Located in Sarasota County, Myakka River State Park is one of the oldest and largest state parks in Florida. It’s a wilderness preserve of mossy palm trees hovering over a wild and scenic river, with the sounds of songbirds fluttering throughout the canopy.
The mix of hiking, biking, and kayaking trails provides those who love the outdoors with a full slate of action. Myakka River State Park is an ever-changing landscape that quickly shifts from marshes to forests to plains. You can see it all on the hiking trail that ventures into the backcountry, enjoy a scenic bike ride with family and friends, or get out onto the water where gators loom beneath the surface.
Not sure what to do in Myakka River State Park? Kick start your planning with our complete Myakka River State Park guide.
What to see & do
Go for a bike ride
Among the shady hammocks and grassy marshes of Myakka River State Park are miles of trails that are perfect for a bike ride. With seven miles of paved trails, it’s easy to see it all at a pace where you can really appreciate nature.
The Main Drive cuts through the heart of the state park, connecting the north and south ends. From two wheels, you’ll be able to take in expansive views of the canopy that hug the road, while the sounds of ducks and cranes float through the air. Along the path there are also several trailheads where you can embark on a series of beautiful hikes.
An alternative to the popular Main Drive is North Drive. This sees less traffic but is equally enchanting. You can get off the paved roads and onto the dirt by linking up with the Myakka Island Trail.
Riders can get their hands on bike rentals at the Myakka Outpost, where they can also pick up a map before departing.
Explore the park’s birdlife
On your bike ride, you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear the sounds of birds throughout the forests. Myakka State Park is an excellent spot for birding. With over 37,000 acres of protected and varied habitats, visitors will be blessed with a fantastic range of bird species, both local and migratory.
Begin with a trip to the park’s ranger station where you can pick up a map of popular birding trails plus a list of birds to keep an eye and ear out for. Some of these species include the bright pink roseate spoonbills, limpkins, storks, and a mix of wading and songbirds.
The first trail you should check out is the aptly named Birdwalk. This elevated boardwalk runs out into Upper Myakka Lake. In the winter months, you might be joined by expert birders who can help you spot the winged residents of the lake.
Hit the hiking trails
Myakka River State Park boasts 39 miles of hiking trails that will take you through all the park’s ecosystems from pine flatwoods to dry prairie on your way to one of the six backcountry campsites.
Forming the longest loop in any Florida state park, these hiking trails are the perfect way to see it all if you have multiple days to explore the Myakka River.
The Myakka Hiking Trail begins at the parking area and guides you via blue blazes. If you plan on doing it all then you’ll want to pack some sturdy, waterproof boots: the palm hammocks and floodplains can get boggy after recent rain, but that’s all part of the adventure.
A shorter, but equally memorable alternative is the Deep Hole Trail. This 4.4-mile round trip leads you to a massive natural sinkhole, a magnet for alligators.
Explore the waterways
With biking, birding, and hiking covered, it’s time to explore the park’s waterways. After all, there’s a reason the state park is named after a river. As a Florida Wild and Scenic River, kayaking along the Myakka River is one of the best things to do here.
Like with bike rentals, you can get your hands on a kayak or canoe at Myakka Outpost. With that sorted, put your craft in at the Upper Myakka Lake. From there, you’ll paddle with the current, admiring the magical scenery with every stroke.
Your view is constantly changing, with everything from Spanish moss hovering over the banks to wide-open marshes. Hold your nerve though as you’ll pass many gators along the way.
If you don’t have to rent a kayak, the best place to start your adventure is at the boat ramp. You’ll start off paddling against the current, making the return journey much easier.
There are also numerous options for boat tours that are great for families.
If you want to go fishing, there isn’t a specific fishing pier, however, the pavilion and park bridge are popular spots.
Spend a night under the stars
Such is the size of Myakka River State Park, you’ll need multiple days to see it all. To help you do this, with the added benefit of being able to sleep under the stars, the park has three front-country campgrounds with a mix of tent camping and cabins.
All in, there are 90 campsites with electric and water hookups, along with picnic tables and a fire ring. The latter is the perfect place to gather and tell all your favorite ghost stories. Around the campgrounds, there are restrooms and hot water showers, while Old Prairie and Palmette Ridge campgrounds offer laundry facilities.
Once again, the Myakka Outpost is ready to help you out, this time with camping supplies, food, and drink.
How to get there
Myakka River State Park is placed centrally between Tampa and Fort Myers on Florida’s west coast near Sarasota and Venice. It’s just over an hour either way. You can make your way to the park by driving along Interstate 75 before turning onto Highway 72.
If you’re flying in from further afield, the closest major airport is Tampa International Airport. From there, you can pick up a car rental and make the trip south to Myakka River.
Orlando is an alternative destination for flying. You may find more flights to Orlando International Airport at a cheaper price; however, the drive to Myakka River State Park will lengthen to three hours.
Even closer to the park is Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, although flight options will be more limited than in Tampa or Orlando.