When we arrived in Florida, PopPop told the girls that if they saw an alligator he would give them $5. We thought for sure we would see one at Johnathan Dickinson State Park, but when we did not I did what any mom would do and googled "best places to see alligators in Florida". Myakka River State Park was at the top of the list and was en route to our next location. It's located just a few miles outside of Sarasota and I-75, but it's natural beauty is enchanting! Myakka River is not only one of the oldest and largest state parks, it is one of the most scenic areas in Florida.
It is only $6 per vehicle (exact change preferred) to enter, which in my opinion is a bargain for all you get to see here. Shortly after you pass through the gate you will go over the Myakka River.
There are some very small parking areas here where you can pull off and walk over the bridge for some great views of birds and alligators.
A little further down the road there is a small picnic area on the left that provided an even closer encounter with an alligator. Here you can walk right up to the rivers edge and just on the other side was an alligator sunbathing. Please use caution, especially with young children and pets. I was surprised to learn that alligators can swim up to 20mph and sprint up to 11mph on land.
If you continue down the road a little further you will come to the Nature Trail and Canopy Walk trailhead. We did not see any alligators here, but this is a stop you do not want to miss! There are tons of learning opportunities here and we honestly could have spent the entire day here with our nature journals if we had more time. Some of the trees appear to have sustained some damage during a hurricane and are growing in all kinds of different directions. It feels like you are walking through a jungle. The girls nicknamed the tree above the "Grandpa tree" and are posing like old ladies next to PopPop.
Like most nature trails, there are signs along the way to tell you what you are looking at. See the line on the palm trees where it changes from dark to light? That is the high water line.
The only type of palm trees here is the cabbage palm (Sabal palm). Seedlings are fan shaped like palmettos. You can tell the difference between a young palm tree and a palmetto by looking at the stems.
The nature trail continues on, but we cut over to the Canopy Walk, which includes a suspension bridge and tower. It is one of only approximately 20 canopy walkways worldwide!
Because plant sugars are produced high up by the treetops, many insects, birds, and other organisms that depend upon those plant sugars also live far above the ground.
The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet to give you opportunities to view life that you may not be able to see from the ground, like the Resurrection Ferns in the photo above, Butterfly Orchid, Ballmoss, and Cardinal Airplant. There are 16 species of arboreal ants that have been identified.
At the end of the suspended walkway, a tower takes you 74 feet into the air. It would have been a good idea to bring binoculars!
Afraid of heights? Traveling with pets? Or just need a place to hang and wait for those that are slower than you? No problem! There are several benches at the base of the tower to enjoy the serene surroundings.
Those who decide to climb will be rewarded with beautiful views of the treetops and wetlands.
A few of our kids are slightly afraid of heights, but nothing a little Stress Away and encouragement could not take care of. We all made it!!!
The sun was quickly making its descent so we had to hurry back to the RV, but this State Park has definitely made our list of places to come back and explore. With a river, 2 lakes, and nearly 40 miles of trails, there is plenty to see and do here!