Midway between Siesta Key and Arcadia, half an hour’s drive inland, Myakka River State Park is a wilderness playground for outdoor enthusiasts. As one of Florida’s oldest parks, Myakka’s 17,000 acres provide a pristine expanse of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands to explore.
What to Do
Inside Myakka State Park (13208 State Road 72, Sarasota; floridastateparks.org), cyclists can bike a diverse terrain across seven miles of paved road. There are also plenty of dirt trails—some hard-packed, some sandy, some muddy and some torn up by feral pigs. Bikes for adults and children, plus tandem bicycles, are available for rent at the park’s concession stand, Myakka Outpost (myakkaoutpost.com).
Fourteen miles of the Myakka River flow through the park, and kayaks and canoes—both available for rent at the Outpost—are a great way to see Florida’s aquatic wildlife up close. For another water-based option, try the flat-bottomed boat tours that leave from the park’s dock throughout the day. The tour takes visitors on an hour-long cruise of Upper Myakka Lake, a great place to spot alligators.
Where to Sleep
Myakka makes for an easy day trip, but for nature lovers who want the full experience, the park has multiple campgrounds with sites that can accommodate hammocks, tents, pop-ups and motor homes. Water and electric hookups are available, and each site has a fire pit and a picnic table. Restrooms with hot showers are a short walk away. The park also has primitive campsites, mostly situated on dry prairie along its hiking trails, each with a fire pit and a post for hanging items. Some have pumps with non-potable water, and others require campers to bring in their own water.
Camping isn’t for everyone, so thankfully, the park has log cabins for rent (make reservations at (800) 326.3521 or reserveamerica.com). Built between 1934 and 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, each historic cabin boasts a rustic charm. With an indoor bathroom plus a fully equipped kitchen that includes a microwave and a coffee pot, they offer a chance to get closer to nature without actually having to be in it. And they’re not completely without hardship: There’s no Wi-Fi.
Where to Eat
If a hot dog cooked on a stick isn’t your jam, stop by the park’s Lazy Gator Cafe (facebook.com/MyakkaOutpost). No ordinary concession stand, the Lazy Gator serves breakfast, lunch and early dinner and offers scratch-made favorites such as alligator stew and seafood gumbo, plus handmade milkshakes and a good selection of craft beers. Don’t miss the made-from-scratch cupcakes that appear regularly—and disappear quickly.