Myakka State Forest protects over 8,500 acres of land along the Myakka River in Southwest Florida, a vital component of the Myakka River Watershed.
The forest provides habitat for numerous endangered species, including gopher tortoises, eastern indigo snakes, and the Florida scrub jay.
A multi-use trail shared with equestrians and off-road cyclists, the South Loop Trail follows service roads in a wide circle through the flatwoods.
Some spots have the potential to be wet most of the year, especially where the trail borders depression marshes.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 7.7 mile loop
Trailhead: 26.98712, -82.28583
Address: 2000 South River Rd, Englewood
Fees: $2 per person day use fee. Annual pass available.
Restroom: Vault toilet at trailhead
Land manager: Florida Forestry Service
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome.
Day use fees payable at a self-pay station. There is no drinking water in this forest. Bring your own.
Seasonal small game hunting occurs. If you plan to hit the trails here, check ahead regards hunt dates.
From Interstate 75, head south on CR 777 for 9.4 miles. Turn left at the forest entrance. Pay your entrance fee at the iron ranger. Follow Shell Rd for a mile. The trailhead parking area is on the left.
From the parking area, head southeast on the main forest road for about a tenth of a mile, and the South Loop Trailhead is on the right.
The trail starts as a wide sandy service road, bordered by columns of slash pines rising above clumps of palmettos.
Tickseeds, asters, pickerelweed, and marsh fleabane thrive in the swales along the road.
Continue south from the trailhead for 0.9 mile atop a carpet of pine needles until the first junction comes into view.
A covered bench designated as the Four Corners Shelter sits on the southwest corner of the intersection.
Head straight, passing the shelter to begin the loop counterclockwise.
The road makes a slight turn, and immediately becomes narrower and grassier. Tall grasses and wax myrtles line the path.
Arrowroot sprouts from the wetter areas, and bright yellow goldenrod clusters in slightly drier spots.
Although oaks are not common in this type of habitat, a few small stragglers can be seen along the way.
At the 1.6 mile mark, continue past a sign on the left side of the trail that points toward the Pinestraw Campsite, one of two primitive sites on this loop.
Near the western corner of the loop, cross a small bridge over a ditch. On the other side is a small shelter, well hidden before you come right up on it.
Like some of the other shelters found along this trail, it has a map showing your current location along the loop.
As the trail heads east, vibrant purple blazing star and the showy plumes of yellow wand goldenrod rise from expanses of prairie grasses.
Young longleaf pines line both sides of the trail, topped with dark green tufts of lengthy needles as they sprout new growth.
Approaching 2.8 miles, the trail runs along the edge of a depression marsh. Its close proximity to this natural feature likely puts the trail under at least a few inches of water throughout the year.
Bladderwort grows in the shallow waters here. It traps insects in its bladders, which are sometimes visible floating in the shallows.
The trail makes a close pass along another marsh, providing an up-close perspective of this interesting habitat.
Small fish swim across the trail as great egrets roost in the distance, their stark white feathers in contrast with the green and gold landscape.
As you approach the four miles mark while heading north, the Foresman Shelter is located at a junction with the Foresman Trail.
This shelter is close to the halfway point of the hike, so it makes a welcome spot to take a break.
Shortly after passing the Foresman Shelter, the trail dips through another shallow marsh with wide open views on all sides.
The sandy path becomes drier, bordered by fire-blackened cabbage palms. Prescribed burns are used to manage the habitats of this expansive forest.
At 4.5 miles, the Foresman Trail branches off to the west towards Watering Hole primitive camp.
Stay on the loop trail for an eighth of a mile to another small shelter on the northeast corner of the loop. This one doesn’t have a map.
Turn left and head west towards the beginning of the loop. Along the way, watch for pine lilies, whose vibrant red flowers bloom between summer and late fall.
At 6.7 miles, the trail comes close to a pond that can overflow and flood the trail a bit.
Completing the loop at the Four Corners Shelter, turn right to head back to the parking area. The trailhead is just under a mile from this junction.
Learn more about Myakka State Forest and its other hiking trails
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.
Gordon Smith Memorial Trail
A short and scenic loop trail on easy terrain, the Gordon Smith Memorial Trail showcases mesic flatwoods, a predominant ecosystem in Myakka State Forest.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Offering scenic views of wild shores along the Myakka River, this hike at Jelks Preserve makes a big loop along the trail system to immerse you in a variety of habitats
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
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