Drive just nine miles east out of Sarasota on State Road 72 and you will find yourself in one Florida’s (and maybe the US’) best preserved and diverse natural habitats. The Myakka Lake is unique among America’s freshwater lakes.
If you like to get out of the city and close to nature, then the Myakka River State Park is where you can get your boots wet and your soul filled with the grandeur and savagery of nature.
Myakka State Park was developed and declared a protected zone in 1934. It is a spectacular mix of wetlands, marshes, prairies and sub-tropical forests. It covers 58 square miles and is a fabulous place to spend the day. Many stay for more.
There are several different ways you can experience the wild magnificence of Myakka. One of them, the Airboat Tour, is the best and the most comprehensive and convenient. You get to cover a lot of area with guaranteed viewing of alligators! These gigantic and seemingly lethargic reptiles seem to be everywhere! Many of them will be still and floating, camouflaged by the large lily pads.
If you are focused on seeing alligators then the best time to get guaranteed viewing of them is from early spring all the way to mid April, when Florida has not yet heated up and it is their mating season. Remember that alligators hate the heat, like you and I, and stay underwater to be cool.
Besides those pre-historic and fearsome-looking giants you will see turtles, herons, the Great Blue Heron, armadillos, cranes, kites, wild pigs, vultures, ospreys, egrets and ‘snake-neck’ birds. Take your binoculars, because the guide might point out a majestic and a solitary Bald Eagle perched high on a tree.
Very often your airboat will literally bump into an alligator so keep your camera ready and your click-finger geared for speed action. If you are fortunate you may witness interaction between species - sometimes violent – as a successful hunt is in progress or concluded. Nature’s competition may take place right before your eyes.
The airboat travels at a sedate pace and is very steady, moving equally capably on the water or through grassy sections, where normal boats would get all tangled up. The round trip lasts roughly an hour or so. The guides are wonderful, some of them witty, and always informative with amusing and interesting stories. Their knowledge and experience of the Myakka region and its environment are astounding.
Park entry fees are $6.00 per vehicle for 2 to 8 persons.
Children: (6-12) $6.00.
Winter: 16th December to 31st May
10:00am; 11:30am; 1:00pm and 2:30pm
Summer: 1st June to 15th December
10:00am; 11:30am and 1:00am
Generally light cotton clothes, shorts, t-shirts and a hat are good when visiting Myakka State Park. If you plan to walk through the forests before or after your airboat tour then long sleeves and full-length trousers are advisable to avoid getting scratched. However, in autumn and winter, you should wear a jacket as the Park can get rather chilly.
Arrive at the ‘Boat Basin’ at least 30 minutes before the scheduled airboat departure to get a seat (in front preferably). That is because a large number of visitors turn up (especially in the peak season) and you may not get a seat at the time you want.
The Boat Basin lies at the end of the main Park Road.
About an airboat
An airboat, also known as a fan-boat, is a flat-bottomed vessel (jon boat) driven by an aircraft-type propeller and powered by either an aircraft or automotive engine. They are ideally suited to marshy and/or shallow areas where a standard inboard or outboard engine with a submerged propeller would be impractical.
The Myakka State Park boasts of two of the world's largest airboats, the Myakka Maiden or the Gator Gal. They carry 16 passengers. Ask for ear-plugs as the boat's engines can get really noisy.