With so many opportunities for different lengths of hikes, the trail system at Jelks Preserve provides lots of different options for a hike.
A marker system and maps at the trailhead make it easy to find your way. Most of the trails are a tad wide, built to accommodate park ranger vehicles.
The narrow side trails to the river are more appealing, but the broad trails work well for hiking with friends. All of the trails have natural surfaces.
While the views of the Myakka River are the preserve’s strong point, the variety of habitats makes this hike especially interesting.
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Length: 3.7 mile loop and side trips
Trailhead: 27.0915, -82.3378
Address: 2300 N. River Rd, Venice FL 34292
Restroom: Portable toilet at trailhead
Land manager: Sarasota County
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs and bicycles welcome.
Fishing is allowed on riverbanks, Florida fishing license required. There are several riverside benches, so bring a picnic lunch.
The gate closes automatically, so be sure you’ve left the parking area before dusk.
From Interstate 75 exit 191, drive south on River Rd. There is a stoplight at Venice Ave. Continue past it, driving 1.5 miles from I-75 to the trailhead entrance on the left. The entrance is also 0.9 mile north of Center Rd, if you’re driving north from US 41 along River Road.
Starting from the entrance kiosk, slip through the stile and trek straight down the obvious broad trail.
To the left, there’s a tall berm topped with trees, and if you peek over the berm, a shallow canal shaded by cabbage palms.
For the first five minutes or so, the trail remains in open, sunny scrubby flatwoods until you reach Marker 2.
Continue straight ahead for the nearest access point to the Myakka River. Listen for armadillos picking through the leaf litter. You’ll probably see a few.
A densely-knit canopy of oaks provides shade as the trail narrows, and in the morning sun, the bounty of bromeliads clinging to tree limbs glitters and glows with a reddish hue.
Your first glimpse of the Myakka River is after 0.7 mile through the trees from a picnic bench. Pick your way down through the saw palmetto to the river’s beach.
It’s one of those amazing places where you’ll just stand there and say “this is SO beautiful.” If you can do only a short hike – a 1.4 mile round-trip – make this beach your destination.
To continue around the loop, backtrack back to Marker 2 and turn left to walk along the ecotone between scrubby flatwoods and oak hammock.
The first cross-trail is at Marker 3. The cross-trails enable you to shorten your hike by leading to the far side of the loop.
Our route continues straight ahead. At Marker 4, continue straight ahead for the next glimpse of the river.
The trail is surrounded by the oak hammock and its lush bromeliads gleaming in the sun.
Here, trail’s end is at a bench along the river, where you can slip down to the beach for more scenic views.
Retrace your steps back to Marker 4 and turn left, 1.7 miles into the hike. Passing the cross-trail at Marker 5, the trail dips into shade again.
Marker 6 is the last side trail with a river view. Turn left and follow the short path through open scrubby flatwoods to a steep bluff above the Myakka
Here, glimpses of the water are through the trees and saw palmetto. Head back to Marker 6 and turn left. Turn left at Marker 7 to stay on the outer loop.
By the time you pass Marker 8, the habitat is obviously shifting away from pine flatwoods to shady hammocks of hardwoods and cabbage palms.
Small marshes drain towards the river, and it’s obvious it floods here during summer rains and when the river is high.
A large marsh is flanked by cabbage palms, with a depression where wading birds gather.
A bench awaits you at Marker 9. Decision point! You can continue straight and add 20 minutes walking time to do the full loop, past Markers 10, 11, and 12 as shown on the map.
Or you can take this cross trail straight over to Marker 13, which is what we did. That shaved our hike to 3.3 miles out of the 3.7 mile loop.
Of course, there were more armadillos to see. In all of the hikes we’ve done in Florida, this rivaled the Oak Hammock Trail on Merritt Island NWR for density of armadillos.
You’ll see where they’ve dug up the ground while rooting for food. The larger trenches are the work of wild hogs.
The final stretch is straightforward, following the progression of markers from 13 back towards the trailhead.
Passing Marker 14, the elevation increases slightly, rising away from cabbage palms and back towards the tall pines.
At Marker 15, the cross trail intersects, heading towards River Rd. Keep going straight ahead, along a corridor bordered by pines, wax myrtle, and saw palmetto.
You reach the trailhead by emerging at a gate at the park entrance.
Now that Sarasota County owns Snook Haven, stop in there for lunch and another perspective on the Myakka River. It’s located at 5000 E. Venice Ave, just north of here at the west end of Venice Avenue.
See our photos of Jelks Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Sleeping Turtles Preserve North
Named for a feature on old navigational maps, Sleeping Turtles Preserve North lets you see the Myakka River from its bluffs
T. Mabry Carlton Reserve is less than a dozen miles from downtown Venice but wild enough that the Florida panther roams these woodlands along the Myakka River floodplain.
Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park
Follow the natural curves of the creek on a loop through Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port
Myakka State Forest
Along the southwestern Gulf Coast of Florida, Myakka State Forest offers an extensive trail network along the Myakka River basin, with tent camping under the stars.