Barefoot Beach Preserve is a Collier County Park tucked away in a residential neighborhood of Bonita Springs on Little Hickory Island, one of the state’s last remaining undeveloped barrier islands in Southwest Florida. You may even think you are in the wrong place as you make the first turn into the park’s entryway: three-story ocean-view mansions flank the road as you approach the neighborhood’s security station. Although the sign instructs Park visitors to continue driving to the beach, you will likely be tempted, as we were, to ask if you are in the right place.
Just a mile or so past the brightly-colored homes you will realize that you are, in fact, in the right place. First, you must stop and pay an $8 entrance fee for all-day parking. Although a little steep in price compared to other area beaches (which generally offer an hourly parking fee), there is an ease to handing over the cash to an attendant, rather than a machine, and being done for the day. Besides the ranger, you will likely be greeted by one of the park’s many resident gopher tortoises who frequently cross the road between the ocean side of the park and the tidal creeks and mangrove swamps across the way.
Parking at Barefoot Beach was plentiful on a Sunday afternoon. We chose a somewhat shady spot just a few yards from the Park Ranger’s information pavilion, restroom and concession area, and beach boardwalk entrance. Our children were most excited to encounter a large gopher tortoise meandering across the base of the concession and restroom area, and had to be dragged away from the Ranger’s information area where they learned about Barefoot Beach’s varied wildlife. The boardwalk is shaded and cool, making for a comfortable and scenic walk to the beach below a lush canopy of tropical vegetation.
The beach did not disappoint! Right away you will discover how the park got its name. Where most of the beaches in Southwest Florida are wonderful for shelling, most carry a price to pay for this privilege: sharp white sand which becomes hot and irritating the longer you walk upon it. At Barefoot, there is an abundance of shells along the immediate entrance into the ocean as well as further up the beach where the tide had made its earlier deposit, but the sand along the edge of the water is truly soft and comfortable for walking– barefoot!
On the day of our visit, Barefoot Beach was home to some decent waves as well as a fine presentation of shells, coral, and shore birds. Sand-castle making was another hit at Barefoot Beach for our family. A nice castle can be made with the fine, soft sand at water’s edge, although shallow digging is necessary to obtain the best sand. Any more than an inch below the top the sand is made up of millions of tiny and crunched-up seashells. Sea turtles are another special inhabitant of the park. We found several nests along the dunes marked out by yellow “caution” tape, and although there was nothing to see, it was nevertheless exciting for our budding young naturalists.
As the sun set on our day on Barefoot Beach, our family enjoyed a short walk up and down the beach, collecting sea foam and shells as we went, while chasing birds and releasing live mollusks back to their homes at sea. We packed up and pulled away, passing several gopher turtles making their way to the mangroves, and said good-bye, but I am sure we will be back for more barefoot beach-combing soon.