Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park is comprised of 45,387.78 acres and protects more than 100 miles of shoreline along Charlotte Harbor in Charlotte and Lee counties. It is the third largest Florida State Park.
The Preserve provides protection for five aquatic preserves: Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass, Gasparilla Sound – Charlotte Harbor, Cape Haze and Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserves.
Mangrove forests dominate the shoreline and provide habitat for coastal birds including herons and egrets. Landward of the mangrove coast, the Preserve is a mix of communities including fresh and saltwater marshes, salt flats, pine flatwoods, coastal hammocks, scrub and scrubby flatwoods. These communities are home to red-shouldered hawks, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, wading birds, otters, alligators, and migratory birds.
Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park is rich in cultural resources from the pre- and post-Columbian cultures. Humans have used the lands surrounding Charlotte Harbor for thousands of years. The earliest most visible evidence of past use at the Preserve are shell middens and mounds left by prehistoric peoples. Archaeological sites on public lands are protected by law.
Acquisition of the Preserve lands began in the 1970s and became a Florida state park in 2004. The park welcomed 246,686 visitors in 2017. These visitors contributed $19,881,263 to the economies of communities in Charlotte and Lee counties.
Visitors can take advantage of opportunities to hike, fish, paddle, and observe wildlife in the park’s many natural communities, including mangrove forests, marshes, scrub habitats and pine flatwoods. Most of the park is shallow water fringed by mangroves, providing amazing opportunities to view wading birds, manatees, dolphins and other wildlife.
The park is best accessed by kayak or canoe. Portions of two paddle trail systems wind through the park. Hikers and bird-watchers can access Charlotte Harbor’s upland areas at pedestrian walk-throughs available in each section of the park and explore the wildlife found along three marked trails.
Visitors can also enjoy the resources provided by the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) located in the park near Punta Gorda. CHEC is a non-profit group that offers a visitor’s center, environmental education programs, interpretive guided hikes and six miles of marked trails.
Visitors are welcome to explore other areas of the Preserve, unless posted as closed, but should be aware that these areas are of remote and primitive wilderness. Visitors should take a compass, a map and sufficient water for their trip. No restrooms or drinking water are available.
Management: Each state park or state trail in the Florida State Parks system has a unit management plan that is reviewed every 10 years. The Management Plan for the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park was approved in 2007. Citizens are given the opportunity to provide comments and suggestions each time. Check the DEP Calendar for a schedule of public meetings. If you have questions about the unit management plan process or the schedule, call 850-245-3051.