Another world... that was the first impression of Myakka River State Park as we drove along the meandering roadway with overhanging Oak trees giving us numerous tree tunnels. An opening in the trees often revealed deer, wild boar, wild turkeys, lakes, the river, and/or numerous species of tropical birds. Yet, a mere 9 miles to the west lies the hustle and bustle of modern Florida cities and highways (I-275). From here you can't even hear it, much less see it, and you can imagine it doesn't exist for those that want to get away - if even for a moment.
Once again, I've opted to place this park under "Experiences" instead of "Campgrounds" as there's so much more to this park that it can easily appeal to daytrippers as well as campers. Myakka River State Park is one of the oldest and largest of Florida's state parks - and offers the glimpse into "Old Florida" - the Florida the settlers and Indian tribes knew.
Like to hike? Choose from long trails or short - across prairie or along the river. There's a popular nature trail with a twist... after walking through oak and palm forests you reach a short canopy walk in the treetops. Yes, I said in the treetops. You climb 25 feet up - and walk 85 feet on a suspension bridge among the tree leaves and bromeliads themselves - with some signs explaining flora and fauna along the way. Kids of all ages (myself included) love it. At the other end of the suspension bridge is a tower - 74 feet in height - that allows a great view of the park itself.
Another hike stays just inland of the river. From here, there are places you can see alligators sunning themselves on the riverbanks... one should be careful about their own presence close to the riverbanks and not let kids run on ahead on this trail once you are close to the river. However, when careful, it can lead to some great sightings of one of nature's most ferocious looking creatures - fortunately, they were on the other side of the riverbank when we were there. By the way, the gators are more likely to be scared off by your presence than hunting.
Like tropical birds and want to know more about what you are seeing? In the mornings the park often has a bird expert stationed at the end of the "birdwalk" (a boardwalk extending over a little bit of Myakka Lake). The gentleman there when we were had a wealth of knowledge to glean from - and a high powered binocular/telescope trained on some of the features of the day located on the other side of the lake. He not only could tell you about the 100 species of birds common to the area, but also about other similar varieties - and about park history/happenings in general.
Prefer to ride rather than walk? Take an airboat ride on the lake to learn more about the park and get some great pictures. Or, in the winter months, they offer a land based tram ride - also narrated - giving park and critter info. Both of these are an extra charge - and can be picked up at the concession stand/gift shop/snack bar located next to the lake.
Want more privacy? Bring (or rent) a kayak or canoe and head out on the meandering river or lake. Ride a bike down the 7 mile long meandering road. Fishing is popular if you want to catch your own dinner (and have the proper license).
For those wanting to taste 'gator, the snack shop offers Gator Stew, a tomato based vegetable stew with ground gator chunks. We all enjoyed it... Or perhaps you'd rather choose Gator Jerky? As a note, there are more traditional offerings for those not interested in trying the local reptiles.
Want more info on the park? Stop at the visitor center shortly after entering. There they have animal exhibits (some interactive), bird counts, and general info. They also have 5 short movies to choose from varying from "what can I do here" to "what was it like for the early pioneers exploring this area." We watched all 5 - and really enjoyed the pioneer one for the historical accounts.
Are you like us and enjoy camping? There are two different campgrounds within the park having a total of 76 sites - most, if not all, having water and electric. There are flush toilet bathhouses with hot showers - but no paper towels or hand dryers at ours, so plan accordingly. Reservations are highly recommended. As with all Florida State Parks, go to reserveamerica.com to get reservations as early as 11 months prior to your dates.
We stayed at Big Flats (Old Prairie is the other) and again, there are pluses and minuses. The biggest plus is simply being in the park itself and being able to soak up the peace and quiet feeling your internal batteries getting recharged. We walked to the Canopy Trail (a rather long walk, but enjoyable). Having water and electric was nice - and our particular site was nice for tents (site #38). The campground is well shaded with the old oak trees. Critters such as squirrels and coons abound. The cost is certainly reasonable (roughly $22 + tax).
Switching to minuses, most of the sites offer little or no privacy between sites. While this isn't a huge issue for RVs, most tenters (such as us) prefer at least a little vegetation between us and our neighbors. The bathhouse also was older and less reliable than other parks had to offer. Perhaps the one in Old Prairie was more up to date?
Ah, but we don't stay in campgrounds or go to parks based on their bathhouses... We go to see new things - hmm, more technically put we go to see old things, natural things, and to personally recharge our batteries while learning just a tad bit more about this planet we live on. For that, Myakka River State Park fits the bill just fine.