There are no manatees at Lake Manatee State Park. The name comes from the lake, which formed when a dam was built along the Manatee River.
While park visitors see it as a recreational resource, the lake’s main purpose is as a municipal water resource for Manatee County.
Resources for exploring the area surrounding Lake Manatee
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Length: 5.5 miles in two separate loops
Address: 20007 SR 64 East, Bradenton
Fees: $5 per vehicle. $4 boat ramp fee.
Restroom: At the picnic area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome.
Swimming is permitted at the day use area but there is no lifeguard. Be cautious as in any lake in Florida, there may be alligators.
Both bicycle rentals and canoe rentals are available. You can launch from the day use area, but boaters must use the boat ramp.
From Interstate 75 exit 220 in Bradenton, follow SR 64 east for 8 miles to the main park entrance on the left. Once you stop at the ranger station, follow the park road back to the day use area at Lake Manatee.
A separate entrance for the Gopher Trail is one mile past the main entrance on the left. Parking is immediately inside that entrance on either side.
About the Park
Encompassing 556 acres, the park fronts the lake for three miles. Most of the lakefront habitat is scrubby flatwoods and scrub, dry uplands with beautiful blooms during the fall wildflower season.
The day use area is what attracts most visitors. Picnic tables are set under the oaks with a view of the lake.
A launch lets you ease your own kayak in or rent one of theirs to ply the open water.
A small swimming beach fronts the lake, but mats of aquatic plants sometimes float up and cover it, as they did during our visit.
A separate area caters to boaters, allowing them to put into Lake Manatee at a ramp above the dam. Foot trails connect the boating and day use areas.
Cyclists are welcome to ride the paved park road and paved paths in the main section of the park, which total more than 2 miles.
If you have a hybrid or off-road bike, consider tackling the Gopher Trail, a natural-surface multi-use trail through scrub and scrubby flatwoods in the eastern part of the park.
The campground is centrally located in the main part of the park, with 60 sites in two loops, each centered around a bathhouse.
Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. Hookups include 30 amp electric and water. A dump station is near the entrance.
Tents, trailers, and RVs up to 65 feet are welcome. Pets must be leashed.
We chose a site adjoining a paved path that linked to both the bathhouse and the day use area, and found it nicely wooded.
It was a quiet place to camp on the outskirts of busy Bradenton before we headed over to the coast to give a talk.
There are three trails that make up the Main Park Trails, which can be easily accessed from either the day use area or the campground.
The Longleaf Lane Trail provides views of the lake across scrubby flatwoods. It connects to the Campground Alley Trail, which sweeps behind the campground to reach the park road.
On the east side of the park road is the Bobcat Trail, which also has a trailhead by the ranger station.
Connect the three together and you can tally at least 2.5 miles in this part of the park.
Use the other park entrance to reach the Gopher Trail, which connects to a multiuse trail network through scrub and scrubby flatwoods with a lot of soft sand and little shade.
The Gopher Trail is 1.8 miles, the longer loop is 2.9 miles, and the full trail network is 3.6 miles.
See our photos of Lake Manatee State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Farmland turned back to mangrove marshes: that’s Robinson Preserve, with more than 4 miles of hiking on shell and wild pathways along Tampa Bay at Bradenton.
Where the Manatee River meets the Gulf of Mexico near Bradenton, Emerson Point Preserve protects the Portavent Mound, one of Florida’s most ancient temple mounds
A former 10-acre nursery, Palma Sola Botanical Park is a showcase for temperate and tropical species, including collections of palms, fruit trees, and flowering tropical trees.