Myakka River State Park

by: Dan DeBono


One of Florida's most largest and most diverse natural tracts, the Myakka River State Park contains nearly 45 square miles of pristine wilderness, and houses a plethora of birds, reptiles and mammals.

The park is named for the Myakka River, which flows for twelve miles through the middle of this wilderness delight. Two lakes--the upper and lower myakkas--are also within park boundaries. There is also oak and palm hammocks, grassy marshes and sloughs, giving the park a variety of biological communities.

Deer, rabbits, bobcat and hawks are commonly seen by the park's hikers. And, of course, alligators are quite plentiful in the park. The large reptiles appear to be tame at first, but park rangers advise that they should not be approached or fed.

What really gives this state park its own identity, however is the outdoor recreation it offers for nature purists. There is no swimming and motor boats have trouble navigating the shallow, hydrilla infested waters of the lakes--and there is a constant idle speed rule in the water--so the park tends to be quite peaceful. The bulk of activity in the park is taken up by camping, hiking and fishing. There is also a 15 mile horse trail, but you must bring your own horse and have proof of a recent Coggins test.

There is a concession stand, rustic cabins, primitive campsites, nature trails, picnic grounds and an interpretive center in the park as well. There is also a guided tram tour and a concession airboat tour as well.

We took the airboat tour, because it looked interesting--and it turned out to be quite fun. When airboating comes to mind, one usually envisions the fast moving, roaring boats that any Florida resident is so familiar with, but this airboat tour is quite different.

First of all, the boat is large--in fact, it is the world's largest! It looks more like a mock 19th century riverboat than a traditional airboat, but on closer inspection you see the tell-tale propeller mounted high on the stern. The boat is also not very noisy. The pilot must obey the idle speed rule on the lake, so the large propeller is turning rather slowly most of the time, and the rear wall of the cabin blocks out a lot of the noise as well.

What we really enjoyed about the tour was the pilot/narrator/comedian, Walter Stilley. He did his best to ensure that everyone saw the birds, 'gators and whatever else he could find, and also offered up some pretty amusing--and informative--tales about the park. We saw quite a few different species of the well-known Florida fauna, and had a nice, peaceful hour's ride. The boat probably won't appeal to thrill-seekers looking for a wild ride, but families and couples will really enjoy it. If you intend on going to the park, we suggest bringing your binoculars as some of the wildlife is pretty skiddish.

The fishing on the Upper Myakka looked pretty good also, as we spied several people bringing in bass and bream.

All-in-all, we recommend the Myakka State Park to fishing, hiking and camping enthusiasts looking for an additional spot to enjoy Florida's scenic riches.