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Barefoot Beach offers more than sand, sea and sun

During the winter snowbird season, Collier County's beaches are jammed. Fair warning - park before 10:30 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m. Another suggestion. It's $8 a visit. An annual parking pass that covers all Collier County Beaches and the Naples Pier is $50. Plans for more than six visits make an annual pass a bargain even for winter residents.

Barefoot Beach is one beautiful stretch of clean sand backed by tall seagrapes for occasional shade, depending on the time of day. The bathhouse is exceptional and there's a short boardwalk, too.

The piece many people miss is the nature trail. The nature trail starts at the furthest parking lot, unpaved and a parking lot of last resort for many people. That's their mistake. Some of the most beautiful beaches and the lovely Wiggins Pass are accessible form the nature trail.

Shade from sea grapes, pond apples, and native palms protects every few feet or so from the sun. Three cement benches strategically placed provide a respite. A chemical toilet provides relief. These amenities are found on the beach side of the loop trail. Several opening from that trail lead to the open beach.

Around the southern most end of the loop and then north, the trail that follows the bay is mostly in the shade and is a bit tricky with tree roots and sometimes unwelcome pests if there's been a recent rain. The cool dampness on a hot day may be welcome, however.

Completing the trail is about a mile and a half. Wildlife abounds. Bald eagles call from overhead along with ospreys. Owls "who" in hiding. Woodpeckers strike up their drumming. Gopher turles lumber across the path outraced by squirrels. Sometimes raccoon families or armadillos peek out from the underbrush.

On a very lucky day, dolphins may be seen frolicking in the surf just short of Wiggins pass.