Experience the Real Florida
Getting back to nature in Florida is no more than a stone’s throw away. The state’s natural beauty and plentiful state parks offer outdoor adventures at all levels. Myakka River State Park is no exception. As one of the largest in Florida’s state park system, Myakka is able to afford visitors a variety of opportunities to explore the natural side of Florida.
Deep in the heart of Myakka, surrounded by prairie grass, slash pine and cabbage palm, it is easy to imagine how the first settlers felt as they moved inward from the coast. Myakka River State Park's 39 miles of trails include loops and several intersecting roads that allow easy access to the park interior. While much of the trail traverses open prairie, there are many shaded oak hammocks that provide a periodic oasis for backpackers. Six primitive campsites are strategically perched along the trail in these shady pit stops. The Myakka Trail is maintained by the Florida Trail Association
The Myakka River is one of two Florida rivers that have been designated as Wild and Scenic by the state legislature. Besides the boat ramp at Upper Myakka Lake, canoes and kayaks can be launched from many areas in the park including bridges, fishing areas and picnic sites. Lower Myakka Lake lies across State Road 72 in the southern half of the park. Here the Myakka River narrowly snakes its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. The quiet beauty found in this section of Myakka River State Park is disturbed only by the soft splash of an alligator gliding into the river as your vessel approaches.
Myakka River State Park offers birders a variety that would be tough to match anywhere. The shallows along the lake and river banks are a haven for shore and wading birds. Herons, egrets, cranes and ibises are plentiful. Even the scarcer roseate spoonbills can be found cavorting in the park. In the hammocks and grasslands the songs of the meadowlark, mockingbird, bobwhite, robin and blue jay beckon birders and their checklists. The piney woods are the nesting areas for the park’s main birds of prey; hawks, ospreys, and eagles. Volunteers at the park offer birding tours along the “birdwalk” every day from 9am to 1pm from November through April. Myakkariver.org/Birdlist%202010.pdf is a downloadable birding checklist for the park and is an excellent place to begin your birdwatching adventure.
The Canopy Walk in Myakka River State Park is a smaller version of the canopy walks found in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. The walkway is an eighty foot span 30 feet above the treetops along one of the trails in the park. The canopy walk was designed by Sarasota resident Dr. Margaret Lowman, a prominent rainforest researcher and developer of the treetop canopy walk. The canopy walk was designed to aid scientists with research, to give visitors a new perspective of the ecosystem, and as a teaching aid for area instructors to inspire interest in the sciences.
Most of the state parks are pet friendly but Myakka River State Park goes one step further, it’s horse friendly! The park has about 16 miles of trails designated for riders. The trails provide a variety of terrain ranging from marshland to prairie to oak hammock and pine forest. Wildlife is abundant on these trails and it is not uncommon to see alligators, bobcats, boars, deer and a host of birds. Riders must provide their own horse, however there is no equestrian fee other than the park admission fee.
For cyclists seeking relief from the congestion of Sarasota County roads, Myakka River State Park is a lightly traveled pedaler’s paradise. The park maintains seven miles of designated bike trails which meander through many of the diverse ecosystems at the park including oak hammocks, marshes, prairie grasses and lakeshore habitats. Depending on conditions, cyclists can also access Fox’s High Road and Powerline Road which are dirt roads running through the interior of the park. Cyclists planning an overnight stay have the option to ride their bikes directly to three of the primitive camping areas. For day trips or spur of the moment adventures, bike rentals are available at the Myakka Outpost Concession on the lake.
Camping and Cabins
Myakka River State Park is an extremely popular destination for both primitive campers and cabin devotees. Reservations are highly recommended, especially during season (December to April). The park offers four types of overnight accommodations:
- Primitive: The 6 primitive campsites only provide only a place to pitch a tent and possible water supply. These sites are reached only by hiking or biking from the trailhead with the nearest being 2.2 miles. Well water is available at 4 of the campgrounds but is not consumable without treatment.
- Family: There are two family campgrounds within Myakka River State Park, Big Flats and Old Prairie. Both provide water and electricity. Old Prairie is in a hammock near the Myakka River, the campfire circle, picnic areas and the Visitor Center. Both have restrooms and hot showers.
- Group: This area of Myakka River State Park can host three groups of up to 20 people at a time. Large clearings are suitable for pitching tents in close proximity. Each of the three areas is shaded and has picnic tables, grill and a fire circle. No electricity is available at these sites.
- Cabins: Myakka River State Park has five vintage cabins scattered throughout the park. The men of the Civilian Conservation Corps built the classic palm log structures during the Great Depression. The cabins underwent a refitting a few years ago and all now feature air conditioning, heating, microwave ovens and other household amenities. All the cabins also have fireplaces and can sleep up to 6 people.
More Activities and Adventures
No trip to Myakka River State Park would be complete without an excursion on one of the grand ladies of the lake, the Gator Gal or the Myakka Maiden. These big slow airboats glide effortlessly into the shallows of the lake for impressive views of lurking gators and cautious shorebirds. For landlubbers, the park provides a pickup- towed tram tour that follows the shoreline and backwaters of Myakka Lake.
Want more? Fishing the lake and river is a popular pastime for locals and visitors. Nearly forty different species of fish have been identified in the waters running through the park. And for those who love the night life, Myakka River State Park occasionally hosts astronomy nights, with telescopes set up to view the vast night sky nearly unencumbered by light pollution.
Although Myakka River State Park is a mere 20 minutes from Sarasota, once the Ranger Station is in the rear view mirror, the journey into a land of time gone by begins, and a wild and unsettled Florida emerges that is becoming more and more difficult to preserve in modern Florida.