If you ever find yourself in south Florida and are in need of a great place to run, try Sanibel Island. It’s an island off the west coast of Florida where there are 22+ miles of paved trails. There are also some really easy running routes here that have clear starts and finishes for people who want to run a specific training distance and who aren’t just running for sightseeing purposes (which of course you can do here too!). Sanibel Island is also a great place to keep up any marathon training you might be in the middle of while on vacation.
To get over to Sanibel Island, you have to pay a $6 toll and cross a few bridges. Runners are not allowed to run over these bridges – bikes only. Frankly, I wouldn’t even try. Everyone is swerving on the bridges to take pictures or to watch people doing water sports and they’re not looking for runners, or bikers for that matter. Once you get on island, hang a right at the first intersection and head in a straight shot to Tarpon Bay Rd. Take another right and you’re at the intersection of Tarpon Bay Rd and Sanibel-Captiva Rd. This is where the beginning of the mile markers start for what turns out to be about a 7 mile out and 7 miles back paved route. It’s the best run route on the island because there are minimal intersecting roads so you won’t have to be watching out for cars turning in front of you all the time like on the rest of the island. Also, you can eek out 15 miles if you go half a mile longer and cross the bridge to Captiva. That’s when the path completely ends and I would not recommend continuing further because the roads are narrow and, again, nobody is looking for runners.
– Open routes/paths so you can see what’s in front of you and around you, the tree line is trimmed back to give you more space
– Very few breaks in the path so you don’t have to stop or slow down as much
– Water fountains at Mile 2, Mile 3.5, Mile 5.5, Mile 7.5 (and the reverse)
– Obvious flow to the path so you don’t have to stop and wonder if you’re still going the right way
– Path sits far enough off the road to make you feel safer if anyone veers off the road (looking at maps, texting, I’ve seen it all)
– Paramedic/firefighter station on route at Mile 5… not a necessity but definitely in the bonus column
You start at this sign at the 4-way stop (above). The path is pretty wide the whole way and only narrows slightly whenever it goes between groupings of trees. At these points, the path has a yellow divider line to remind the bikers to stay in their lane because of the blind turns. This also protects bicyclists from other bicyclists on the path. As a runner, I stay well within my lane because bikers will take off your arm on these sections. In fact, if you are going to stop at any time, like to tie your shoe or grab some fuel, it’s good to look over your shoulder first or just jump off the trail. I learned this the hard way. The bikers are never looking for runners, mainly because there are far less runners than bikers so people aren’t even considering someone running.
At around 1.5 miles, there is the first of two gazebos with a water fountain. They’ve revamped this area and put in a nice new (read: now drinkable) water fountain and cleared the area around the gazebo considerably. I once ran past this gazebo a long time ago when I came upon the craziest scene I’ve ever seen while running. Incidentally, that’s one of the first times I thought about starting a running blog. But that’s a whole ‘nuther story…
At around the 2 mile mark, you pass the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on your right. You have the option of heading into the Wildlife Refuge to run, but I never do. There are a lot of cars and I’ve personally had an alligator run out in front of me (a small one, but still!). It’s a 4 mile detour and eventually it drops you back on the main Sanibel-Captiva path between mile markers 5 & 6. You basically run on a one-way road that is populated by bikes, cars and pedestrians simultaneously and it curves through the wildlife refuge.
If you plan on bypassing the refuge and keep on the 7 mile route, you can still use the great water stop at the Wildlife’s visitor’s center. You can get a sip from the fountain or you can fill up your water bottles or CamelBak at this bottle-filler station they have. It fills up your packs with cold water in seconds! During the summer this place is golden, though you likely won’t have used too much water 2 miles in. But at 13 miles, on your way back down, chances are you are going to want to stop. There are bathrooms here as well.
After the Wildlife Refuge, at the 2.5 mile mark, there is the Sanibel Island Recreation Center on your right. This place has very limited hours so it might not be open if you’re doing a weekend run or early morning run. It’s like any other gym where you need to pay membership or pay for a one time use of the facility. Yet another reason to take money with you on any long run but especially on Sanibel, in case you need water or get caught by lightning or need to make a phone call because you were just attacked by an alligator (j/k, you’d be DEAD!…j/k again, it probably won’t happen… if you’re fast and run in zig zags).
At around 3.5 miles there is another gazebo on your right, directly off the path, with another new water fountain. At around 5 miles you come to Bowman Beach Rd with the fire station on your left. I always like to know if there are any fire-rescue stations along my route. I think it comes from summer runs when I used to worry about getting severely dehydrated. After you pass the fire station, you will come to another water fountain on your left, next to a little bench. Around that area is where the Ding Darling trail meets back up with the path. That’s also around the time you begin to go through a more residential-looking area as opposed to feeling like you’re just running along the road. The path does get a bit narrower here but there is a lot more shade through these parts and that’s always a nice surprise.
Eventually you will exit the residential area and come to this little village type place with restaurants and a general store and cottage-like hotels. You can also get to the beach easily here on your left. This area is right before the bridge to Captiva. But it’s another great place to refuel if you have some money and didn’t want to carry water or fuel on you. It’s your halfway point/turnaround point, basically.
If you turn around here you will have a little over a 14 mile route. But if you want to add that extra mile you can run almost a half mile more, over the bridge, to the very end of the path. The road intersects the path here so you’d have to cross the road to keep going, which would just land you on the beach in Captiva. There is a bathroom/water fountain station and parking here as well. You could meet your family here at the beach if they dropped you at the beginning of the path and went on ahead of you. Now, for those people who want to keep going and run on Captiva Island, you’re going to have to have to run on the very small shoulder of the road and carry a lucky rabbit’s foot or something with you so you don’t get hit by a car. I wouldn’t chance it. Truly, nobody is watching the roads for anyone on foot in Captiva, or at least not as well as they should be.
Sanibel Island is a great run for anyone who happens to be down here and needs to keep up with their marathon training while on holiday. It’s a nice path off of the road but not too far off that you worry you’ll get lost. Tons of water fountains and great places to stop, but also a straight shot for people who are serious about their training and need to get good miles in.
More to come…. Sanibel 6 Mile Loop