My husband and I recently visited Myakka River State Park, one of the State’s oldest parks for an afternoon bike ride. We entered the park from the South Park Entrance off SR 72. The entrance fee for the two of us was a very reasonable $6.00 and is collected at the Ranger Station just inside the Park entrance. Myakka River State Park is a National Gold Medal Winner, Florida State Parks – “America’s First Two-Time Winner”. The park has a 7-mile scenic drive that winds through the park and along Upper Myakka Lake and over 39 miles of hiking trails. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center just past the Ranger Station. You’ll find videos and exhibits about the Parks habitat and wildlife. There are several picnic areas and primitive campsites and log cabins for rent within the park, as well as horse trails. There is no swimming in the park – there are signs throughout warning visitors of alligators in park waters. Pets are welcome but must be kept on a 6-foot leash.
We drove our car to the north end of the park, near the North gate (open on weekends & state holidays only) and parked in the shaded Clay Gully picnic area. This end of the park is quieter than the South entrance, plus it allowed us to get in a longer ride – 14 miles roundtrip. The Parks paved roadway is shaded by a hammock of oaks and palms and provides enough shade to keep you cool, although I think that Florida’s summer heat would make a hike less enjoyable. We made various stops throughout our ride so that we could take in the natural habitat; the river, lake, wetlands, prairies and hammocks. The Birdwalk boardwalk provided a nice opportunity to walk a short distance over wetland to view birds. There were a hundred or so ibis and a few black vultures and herons on the day we visited.
The “Myakka Maiden” & “Gator Gal” Airboats offer visitor’s a chance to take a scenic cruise of Upper Myakka Lake. Although we didn’t take the boat tour, we did see it passing along the shore while we were biking. The ride looked smooth – gliding across the lakes surface while the Capt. narrated. During peak season (Jan – Apr) and holidays, there is also a Tram that offers tours weather permitting. Boarding and tickets are available for both the Tram and the Airboat at the Myakka Outpost which also features a café, small gift shop, bike and kayak rentals. You may also bring your own kayak and launch here.
A very popular stop within the Park is the Canopy Walkway & Tower which allows visitors access to a walkway through the treetops with a spectacular birdseye view of the park. The nature trail hike to the canopy is a leisurely 45 minutes. Again, we did not make the Canopy walk as we were in the Park to bike.
The bridge that crosses the River allows for fishing, and there were a few folks doing just that. We asked if anything was biting and were told a few tilapia, bluegill and catfish. The gentleman we spoke with was camping, and the river was a short hike from his campground. There was also a half-dozen alligators swimming around which attracted Park visitors and offered an opportunity for a photo of these prehistoric looking creatures.
While we biked along the roadway we were lucky enough to spot a young fawn eating just off the road’s edge. It was an enjoyable afternoon bike ride and a nice way to experiencing Real Florida less than 30 minutes from the crowded Gulf beaches and downtown Sarasota.
Myakka River State Park is located at 13208 SR 72, Sarasota, Florida. (941) 361-6511.