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Explore The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge In Near Lely Resort

With many Lely Resort vacation rentals available for the upcoming season, you and your family have a variety of awesome options open now. And when you secure your stay away, you can explore one of the wildest and protected sites in the state of Florida- the famed Florida panther habitat.

The Refuge

Known as the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, this secured and expansive 26,000 acre stretch is the only core habitation for the enigmatic Florida panther. 

Florida panther

The refuge was, up until 1989 (a surprisingly recent time), private land owned by the Collier family. The land was purchased by the US Fish and Wildlife Service primarily to protect the dramatically reduced Florida panther population. For decades, if not centuries, loggers tore through the staggering and large cypress trees of southwest Florida. These trees added protection for many species, and once the area was hollowed out of them, the panther population dipped dramatically.

Now, the refuge is considered the heart of the Big Cypress Basin of Florida. The cypress have recovered to some degree, but the area is still a vast expanse of protected land in a state of natural beauty- and slow recovery. The refuge provides an optimum habitat for the Florida panther, and a ground to develop environmental education programs and appropriate wildlife research, 

Hiking Trails

A visit to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is no day lounging out at one of our Lely Resort pool rentals. It is a demanding yet rewarding romp through what is essentially the wilderness, and one of the most satisfying outdoor activities in Naples FL.

A Florida Panther hanging out in a tree near our Lely Resort in Florida

The vast majority of the refuge is inaccessible. But there are two main trails. The first is the quiet 0.4-mile Leslie Duncan Memorial Trail. The second is the 1.3 mile loop, following the .1 mile turnoff. 

The trail is almost always wet. Wear thick boots and pants or shorts to avoid getting too inundated. Do not enter any water above your knees and keep alert during your journey in.

Wildlife To See

Since this is one of the most isolated and unmanned Naples wildlife preserves, you can find all sorts of special wildlife.

It is difficult to mention anything before the Florida Panther. It is the refuge’s namesake and, without a doubt, one of (if not the rarest, of Florida land mammals.

The reality, however, is that Florida panther sightings are quite rare. They usually travel at night, and solo, and are skittish of humans and any unfamiliar noise. It is important to know that a Florida panther sighting is very unlikely.

a florida panther lounging in the grass

With that said, if you see one, you are in a rare group! Keep your distance, and do not try to get the attention of the animal. If it takes an interest in you, walk backwards slowly and patiently. Do not run and do not crouch. Keep your hands up to appear larger as Florida panthers are not interested in any scuffle or encounter with a human.

Outside of the Florida panther, you may see a variety of the 120 species of bird, including northern bobwhite, eastern meadowlark, blue-gray gnatcatcher, and wood stork, as well as squirrels, marsh rabbits, armadillos, and coyotes. There have even been some black bear and bobcat sightings.

For general safety, we always recommend traveling with at least one other and keeping small pets at home. Enjoy the deep nature of the refuge!


The refuge encompasses a region north of Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and west of the Big Cypress National Preserve. The main trailhead entrance is the best way to enter the refuge. From Naples, take I-75 South towards Miami. Get off at Exit 80. You can then turn left on State Road 29 and move north. The refuge trails will be located on the left side less than a mile down the road.