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Myakka River State Park Adventure Guide

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For those seeking adventure and a true Florida wilderness experience, Myakka River State Park should be put on the shortlist for your next trip to the Sunshine State. The unspoiled natural beauty and solitude you can encounter in the backcountry of this 37,000 acre park offer a rare glimpse into a Florida that existed long before tourism, exploitation, and development changed it forever.

Established in the 1930s, Myakka River State Park is not only one of Florida’s largest state parks, but also one of the oldest. It gets its name from the tannin-stained Myakka River, which winds slowly through the pine forests, marsh, dry prairie, live oak hammocks, and saw palmetto scrub that make this park such a special place. 

If you didn’t know anything about Myakka River State Park upon your first visit, you may get distracted by the more easily accessible natural and man made attractions. Indeed, the park excels at giving visitors a taste of wild Florida without them having to stray too far from their air-conditioned car or RV.

I’ll cover a few of the more worthwhile attractions below, but if you are wanting to get right to the backcountry adventures, skip over the next section.

Park Highlights for the Less Intrepid

As mentioned above, you can get a great taste of wild Florida in Myakka River State Park without having to walk more than a few hundred yards from your vehicle.

Roseate Spoonbills are a common sight at Myakka River State Park.
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Roseate Spoonbills are a common sight at Myakka River State Park.

For those into birding and nature photography, Myakka  is a “must visit” destination in Florida, and even pulling over on the side of the park road can offer opportunities to see and photograph rarer birds like the roseate spoonbill, sandhill crane, and wood stork.

If you see a circle of tourists on the side of the road, they are most likely harassing, er I mean, “trying to get a selfie with” a gopher tortoise. If you are a shutterbug and are not limited by time or fitness, read past this section and consider fleeing the crowds by heading off into the backcountry propelled by foot, pedal, or paddle.

The Main Road

The park’s main road (actually called Myakka River Park Road) connects the North and South Entrances and skirts Upper Myakka Lake. In the dryer, winter months, scads of wading birds can be seen from your car. Make sure you pull over and check out the boardwalk that is at the halfway point between the two entrances. It gives you the opportunity to walk out into the lake a bit farther and get a closer look at this amazing ecosystem.

About the road: Please be respectful of other park visitors when diving on the road. Seriously, some people will crawl along at 2 miles an hour hoping to spot wildlife without having to leave their car. If you don’t drive closer to the already slow speed limit (15 mph in some areas), at least make it easier for those behind you to pass, by carefully pulling over. (We’ve got a long hike a head of us, dammit!).

Speeding is even worse, however, as there are a lot of cyclists and pedestrians along the road, not to mention wildlife. The park speed limits are sensible and safe, but being aware and considerate of those around you is equally important.

If you think all of this talk about basic motor vehicle operation is out of place in a article about a State Park, then you haven’t been around Florida’s tourists and snowbirds. You have officially been warned.

Canopy Walkway

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Another popular attraction not far off the park’s main road is the Canopy Walkway. This elevated wooden construction offers visitors a bird’s eye view from the tree canopy of oaks and palms. It’s a quick, moderately interesting diversion, but if you are ultimately headed into the backcountry and there are lots of tourists around, it wouldn’t hurt to skip it and hit the trail.

Boat and Tram Tours

Several flat-bottomed boats take visitors on hour long tours of Upper Myakka Lake and there is a tram that runs out into the backcountry.

Personally I have never done either, but I wouldn’t discourage you from checking them out if you or someone in your party is limited by time or physicality. I have run into both while out having adventures on my own, so I know they do get away from the crowds a bit. Although, the sound of engines and tourists talking loudly are never helpful when spotting wildlife.

Here is the park info and pricing for the boat and tram tours.

Moon over Myakka

Myakka River State Park has a music stage! The park holds a yearly outdoor concert series called Moon Over Myakka that features some great indie bands from Florida and beyond. Plan to spend the day exploring the park and then go to the concert in the evening.

This is a great event to round up a bunch of friends and pack a picnic dinner. Either bring a blanket and lay on the grass in front, or bring camp chairs and sit farther back. Alcohol is not officially permitted in the park, but like a lot of Florida parks, the park staff kindly “don’t notice” as long as you behave, are discreet, and clean up after yourself.

Concert goers tend to be an older crowd (mostly wandering over from the many RVs that fill the park), but younger people will appreciate the ambience and the bands that play there. I saw one of my favorite Americana bands, Hymn for Her, play a Moon over Myakka show and really enjoyed it.

Admission is a bit pricey, but it supports the park and indie bands, so it’s money well spent.  Definitely something worth checking out if you love music and the outdoors as much as we do here at Tribal Feast.

Hymn For Her playing at the Moon Over Myakka outdoor concert series.
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But We Are Looking for Adventure!

While the park may seem geared toward visitors not wanting to delve into the heat, bugs, and jungly-looking vegetation just off the more traveled areas, it actually offers some incredible experiences for the more intrepid and adventure-hungry individual.

Myakka River State Park is a phenomenal place for day hiking, trail running, adventure picnicking, backpacking, kayaking, canoeing, and backcountry bikepacking. The park offers information on all these activities, but as someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time in this park, I have a lot of tips below that I think you may find helpful.

Day Hiking and Adventure Picnicking

Hiking through the Myakka backcountry is sublime. The trail system is extensive and winds through a surprising array of habitats including pine forests, marsh, dry prairie, live oak hammocks, and saw palmetto scrub.

One of the many lush and beautiful canopy hiking roads in Myakka River State Park.
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Pictures cannot possibly convey the serenity and peace you will experience out on the dry prairies. It may look hot, featureless, and flat, but there is a stillness out there that is rare to find these days and it is that sort of stillness you take with you when you leave. The only sounds you generally hear out there are the wind through vegetation and an occasional bird, so turn off the smartphone and leave chatty friends behind if you want the full effect.

The trail system is crossed by several backcountry roads that are closed to traffic. If you are looking for a shorter hike, but want to get farther out, these roads are like an expressway to shave some time and distance off your travels. More than once while out exploring on a day hike, I’ve gotten myself a bit farther out than planned and thankfully could jump onto Powerline Rd or Ranchhouse Rd to shorten my time back to the car.  

Bring a Map

Myakka is definitely one of those places where it is advisable to carry map and compass, if only as a backup to your phone or GPS. Cell coverage can be really spotty and if you leave your phone’s cell service on, the battery can be eaten up pretty quickly while it hunts for a signal.

The free hiking map they offer at the park doesn’t give a ton of details if you really want to explore and navigate the backcountry. They do sell more substantial maps at the park’s South Entrance, so if you feel like you want something better for exploring or orientation, I would check those out.

The worry in Myakka is not so much about getting lost, but rather judging time and distance when you are out on a long hike. Intersections of trails are well marked, so use them to keep tabs on your location and progress. Just remember that it is easy to get farther out than you planned on going.

Bring Plenty of Water

The trails can cross vast expanses of prairie and scrub, and this is Florida, so even if it is January, don’t assume you won’t get parched. Carry as much water as you can!

One of the three backcountry well pumps in the Myakka River State Park primitive campgrounds.
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Remember that even on a day hike the weight you carry is critical. A small backpack with a bladder is an ideal way to make sure you have enough water with you and it is not awkward to carry. My favorite daypack setup is the Osprey Daylite Plus with whichever one of my Platypus water bladders happen to be the cleanest.

If you don’t have a water bladder, avoid heavy containers like aluminum canteens and Nalgene bottles. A better option is simply to reuse several 1 liter “disposable” plastic water bottles. They are ultralight, cheap, and shouldn’t be single use anyway. 

If you are going to go on an extremely long day hike into the backcountry and are considering taking along a water filter, make sure you read below under “Backpacking” for details on that.

Pack a Lunch

The Myakka backcountry is an excellent place for adventure picnicking! For a longer hike, the wooden bridge on Powerline Rd near the Oak Grove campsite is a fantastic lunch spot with cool shade beneath an oak canopy. Just watch out for the alligators that occasionally hang out in the road.

If you plan on firing up a camp stove, set your picnic destination as one of the primitive camping areas. It is rare that the farther out ones are fully occupied and there is plenty of space in the sites even if someone is camping there. Brush fires are a real danger, especially in the dry season, so follow the current park policy in regards to the use of your particular camp stove.

Hike to Deep Hole

A very cool and lesser known day hike to do is to hike to Deep Hole. This is a karst sinkhole outside of the park proper. To learn more about this incredible place and the unforgettable experience you will have there, please see below in the paddle section. But know that in order to hike there, you will need a special permit from the park. Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis to only 30 people every day, so be there waiting in line before the park opens to get one.

Alligators crowd the surface at Deep Hole on the Myakka River.
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Car Camping with a Tent

If you are looking for a more natural tent camping experience but need to camp next to your car, I’m going to be straight with you – Myakka blows.

Again, this isn’t so much the fault of the park, but rather the more touristy crowd that the park attracts. The sites are pretty open and close together (at least every one I’ve ever been in). While camping you can hear everything going in on the campsites around you including radios, arguing, and TVs. Yes, I did say TVs.

I wish the park had a more primitive camping area for car campers that was without power and had better vegetation blockage between sites. If you ever end up getting stuck in the RV area as I did one year due to the park being nearly full, then you’ll have the added trauma of that awful gravel that state parks think is adequate for tent camping sites. I still shudder thinking about that particular campsite.

Awful pea gravel tent site in a Myakka River State Park campground.
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*sigh* If watching TV in your campsite with party lights strung up is your idea of getting back to nature in a state park, then disregard everything I’m saying here and party on!

Tribal Secret: For a more quiet and natural car camping experience, go to nearby Oscar Scherer State Park instead. The best campsites are 83-87. Don’t tell anyone!

Backpacking

Backpacking in Florida may not be for everyone, but for those seeking a tropical adventure, it can be fantastic! And this is an activity where Myakka River State Park really shines!

There are six primitive campgrounds spread throughout the backcountry at various distances from the different trailheads. The park calls them campgrounds, which is a correct term since each one has three campsites with space for four people, but that makes it sound as though you will be seeing your neighbors. That has never been the case for me.

This is primitive camping the way it should be. The individual sites are secluded and usually have nothing but a fire ring.and a hook on a pole to hang your food on. We’ll get into the water situation below, but suffice it to say that this is more serious camping and the adventure level increases the farther out you camp.

Panorama of the backcountry of Myakka River State Park.
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Each of the six campgrounds has its own character, yet all are fantastic. Their names are Bee Island, Oak Grove, Mossy Hammock, Panther Point, Honore and Prairie. I won’t get into the minute differences between most, but I will give you the low down on two:

Bee Island

I don’t bring up this campground because it is particularly excellent compared to others, but rather just because you should know about it, as it is a major navigation point in the park. To many people who have spent a lot of time in the park (myself included), Bee Island is the gateway to the true Myakka River State Park backcountry.

The main reason for this is that it sits at a major nexus of several of the park’s main trails and is generally where day hikers decide to either turn around or take a different trail back in the direction from which they came. Because of this, it also serves as a common rest point for day hikers, but everyone I’ve ever met out there has always been extremely friendly and courteous.

None of this should deter you from camping there. There is plenty of privacy despite the traffic, and after the day hiking crowd heads in for the evening, you will have all the seclusion you seek.

But Bee Island is an important place in the park and you, too, should stop for a rest when you pass it on your way out to Oak Grove.

Signage on the hiking trails of Myakka River State Park.
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Oak Grove

Okay, so I obviously love this campsite (it’s pictured in the banner at the top of the page). But I don’t mind telling you about it because it is both a challenging place to get to and a tough place to stay.

In terms of distance, I believe it is a minimum of around 7 miles if you take the most direct route, which leaves you baking beneath the Florida sun for the majority of the hike. If you add on some of the more interesting smaller trails, that distance can easily climb to 10 or 12 miles. Again, keep in mind the Florida heat.

As far as water goes, Oak Grove has a single hand pump, so you don’t necessarily have to carry all your water. However, I’ll explain more about the water situation below – that deserves its own section and you need to read it!

There are several different trails that lead to Oak Grove, but regardless of how you get there. take some time out to check out the wooden bridge on Powerline Rd. where it crosses Deer Prairie Slough. It’s a simple bridge, but it is on a tiny section of canopy road and it is an absolutely beautiful place to just soak in. Powerline Rd is an old railroad bed and you really get a feel of old Florida here.

It is pretty common to see an alligator or two laying around on the road, but if you give them a respectfully wide birth, the worst thing that will happen is they will clamour off into the slough. I’ll have a section about alligators towards the end, so make sure you read that if this is something of concern to you. 

The campground itself is one of my favorite spots in Florida. (That is it in image at the top of the page.) It has a primordial feel with rare and appreciated shade beneath twisty, moss-covered live oaks. If it wasn’t so hot you would expect a hobbit to come walking out of the scrub.

This campsite is at the very edge of the park and often you can hear cattle mooing in the distance, a sad reminder of how close progress and industry is to exploiting this rare bit of Florida Gulf Coast nature. 

I want to say again that getting to Oak Grove and some of the other farther out campgrounds like Panther Point and Prairie is no walk in the park. Make sure you are up for the trek and the heat, and bring decent quality, lightweight gear. The lighter your pack, the more enjoyable your trip will be. There is also the water situation…

It’s All About the Water

If you are accustomed to filtering your own water, you may be excited to hear that three of the primitive campgrounds, Bee Island, Prairie, and Oak Grove, have wells with pumps. “Yay, I don’t have to carry much water!” you shout gleefully.

But there are some catches to this. First of all, this well water needs to be treated or boiled. – filtering isn’t enough  Secondly, it can turn red after it has been sitting for about ten minutes or so.

Yes, the water turns red.

Iron oxidation turns the Myakka River State Park well water red when it is exposed to oxygen.
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The reason for this is iron. Once the water hits the air, the iron oxidizes (rusts) and turns your water red. It also makes it taste like the undercarriage of an abandoned ‘58 Buick.

So, this is the best way I’ve found to deal with the well water:

  1. Bring along a “dirty water” reservoir that can get badly stained (and flavored) by rust. An old hydration bladder that you’re no longer using can be a good choice.  
  2. Pump water from the well  into your dirty water reservoir. If you didn’t bring one, you can also use one of the nasty containers sitting by the base of the pump.
  3. Let the water sit until it turns red, then let it sit some more until some of the rust starts to settle out on the bottom. The longer you let it sit, the better.
  4. Carefully pour off the cleanest (least red) water from the top of the container into a cookpot.
  5. Boil this water.
  6. Once cooled, you can drink this water. It will taste like the undercarriage of an abandoned ‘74 Ford. If you want it to taste slightly better, keep going.
  7. Pour this water into a clean “dirty water” bag and run it through your filter.
  8. Repeat this step until the water tastes like the dirty hubcap of a ‘88 Volkswagen Beetle. You should end up with maybe a cup worth.
  9. Enjoy!

Seriously, carry as much water as you can. You may be tempted to filter water from a nearby slough, but I would discourage this option. That is a renowned prime hangout for large alligators.

You said you wanted adventure…

Make Your Own Shade

I am a big fan of traveling light, however there is one extra piece of gear I strongly recommend you consider lugging with you that can magically transform a hot, miserable Florida campsite into a breezy, shady paradise – a tarp.

I have a Kelty Noah’s Tarp 9 that I love, but any lightweight tarp will suffice. I don’t carry poles with it when backpacking, but I do make sure I camp close to trees.

Make sure you have all the line and rigging you need and have practiced setting it up before you head out for the first time. “Figuring it out in the campsite” sounds like a good idea – except that you may be envisioning that scenario in the shade of a tarp that is not up yet.

Seriously, I will never camp in Florida again without a tarp.

Cycling and Bikepacking

If you are an avid cyclist, there are some interesting cycling options in the park, however, I would not go expecting a particularly great cycling experience. Instead, think of the bicycle as a great way to reach certain hard to get to destinations.

Road bikes

If you have never ridden on the roads in Florida, I’m going to be straight with you: it’s not a safe activity by any means. Yes, this has a lot to do with snowbirds and tourists, but also the attitude towards cyclists in general there.

Riding a road bike in the park, however, can be somewhat enjoyable and safe. The only downside is that really isn’t a lot of distance you can cover and no variety to the terrain.

Mountain Bikes, Gravel bikes, and Cyclocross Bikes

Once you get off the pavement, Myakka River State Park can offer a unique cycling experience. Again this is not about the riding, but rather using a bike to get over challenging terrain. The difficulty of the trails comes from sand, mud, sun-baked mud, and wild hog wallows.

Backcountry cycling here is slow going with frequent stops to regroup.  But it does let you cover quite a bit more distance and see more of the park. And the farther out you go, the more solitude and nature you can experience.

The rule of thumb for bike choice is definitely “the fatter the tire, the better.” However, I’ve logged a lot of hours riding a cyclecross bike out there, and found the experience very enjoyable. Just know that you are going to be ripping up the miles.

It’s also important to note that cycling is not allowed on the hiking and horseback trails. Consult the park map before planning your day.

Bikepacking and Adventure Biking

Bikepacking is great option for the park, but you don’t see many people doing it. As mentioned above, a bicycle let’s you cover more ground and carry more water, so it makes it a bit easier to get out to and stay at the farther out campsites. Keep in mind that you will have to walk your bike on the hiking trails, so consult the park map to plan out your adventure before making reservations.

Encountering an alligator on the road while bikepacking in Myakka River State Park.
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The biggest issue I’ve encountered when bikepacking in Myakka is actually dealing with the park’s single-minded policies when it comes to backcountry adventure. Here is an example:

One year a friend and I decided to bikepack out to Oak Grove, which is about a 7 mile ride. There is a lot of sand, so it isn’t an easy ride, but it’s not something that takes more than an hour or two tops with loaded down bikes.

Although we had made a two day reservations for Oak Grove, the park refused to let us camp there the first day since we had arrived at 1:00 pm – past their noon deadline for hiking out to the primitive sites. We clearly explained that we would be on bikes and this distance could easily be traversed before dark, but to no avail: they relocated us to Bee Island, a super easy 2 miles away.

Instead of arguing, we rode the 15 minutes out to our new campsite, set up camp, and sat around in the heat the rest of the afternoon seriously bummed since we would have been so much happier in Oak Grove.

I am not meaning to attack the park staff or the park itself here – it’s more about a general attitude that exists in Florida in relation to wilderness camping and the outdoors. Often there, the word “adventure” loses its meaning to the marketing call-to-actions put on RV brochures, and there is a general assumption that if.you, a park visitor, are left to your own devices, you will certainly get lost, maimed by an alligator, fall down a well, or suffer some other such calamity that you will have to be airlifted out by the National Guard. 

And I get it. The park must deal with throngs of weekend warrior tourist types who bite off more than they can chew. But if you are a more cautious and capable outdoors person, it can get a little frustrating.

End of rant.

Canoeing and Kayaking

Paddling in Myakka River State Park is absolutely fantastic and should be at the top of your list of experience to have in the park. It is also the best way to get close to wildlife and the way to go if you are into nature photography.

Kayaking on the Myakka River is a beautiful and otherworldly experience.
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Your personal experience paddling in the park can vary greatly depending on the time of year, and more specifically whether it is the wet or dry season. Always check with the park for current conditions before making firm plans. .

As far as which is better, a canoe or kayak, I would leave that to personal preference as both are equally enjoyable to paddle in the park and each have their own particular pros and cons. Let your trip and the gear you bring determine what boat is best. I’ve actually used my 16 foot sea kayak in the park quite a bit and loved that I could easily cover a ton of water.

Because alligators are every out-of-state visitor’s prime concern when paddling in the Sunshine State, I’ll address a few paddle-related alligator concerns here, but be sure to read the separate section at the end of this article as well.

First and foremost: alligators typically don’t want to attack you, but rather hope you are not going to attack them. If you are in a canoe or kayak, you are, in most cases, much bigger than they are, and therefore quite threatening to them. Give them a wide berth and the respect they deserve.

When paddling around alligators, you may all of a sudden realizing you are either way too close or even on top of a gator that is submerged. Do not panic. If your boat is still gliding, do nothing – just ease on by. If your boat is still, just lightly paddle away from the gator. Either way, you find that the gator is lying as still as possible hoping you will go away and leave it alone. Hopefully that feeling was mutual.

A typical worst-case scenario happens when a paddler accidentally touches an unseen submerged alligator with a paddle and the gator seems to explode underneath the canoe or kayak, usually bumping it in the process. Do not panic. This is the alligator trying to get away from you. Notice a theme here?

Alligators are what make paddling in Myakka so special. Respect, not fear, is what you need to bring with you on the water.

Upper Myakka Lake

The Upper Myakka Lake can be either an exceptional nature experience or a slow hot slog in a muddy marshy hell. Most often is a just a moderately interesting paddle, but you are pretty assured of seeing some Florida bird life.

The lake isn’t huge and you can paddle the whole thing in a few hours depending on the boat you are in. In can get a bit choppy in the windier winter months, so a more seaworthy canoe or  kayak of at least 12 foot would be advisable.

Always check with the park beforehand, but if for some reason you get there and the lake doesn’t look as appealing, then don’t hesitate to head for the river. The Myakka River is the true paddling gem of the park. 

Myakka River

The Myakka River is one of the most enjoyable paddling experiences you can have in Florida. Designated a Florida Wild and Scenic River in 1985, 12 miles of the Myakka River run through the park.

Like the Upper Myakka Lake, conditions can vary greatly depending on the time of the year. In the dry season, you will quite often have to get out and portage your canoe or kayak over exposed bottom to get to the next section of navigable water.

In the summer rainy season, however, the gentle-looking currents can be deceivingly treacherous – especially when they push your boat up against a snag. Don’t assume that just because there are no rapids, there is no reason to pay attention. This is particularly true about paddling downstream.

I’ve spent a lot of time paddling the Myakka River and I typically would gravitate to anyone of three distinct sections: the river within the park boundary north of the bridge at State Road 72., the river south of the the S.R. 72 bridge to Deep Hole, and then the river south of Deep Hole to Laurel Road, just out of the park boundary.

If I had to pick my favorite paddle of these three, it would be to put in at the end of Laurel Rd. and paddle north into the park as far as I felt like going, then turn around to return and paddle back.

The last time I did this, there were no signs designating that you are entering the park boundaries until you get close to Deep Hole, which I’ll discuss below. I’ve never had an issue doing this paddle and have never encountered any rangers telling me to pay (which I would do so gladly), but things may have changed by the time you read this. Just pay attention to signage, follow the rules, and support our parks!

What makes this paddle so great is the beauty and solitude – you won’t encounter many other people at all, whereas within the park north of the bridge, there are tourists everyone. If you are not yet in the park, go to Laurel Rd. If you are in the park proper and are limited on time, go ahead and paddle there. Lastly, if you are in the park early in the morning, have lots of time and can get a permit, paddle to south to Deep Hole.

Shore lunch while kayaking on the Myakka River.
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Deep Hole

This incredibly cool and indescribably creepy, perfectly round lake is actually a karst sinkhole that is around 131 feet deep. It’s depth and shape make it cool. It’s occupants make it creepy.

If you could imagine spring break for alligators, you would begin to have some idea of how crazy this place is. There can easily be hundreds at any one time (especially in the spring) in an area the size of a small apartment pond.

Adding to the creepiness is a small population of black vultures that share the space. It looks like the back entrance to Hell. Just spending a few minutes there will deeply affect your notion of where you stand on the food chain, which, to be honest, is an experience all of us need to have at least once. You will be a better person for having one there.  .

As far as danger goes, your innate sense of preservation will hopefully not allow you to do anything foolish. A fool might mess with one alligator, but even a fool will realize how stupid it is to get too close.

You will most likely have a bigger scare while paddling to Deep Hole from the S.R. 72 bridge. As you get close to Lower Myakka Lake, the river winds and narrows with high banks of mud and sand. There is little to no vegetation along the river here, but there are a number of really big gators that make their home here. I talk about alligators in other parts of this guide, but this place is different. You will have to interact with them to some degree since you will need to paddle by them. Or over them.

But you will not be the first. These gators see people routinely and more than anything do not want to be disturbed. Move slowly and deliberately, and give them as much space as you can. If a large alligator is on the bank ahead of you and it dives into the narrow river where you need to go, wait a few seconds for the alligator to get situated on the bottom, and then paddle to build up a little speed so you can glide over it using your paddle as a rudder.

Another situation you may encounter (and want to try to avoid) is getting between a mother and her babies. If you see a clutch of the cutest little baby alligators you’ve ever seen swimming around and making cute noises, leave them alone and keep moving. Mama is not far away and she probably will not understand your good intentions. But she will understand when you are minding your own business and leaving her babies alone.

Yeah, paddling this part of the park is hardcore adventure and truly one of the most unique, and frightening experiences you can have in the U.S.. So yes, you need to do this.

As mentioned above, you will need a wilderness preserve permit to go to Deep Hole and only 30 people are issued them daily on a first-come, first-served basis. Get to the park before it opens and stand in line. It will be worth it.

Kayaking the shallow waters of Lower Myakka Lake occasionally requires dragging the kayak across sand and mud.
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If You Go

Myakka River State Park is a phenomenal destination anyone wanting a taste of Florida’s natural beauty. No matter what kind of adventure you are planning in the park, there are a few considerations worth taking into account.

Weather

Florida weather is almost always warm and humid, so you generally have three other weather conditions to be mindful of: dry, wet, and lightening.

The dry season typically runs from late October til late April and coincides with the tourist season, since these are the colder months up north. Temperatures can range from the high 40s to the 80s (Fahrenheit) with average temperatures in the 60s. While shorts might be okay during the day, long pants and a medium weight jacket might be needed for comfort at night while camping.

The rainy season is generally from May to October. Temperatures are generally in the low 80s to mid 90s (again Fahrenheit) during the day, but can be a much more tolerable in the evening and nights with average temperatures in the 70s.

Rain most often takes place as afternoon thunderstorms and occasionally, these can be considerable squalls. If you are in the backcountry in the park, you will find that the rain will cool things off and make the wildlife more active. And if you brought a long a tarp as mentioned above, you can enjoy the cooling rain while staying dry in your campsite.

The biggest concerns with rain storms in the backcountry is without a doubt lightning. Florida is known as The Lightning Capital of the United States, so take this very seriously. If you are camping and a lightning storm bears down on you, stay in your tent and get inside your sleeping bag. If you have a camping mattress, stay on top of that until the storm passes. These added layers will provide you some insulation should lightning strike the nearby ground or a tree.

Lightning generally happens on the leading edge of a storm, so if you see dark clouds brewing in the distance, don’t waste time in making preparations. Riding out a storm while camping can be a hair raising experience, but it is part of being an active outdoors person – especially in Florida. Safety comes from making precaution part of your routine and staying vigilant of conditions around you,

All that being said, truly the best time to go camping in Florida is the summertime! Not only are there fewer tourists and crowds, but also it is the best time of the year to see wildlife and the lush beauty of the Sunshine State sill be on full display. Keep this in mind when planning your next trip to Florida.

Alligators

Yup. More about the gators.

A large American alligator in Myakka River State Park.
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As someone who lived in Florida for nearly two decades, I will be straight with you: driving to the grocery store is waaaay more dangerous than being around alligators. And riding a bike on Florida roads is probably even more dangerous than trying to ride an alligator.

Between 1973 and today, there have been only 28 fatalities attributed to alligators in Florida. In 2016 alone, 3,037 people died on Florida roads. Alligators are clearly not your problem.

Cases of alligator attacks are more typically in situations where an alligator has found its way into a more suburban setting, like an apartment pond or park, and has run out of food. In more natural areas like Myakka River State Park, there is a natural balance with plenty of turtles, fish, and small mammals to keep everyone well fed. You are simply not on the menu.

That being said, treat alligators with respect and give them a wide berth – especially in the mating season which generally runs from mid-May to when the baby gators are hatched in late summer. Alligators don’t read calendars though, so don’t get too hung up on mating season. Just give alligators the space and peace they deserve and enjoy from afar the experience of being around a very large wild animal that is just trying to eke out an existence in a rapidly shrinking habitat.

Seeing other Wildlife

If you want to see as much wildlife as possible, it is not so much a matter of where you go, but when.you go. And what follows is the best tip in this whole article.

Go when the barometric pressure is low.

There is no magic number here as it is about relative conditions. In the fall and winter this would mean going out the day or so before a front (higher pressure) was due to arrive. Cloud cover should be low, with little wind, and it could be raining. A bad day to see wildlife will be the opposite: No clouds (or very high clouds) with a brisk wind.

The same holds true for spring and summer, but the difference may be less noticeable. If you see a large body of water and the surface is slicked off, that is the condition you are looking for and that is when you want to head to the park.

I know this tip may sound a bit cryptic, but it’s one of those “when you see it, you see it” sort of things. And yes, this deserves an article all by itself.

A birder's favorite, the wood stork is a common sight in Myakka River State Park
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Bugs

This may surprise you, but I rarely wear bug repellent in Florida. And I don’t believe I’ve ever worn it day hiking into the backcountry in Myakka.

Don’t get me wrong, mosquitoes and other winged blood suckers can be truly awful, but like the wildlife tip above, it is more a matter of paying attention to certain conditions.

During the day, bugs tend to leave you alone since they themselves are easy targets for the myriad of bug-eating critters that prey upon them. It is the morning and evening, when the light is low and there isn’t much in the way of breezes, that the bugs are bad. Just pay attention to where you are during these times and make sure you have bug spray then.

Also, watch any shade you decide to seek shelter in. Where there is shade, there is generally less of a breeze – the same conditions as morning and evening as noted above. If you followed my suggestion on the tarp, set it up so that it funnels a nice breeze. It will keep you shady and bug free. 

To sum up, if you are going to be out in the morning or evening, or seeking shelter in shade, make sure you have bug repellent with you.  But don’t put it on until you absolutely need to. The less chemicals we smear on ourselves the better. Trust your common sense.

Alcohol

As mentioned above, alcohol is not permitted in Myakka River State Park. But, like most Florida parks, as long as you keep it on the down low and don’t act like an idiot, they tend to look the other way. In the car camping areas, it can be pretty evident that some guests like to push the limit of the park staff’s good graces. Don’t be like them.

Cost

At the time of this writing, entering the park for the day costs only $6 bucks for a vehicle of 2 to 8 people. For a single occupant vehicle, it is $4.

Camping in the drive in spots is $26 per night, but the primitive camping is only $5 per night.

Seriously, primitive camping at Myakka River State park is on one of the best adventure deals in Florida. Here is how you get there:

Directions

Myakka River State Park is located about 9 miles east of I-75 near Sarasota, Florida.

The main entrance to the park is located Off State Road 72 and if you’ve never been before, it is best to come in the main gate.

There is a north entrance off of Clay Gully Road, however it is often closed, so check with the park before planning on entering here. It is a long haul around the park so it’s worth checking.

Myakka River State Park

13208 State Road 72

Sarasota, FL 34241

Visit the park’s website

Now go off and have a Myakka River adventure!

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