Henderson Beach State Park is a state park located on the Atlantic coast in North Captiva Island, just north of Fort Myers Beach and south of Bonita Springs. The park has more than 2 miles (3km) of beachfront, with an additional 3,000 acres (1,200ha) of wetlands and pine flatwoods that provide excellent habitat for wading birds and other coastal animals. It also provides facilities for swimming, fishing, camping, birding, picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing.
There are many species of fish, crustaceans, shellfish and aquatic plants to explore. A variety of trails ranging from easy to moderate in difficulty can be found throughout the park. One trail leads you through a cypress swamp. Another lets you walk along a scenic stretch of beach. Still another takes you into the upland hammock surrounding the campground. Alligators live in the swamps, but they do not bother humans unless provoked. Humans provoke them by feeding them. In addition there are over 200 species of shore, wading birds, song birds, waterfowl, raptors, owls, and mammals to view.
Visitors may drive onto the beach or park their vehicles up to the road’s shoulder to access the highway. No parking fee is charged. There are two boat ramps at the park. One is located near the information center and the other is accessible via a boardwalk leading from the main picnic area. Both allow access to Matanzas Bay. Canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and pedal boats are available to rent. Two natural areas within the park have been designated as National Natural Landmarks. They are both botanical features: one being the Gulf Coast maritime forest and the other being the Blackwater River Swamp. These landmarks were cited in 1973 as “One of the nation’s best examples” of how nature preserves should be established.
The park was used in 1943 as a filming location for the movie Casablanca, where it stood in for Warner Bros.’ Malibu ranch. Scenes filmed here included Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall arriving aboard the Ile de France; Bogart walking along a beach; and Bogart and Bacall sitting at a table overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The film crew even erected a small building which still stands today. The park was closed during World War II because the U.S. Army needed the site for training purposes. When the war ended, the property was transferred back to civilian control. In 1960, Hendee Beach became part of the newly created Caladesi Island State Recreation Area, which joined three existing parks – Estero, Big Cypress, and Sanibel – into one large public recreation area.
That same year, construction began on the new bridge across the mouth of the Estero River, opening up the island to increased visitation. With the coming of the interstate highway system, the park grew rapidly in size, reaching its present boundaries with only minimal interruption of service. The park offers 1,500 acres (610 ha) of land and 2,400 acres (970 ha) of water, including a 300-acre (120 ha) lake known as Lake Hendee. The park contains nine miles (14 km) of beaches, plus bike and pedestrian paths that extend beyond the sands into adjacent national wildlife refuges. Amenities include full facility camping, cabins, bathhouses, volleyball courts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and interpretive displays. Interpretive exhibits feature native animal life, history of the area, and cultural heritage.
The park’s marina accommodates everything from sailboards to yachts, and has stores, services, and supplies for sale. Boat slips are available for those who simply wish to take out on the bay for the day. Visitors may also go horseback riding, scuba diving, fishing, and golfing at nearby Golden Gate Country Club. Other activities include hiking, bicycling, picnicking, shelling, wildlife viewing, and nature photography. On special occasions, equestrian events are held. The park hosts a number of annual festivals, including Music in the Parks, scheduled for July of each summer. This free event showcases local bands playing covers of classic rock songs. Hendee also puts on the Annual Camellia Festival every February in celebration of the Chinese New Year. The festival includes traditional Chinese music and food.
The park receives nearly 640,000 visitors annually. Hendee Beach State Park was featured in Season 4 Episode 8 of The Finder, when the series protagonist Nikki Newman attempts to solve the murder of a young woman named Grace Hanadarko while working as a P.I. for hire. Grace had been last seen entering a hotel room with a man named Steven Haimes, whose DNA was found inside the room.
- jet skiing
- wildlife viewing
- nature photography
Among the wildlife of the park are:
- owls such as barred owls
- screech owls
- saw-whet owls
- ghost owls
- pileated woodpeckers
- bald eagles
- gopher tortoises
- marsh rabbits
- river otter
- red bellied turtles
- garter snakes