Myakka River State Park
A Prairie View at Myakka River State Park
General description: Trekking (hiking/backpacking) through Florida dry prairies, pine flatwoods, marshes, and oak and palm hammocks. There are six backcountry camping areas. Other activities: see text article.
Starting and ending point:
N 27 deg 14 min 25 sec, W82 deg 18 min 58 sec
Park's south (State Road 72) entrance. From Interstate 75, follow State Road 72, eight miles to the east. As the crow flies, Myakka River State Park is located about 14 miles ESE of Sarasota. Decide your particular trip from there.
Maps: Pick up a backcountry map at the park's entrance
Myakka River State Park
13207 SR 72, Sarasota 34241. 941-361-6511
It was one of those days when it wouldn't rain and it wouldn't quit. Drops of water fell here and there all day from the gray skies heavy with moisture. One good cloudburst and this would all be over, I thought. But no great deluge came. Instead there was just the steady, scant, continuous fall of large raindrops and the ominous rumble of thunder in the distance.
On this steamy June afternoon, I was trekking along a wet backcountry trail at Myakka River State Park. I had plans to spend the night in a palm and hardwood hammock called Honore Campsite. There had recently been a lot of rain and the trails were mostly ankle deep in water. But I didn't mind. My well-worn jungle boots were made for soggy trails. Besides, I enjoy hiking when no one else wants to—on those hot, wet days when most people stay home (see footnote). On this day, the entire backcountry was mine. As far as I knew, I was the only human out here.
A Land Remembered
What's called the dry prairie stretched out in front of me as far as I could see. I felt as if I were back in the 19th century—smack in the middle of A Land Remembered, that Patrick Smith novel destined to be a Florida classic.
I envisioned Cracker cowboys on horseback herding their incessantly mooing livestock through miles of palmettos and pines to market at Punta Rassa. These were tough, wiry men who took heat, mosquitoes, lightning storms, rattlesnakes, and other hardships in stride. They were true Floridians. They lived close to the land, carving out a life for themselves in the flatwoods, here in this nation's last southern frontier.
Staring out over that prairie, I was grateful that this land here at Myakka—this extensive prairie—remains today for all to see and enjoy, and is not just a part of our collective memory. Much of this landscape in Florida has succumbed to relentless development, making what's left all the more precious.
To enjoy this land for yourself, plan on trekking through the park's backcountry. There are 39 miles of trails, all maintained by the Florida Trail Association. The trails are crisscrossed here and there by backcountry roads. (There are also horse and bicycle trails.) Six backcountry campgrounds with three camp sites each are available to those who wish to stay out overnight.
You may see a variety of wildlife, including deer, bobcats, feral hogs, snakes, gopher tortoises, alligators, plus numerous species of birds. Although they are not numerous here, once in a while a black bear or maybe even a Florida panther might stray this way.
On this day in June, I was told the mosquitoes were bad. They were definitely out, especially at night and not so much in the daytime, but a little DEET kept most of them at bay. The mosquito level I encountered here is nothing, I mean NOTHING, like that found in the Everglades salt-water areas, Flamingo for example. There, they are limited only by "the space available to contain them," a quote I believe is attributable to the late Dr. Archie Carr, that renowned and beloved University of Florida professor of zoology.
Start your backcountry treks from any of several spots in the park: Powerline Road, Ranch House Road, Fox's Low Road, or Fox's High Road. Inquire at the entrance. Be sure to pick up a backcountry permit and a map at the south (the State Road 72) entrance. Take a compass and know how to use it. Pack a GPS if you have one.
Other activities in the park
Besides backcountry trekking, there are numerous other activities which may catch your interest. Enjoy a narrated airboat tour of Upper Lake Myakka; buy some smoked gator or order a bowl of gator stew with lunch at the park's Outpost concession; take a tram tour of the backcountry (Dec-May); rent a bike, canoe, or kayak; get a bird's-eye view of the surrounding countryside from a 74-foot viewing tower; hike the 40-minute interpretive nature walk; rent a log cabin or camp in one of the two campgrounds; and more.
Footnote: When hiking on a hot, sunny Florida day, to help prevent a heat-related illness (heat exhaustion, heat stroke) wear a hat and a light-weight, long-sleeved, tightly-woven, loose-fitting shirt. Such garments help prevent you from absorbing added warmth from the sun, not to mention sunburn. Further, wet your hair and shirt with water to provide the extra evaporative action to help your body dissipate heat. Also, a wet bandanna or towel around your neck helps keep you cool. And, of course, you'll want to drink plenty of water or sports drinks to avoid dehydration.
For more information on heat-related illnesses, their prevention and treatment see
Surviving the Wilds of Florida.
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