Sanibel Island lies directly in the territory of the ancient Calusa Indians whose empire stretched across the entire southern half of Florida. Unfortunately, there are not much on the surface left of their massive settlements and dwellings built upon the large shell mounds.

The Calusa were the indigenous people who occupied most of Southwest Florida befort the first Spanish Conquistadors arrived on the west coast of Florida. The skilled native tribe lived off of the land and sea utilizing every resource that the surrounding natural environment provided. This includes the shells leftover from fishing, eating, tool making and more. The Calusa would harvest the shells from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, eat the animal within and retain the shells as building material and tools. The shells would be piled in mounds that served as dwellings, temples and the like.

For a closer look you have to take to the trails on foot in a fun and interesting journey of discovery on the Sanibel Shell Mound Trail, located a short drive from our property. The trail shows you the remnants of ancient Calusa homes and by studying the artifacts located within these ancient mounds of shells you will see a highly evolved, stratified social structure, rich in religion and ritual.

Sanibel hosts a couple of these structures and the fine folks at J.N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offer visitors and locals alike continuous tours free of charge beginning at 1 p.m. meeting at the Calusa Shell Mound Trail parking lot at the end of Wildlife Drive in Ding Darling Preserve.

Bring binoculars, a hat, sunscreen and water to enjoy a fun and informative guided tour on the boardwalk trail. Naturalists will guide you through a world of fantastic island nature and alert you to what is currently there as far as wildlife.

The boardwalk circles the shell mounds themselves on this .4 mile trail through a tropical hardwood hammock habitat where Gumbo-limbo trees mingle with snake plants, sea grape, barbed cactus, poinciana and mimosa. Enjoy exotic bromeliads and the white mangrove which tower 30 feet into the air.

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