebrate special events (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and also works well for families who want to include youngsters and oldsters alike. Private charters may also be arranged during times not regularly scheduled, depending to the captain’s availability. The more advance notice you provide for any private charters, the better your chance of getting it. Call to inquire.

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.

Will I get wet/sunburned/seasick/mosquito bites?

Your guide has many years of experience introducing people to this environment and a premium is placed on comfort. The boat
ride is gentle, there is a generous shade canopy, rain ponchos are onboard, insects are seldom a problem out on the water and most visitors say their experience was perfectly delightful.

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Randy McCormick, your captain and guide, has worked at the Reserve for many years and knows the area intimately. He is a Certified Interpretive Guide, an instructor in the Florida Master Naturalist program and a fifth generation Floridian.

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