Myakka River State Park

Alligator head peeking above water Photo credit: Robin Draper

Myakka boat tours. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Myakka Canopy. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Myakka Kayaking. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Myakka Osprey. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Myakka River State Park. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Oscar-Scherer: SouthCreek. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Oscar-Scherer: Scrubby Pine Flatwoods. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Oscar- Scherer: ScrubJay. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Oscar-Scherer: South Creek Kayaks. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Oscar-Scherer: Trail. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Oscar-Scherer: Scrubjay. Photo credit: Robin Draper

Authentic Florida: Try Our State Parks

Beyond Sarasota County's beautiful beaches, shopping, dining and cultural amenities there is something else to make your visit special. Get a glimpse of Florida's "natural" side and its authentic beauty in our state parks.

Sarasota County offers more than just its beaches, dining and shopping locations. In fact, the county is home to some of Florida's State Parks. You have plenty of state parks to choose from, including: Myakka River State Park, Oscar Scherer State Park and Myakka State Forest. All are unique and feature a special, pristine Florida. And just wait until you see our wildlife!

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park is a delightful family getaway with a little something for everyone. Visitors can hike, bike, fish, bird, boat, enjoy an old-fashioned tram ride, a canopy walk, camp or picnic – all in the surroundings of one of the area's best "old" Florida settings.

East of Sarasota off State Road 72, Myakka State Park is one of Florida's oldest and largest parks covering approximately 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, pinelands and riverine swamps. Towering oak trees draped in moss shade the roadways and many of the trails. Acres of Florida vegetation including the state tree called the Sabal Palm covers miles of scenic beauty. The Myakka River runs through the park and is considered one of Florida's most spectacular waterways anywhere.

To see wildlife, consider hiking a trail, riding the airboat, visiting the bird boardwalk or the weir (small overflow dam) at the south end of the Upper Myakka Lake, where wildlife is always present. The Myakka Outpost is where boat rides and tram tours begin while offering rental canoes, kayaks, and bikes along with food and amenities.

The popular Myakka Canopy, an 85-foot suspended bridge high in the tree top canopy is well worth the stop. Visitors get a unique and special view of the subtropical hammock forest and its plant communities - especially the bromeliads and lichens. The adjoining 74-foot tower gives visitors a panorama of the park with a vista of prairies, wetlands and forest.  

Also, consider the Myakka Wildlife Safari tram (available mid-December through end of May). The tours travel up an old road (built by the Civilian Conservation Corps) while riders view the wildlife and natural communities of pine flatwoods, prairies, marshes and hammocks.

And you are very likely to see alligators. They bask on the water's edge soaking up the sun's warmth during the cooler temperatures.

Myakka is also an excellent birding spot. Birders come from all over to see Wood storks, black-necked stilts, great blue herons, snowy egrets, glossy ibis, tricolored herons, sandpipers, roseate spoonbills, sandhill cranes, limpkins, ospreys, egrets, little blue herons, white ibis, anhingas and double-crested cormorants. So, be sure to pack binoculars.

Looking for alligators? Here are some tips:

• Take a boat ride – the captains will be on the look out
• Take the North Drive
• Try Alligator Point
• Stop at the Park bridge
• Hike behind the concession stand to the weir, Upper Myakka Lake

Best time to spot alligators:

Alligators like cooler temperatures but not cold (below 65 degrees).  The cooler temperatures bring them out to sun on the riverbank. (Reminder: do not feed the gators, it reduces their fear of humans).

Alligator Trivia

•The only place you can find alligators in the wild is the southeastern U.S.
• Alligators grow about a foot per year during the first six years
• Mating season is April-May signified by loud bellowing
• Alligators eat fish, turtles, small mammals, frogs, snakes, wading birds

Oscar Scherer State Park

Located south of Sarasota off U.S. Highway 41, lies one of the area's best secrets, Oscar Scherer State Park. Visitors can hardly believe that this natural and scenic sanctuary is so close to neighboring developments and urban amenities. It is a pristine pocket of natural beauty along South Creek.

Oscar Scherer protects the rare scrubby and pine flatwoods habitat that was once widespread throughout Florida. Fifteen miles of trails wind through and around this very authentic slice of Florida - ideal for hiking, bicycling, and wildlife viewing.

Oscar Scherer is also one of the state's best places to experience an up-close encounter with the Florida scrub-jay. This little blue bird with a curious demeanor is a true native Floridian and a threatened species.

Take the park's Green Trail (2 ½ miles) for an ideal opportunity to see the scrub jays in their scrubby habitat. They are friendly and curious and if lucky you may even find one landing atop your head. While on the trail, take a look through the spotting scope to view the resident bald eagle's nest. During December, there's a good chance you'll see just-hatched baby eagle fledglings. Also be on the look out for more Florida natives such as the gopher tortoise and indigo snakes. Guided scrub walks take place on Sundays.

Canoeists and kayakers can paddle along the picturesque and shady South Creek, a blackwater stream that flows through the park before emptying into the Intracoastal Waterway and Blackburn Bay on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Rentals are available and park rangers guide tours on Wednesday mornings and Saturday eves, once a month during the full moon. Be on the look out for herons and egrets, often wading along the shore, and ospreys soaring overhead. Anglers can fish along the creek or in Lake Osprey, which is also the designated swimming area.

Tram tours are available and the park's Nature Center has exhibits and videos on the area natural communities.

Myakka State Forest

For the serious Outdoor Adventurer, a must-visit is the Myakka State Forest. To get there head south of Venice to the City of North Port.

This is the place that avid mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders and primitive campers call their outdoor playground. Myakka State Forest, located off River Road, provides a rare opportunity to enjoy and play in thousands of acres of pristine natural Florida. With so much area to roam and the plethora of wildlife you are in for a special authentic Florida experience.

On a horse, biking or hiking, it becomes easy to imagine Florida's past as you experience stunning flatwoods, pine forests, and marshes - all preserved within 8,000 acres. Managed by the Forest Service and protected for future generations, the park has two hiking trails (the North and South loops) that lead through the Forest.

Water lovers can launch a boat at the Marina Boat Ramp, directly into the beautiful Myakkahatchee Creek that flows into the Myakka River, another pristine Florida beauty and a designated Wild and Scenic River. Birds wade on the shoreline, turtles sun on submerged logs, fish swim by - here Florida wildlife thrives.

Access is off River Road, about 11 miles south from I-75. Make sure to pack your GPS!

For directions and information: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services - Myakka State Forest