Exploring the Bradenton Area’s Preserves
The Bradenton Area is home to a dozen nature preserves that are spread all across the destination for everyone to enjoy. But not all preserves are alike. Some are hundreds of acres, some are small natural wetlands, and some are relics of an ancient time. But one things for sure – all of them are a great way to spend your day. Here’s a guide to learning about some of the different nature preserves of the Bradenton Area.
Tucked into the corner of northwest Bradenton, Robinson Preserve includes 682 acres of coastal saltern, marsh, and mangrove habitat combined with a hiking and biking trail and a 40 foot observation tower right at the heart of the park. The preserve is a favorite for kayakers, featuring 2.5 miles of crystal blue waterways through the natural mangrove tunnels. Robinson Preserve is a family favorite as it features the newly built NEST (center for Nature, Exploration, Science and Technology), which is a multiple-use space that focuses on hands-on learning for all ages and frequent recreational programs like tai chi and yoga. The kids will be sure to love the NEST’s Canopy Zone and extended slide, open all year round!
On the south end of Anna Maria Island, across the way from Coquina Beach, you’ll find the small but stunning Leffis Key Preserve. What was once an overgrown spoil full of invasive species plants, Leffis Key Preserve has now become a impressive example of what a community can do to save its natural wetlands and estuaries. Leffis Key has 1,500 feet of boardwalks that take you around the island and lead up to a 26-foot high hill that features stunning panoramic views of Sarasota Bay and Anna Maria Island. There’s also various viewing platforms with benches that make for a relaxing, short hike where you can enjoy all of the natural sea oats, marshlands, and spot wildlife like manatees, dolphins, jumping fish and species of birds galore!
On your way in to Anna Maria Island you’re sure to spot Neal Preserve while making your way across Perico Island. Neal Preserve is set against the stunning waterways around Anna Maria Island and offers fantastic examples of Florida’s natural wildlife and native plants. But there’s more to this 120 acre preserve than meets the eye. The land the preserve is on was inhabited as early as 3000 BC, and Native American burial mounds were found there in the 1930’s by the Smithsonian Institute. These mounds have been reconstructed and still exist today, making Neal Preserve a great place to enjoy the outdoors and learn some history to boot!
Situated right in the heart of the Bradenton Area is Jiggs Landing – a preserve and fish camp that lies on the Braden River. Jiggs Landing offers fresh water fishing, kayaking and canoeing, with a boat launch that gives you 24-hour access to the entire Braden River. The preserve is a great place for the whole family to spend a night or two, with a playground and concession stand for fun during the day, and cozy (and adorable) rustic cabins for a good night’s sleep.
In the eastern part of the Bradenton Area is acres and acres of open land, many of which are protected like Rye Preserve. Here, you can truly be one with nature and experience a barely-untouched part of Florida. Rye Preserve has its own piece of Bradenton Area history – the Rye river community was once a thriving township of pioneers in the late 1800’s who occupied the area. At Rye Preserve you can see the Rye Family Cemetery, the last remaining reminder of the community. The preserve also offers viewings of wildlife like rare gopher tortoises and Florida scrub-jays, kayaking and canoeing, and a playground for the little ones. If you find that you love Rye Preserve so much that you don’t want to leave don’t worry – this preserve is one of the few that has a camp site and allows for primitive tent camping!