Across 58 square miles, the park’s enormous acreage is cradled by the flow of the Myakka River, where herons and egrets wade along the shoreline and alligators cruise the shallows.
Enjoy the wide open spaces, but don’t miss the tiny details: ferns, lichens, and mosses in the live oaks, shoelace fern dangling from the many cabbage palms.
Seasonally wet, the expansive prairies provide shelter and forage for an array of wildlife.
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Address: 13208 SR 72, Sarasota FL 34241
Fees: $6 per vehicle
Restroom: At picnic areas and concession
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Leashed pets welcome but you should keep them away from all bodies of water.
Use caution along all waterways, whether on foot or paddling. The Myakka River and its chain of lakes within this park are known for their dense alligator population.
From Interstate 75 exit 205 at the south end of Sarasota, follow SR 72 east for 8.7 miles to the main park entrance on the north side of the highway.
About the Park
One of Florida’s oldest state parks, Myakka River State Park’s early infrastructure was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Look for their signature picnic pavilions made of massive hand-hewn logs, and unique to this park, camping cabins constructed from palm logs.
This is a park where you can settle in for a long weekend or midweek and find plenty to do while camping.
Kayak the wild waters, sway on Florida’s first Canopy Walk between the live oaks, or take a tour on an oversized airboat to see nature in all its glory.
The Myakka Outpost, the concession area at Upper Myakka Lake, has a camp store and an outfitter on site with rentals.
They oversee the tour boat rides across the lake, which are 45 minutes to an hour long and run five times a day.
Cyclists have an extraordinary amount of ground to cover within Myakka River State Park. Bike rentals are available at the Myakka Outpost.
For those most comfortable with biking on pavement, the park’s very scenic main road is a popular destination, especially with campers.
You do need to be cautious of motorists, but there is less traffic along the North Road once you’re past the turnoff to the concession area.
In the northeast corner of the park, a set of off-road trails are accessed from the Clay Gully Trailhead.
Cyclists can ride any of the forest roads in the park, which enable you to bikepack using the same primitive campsites used by backpackers on the Myakka Hiking Trail.
Finally, there’s a day trip opportunity of 11 miles each way (22 miles round-trip) along the Myakka Island Trail along the river basin to Rye Wilderness in Venice.
As we learned on a guided bird walk, you can’t go wrong almost anywhere when birding Myakka River State Park. Pick up a birding list at the ranger station.
We stopped at a picnic area not far inside the entrance, where warblers caught everyone’s attention up in the tree canopy.
At the bridge over the river, roseate spoonbills and wood storks are often seen among the alligators that rest in the shallows.
Following the river bluffs, the nature trail on the northwest side of the bridge provides good sightings as well.
Farther along the scenic drive, a Bird Walk provides a gentle, accessible approach to the river for watching coots, teals, and wading birds from a boardwalk and observation platform.
Three separate campgrounds in Myakka River State Park have a total of 90 campsites.
Old Prairie and Palmetto Ridge are the older campgrounds near the park entrance. Big Flats is near the Myakka Outpost.
Big Flats is appealing for tent camping because of its live oak canopy and the breeze off the river. Old Prairie is also nicely tucked in the woods.
Being more open, Palmetto Ridge is better for RVs and trailers.
The CCC-era palmetto log cabins are a step back in time. The five cabins sit on rock pilings under the forest canopy. One cabin is accessible.
They do have air conditioners, but are otherwise very rustic, with a simple equipped kitchen and a pretty fireplace as well as a bathroom.
There are nearly 16 miles of designated equestrian trails within Myakka River State Park. The horse trails have a separate entrance east of the park entrance along SR 72.
Stop in at the ranger station in advance to register and receive a combination to the lock so you can drive in to the horse trailer parking area.
Equestrians are also permitted to ride the Myakka Island Trail south of SR 72, a 22-mile round trip along the river floodplain to Carlton Reserve in Venice. In the reserve, more than 100 miles of trails are available.
Hikers have options at Myakka River State Park ranging from an easy accessible boardwalk to multiple days of backpacking the backcountry.
Of the four nature trails we’ve explored at Myakka River State Park, the Canopy Walk is the most compelling because of its incredible views from the tower.
It’s part of a slightly longer loop, an interpretive trail called the William S. Boylston Nature Trail.
Birders also appreciate the Myakka River Trail and the Bird Walk, both shorter pathways to excellent birding sites along the river.
Myakka Hiking Trail
Built and maintained by the Florida Trail Association, the Myakka Hiking Trail is one of the longest loop trails in Florida, totaling 39 miles in a chain of four loops.
At one point along it, you can see two miles across an open prairie. Portions of it can get very wet.
Six backcountry campsites are along the loops. Our favorite – and one of the more popular – is Bee Island.
A network of forest roads open to cyclists parallel the hiking trail, so bikepackers share the campsites.
All campsites must be reserved in advance before you set out along the trail. Only three of the campsites have pitcher pumps. All water must be treated.
For immersion in the vast central prairies of the Florida peninsula, the 39-mile Myakka Hiking Trail is a serious backpacking destination in South Florida near Sarasota
Entry to the Wilderness Preserve area south of SR 72 and east of the Myakka Island Trail requires a permit from the park office.
The group campground is located here, but day use is also permitted. Forest roads are open to hiking but not biking.
In the Wilderness Preserve is Deep Hole, 2.2 miles south of SR 72. Deep Hole is notable for its sizable alligator population.
Myakka Island Trail
The Myakka Island Trail stretches 11 miles between SR 72 and Carlton Reserve east of Venice. It is open to both cyclists and hikers for day use.
North access is via Martin’s Gate along SR 72, east of the main entrance to Myakka River State Park. South access is via Carlton Reserve.
The Myakka River flows for 14 miles through the state park, but portions of it are more suitable for paddling than others.
Water levels vary seasonally so what is good at one time of year may not work during a drier season.
Watch the weather, too, as wind can be a big issue if you get out on the open water of the larger lakes, particularly Upper Myakka Lake.
The folks at the Myakka Outpost can point out the best places to launch. Bring a canoe or kayak or rent one from them.
Paddlers may not go south of SR 72 without a Wilderness Area permit.
See our photos from Myakka River State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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.