Myakka State Park in Sarasota Attracts Nature—And People—of All Kinds
If you’re looking to go a little wild in Florida—not Mr. 305/Pitbull kind of wild but more like bonding with nature—then Myakka State Park in Sarasota is for you.
As Florida Culture has reported before, Myakka River State Park, just a few miles off of I-75, is one of the state’s oldest parks and was developed in 1934. Its 58 square miles offers nearly 39 miles of hiking trails, camping, biking, canopy walking, scenic driving, tram tours, and even some gator tasting at its restaurant. The park is famous for its “real Florida” nature views and gator spotting.
One great way to see Myakka is with its airboat tour, where one of two boats, with names like the “Myakka Maiden,” will give you a water-based view of the park’s natural sites. This isn’t a loud, crowded airboat tour; it’s actually one of the biggest airboats created in the world, seating approximately 30. The park can get pretty busy in season, so arrive early to get a spot. (The ride costs $12/person; park entry is $6/car.)
Looking to explore on foot? Myakka offers a variety of trails, but one special area is called Deep Hole. There are only 30 (free) permits given out daily to walk Deep Hole, and you get them from the ranger at the park entrance station. It’s a little over a 2-mile hike one way to reach Deep Hole, but the payoff is a photographer (or wild adventurer’s) dream. If you visit at the right time of the year, you’ll see a multitude of alligators at a respectful distance-we’re talking dozens and dozens sunning themselves and just waiting for their next meal.
But you’ll want to time your visit right. We arrived to the park when it opened at 8 am on a recent Sunday morning and eagerly got our Deep Hole permit. We then drove a little over a mile to reach the starting point for the hike to Deep Hole. There was a bronzed man only in shorts liberally applying sunscreen. “I’ll let you all get ahead of me. I like to do nude hiking,” he said with a smile.
So during our journey through Spanish moss-covered shaded areas and then open-wide fields reminiscent of Africa-it’s an area called Florida dry prairie—there was much speculation about how practical it is to hike in the nude—and where Nudist Hiker might be at a given moment, surely getting attacked by mosquitoes (bring your bug spray, sunscreen, and water during your visit to Myakka).
It was so quiet, even the flap of a crow’s wings was startling. Aside from Nudist Hiker, we saw no other people during our hike—but it sure did get hot.
We reached Deep Hole, iPhones and cameras ready. And we spotted all of one alligator who quickly retreated unerwater. The ranger had warned us that because May and late June are mating season for alligators, many of the famous creatures had gone to other parts of the park, so we shouldn’t expect a big show. However, it was peaceful, a pleasant walk, and we still got some decent pictures of herons, egrets, and white pelicans.
After our return back to the main park area (we never did see Nudist Hiker again), we stopped the car to watch some excitement near a small bridge area where people were fishing. Surely attracted by the fish bait, a handful of 5- to 6-feet gators were hanging out and posing for pictures.
We checked out the store near the airboat tour area, and it was the usual tourist-trap items of T-shirts and crafts made in China, even if they look Floridian. However, you can also get a drink or try gator meat or grab a sandwich.