Exploring Myakka River State Park as a Family cover

Exploring Myakka River State Park as a Family

Looking for a fun day trip to take with the fam? Just over an hour south of Tampa, you’ll find Myakka (“My-AH-ka”) River State Park, the largest of our Florida state parks. Known for its alligators and canopy walkway, it’s a great place to escape into the wild and get back to nature.

My husband and I took our two young explorers (2 and 4) during spring break this year and had a truly great experience – and that’s saying something with a 2-year-old in tow.

Chock full of wildlife, we saw everything from a Wood Stork using its wing to create shade to hunt (super cool), to wild turkeys, a plethora of birds, turtles, and yes – alligators. Tons of alligators! Babies and giants alike.

In fact, we saw the most wildlife at Myakka River State Park than at any of the other state parks or springs we’ve been to. And from chatting with other guests, it sounds like that’s a regular thing.

Exploring Myakka River State Park as a Family
A gorgeous view of the Myakka River.

After entering the park, the main road takes you over a bridge overlooking a lagoon littered with gators – big ones. The perfect lookout spot, there’s plenty of parking just over the bridge for a photo op detour.

Hiking Myakka River State Park with kids

We started out on the trail at this first parking spot thinking it would take us to what drew us to Myakka initially – the Canopy Walk trail – a 100-foot suspended walkway 25’ high over the ground. It turned out to be a different trail but we didn’t mind one bit.

Even during spring break, we were totally secluded and had the trail mostly to ourselves. Following along a quiet creek, this is where we saw the wood stork, turtles, and baby gators sunning themselves on a log. It was really cool to see as a family. We even saw the ‘mama gator a little way down from her babies and heard their calls back and forth to each other.

INSIDER TIP: There were a couple of obstacles on this trail to be aware of. A downed tree completely blocks the trail at one point which was a fun challenge for my husband to cross carrying our 2-year-old in his hiking backpack.

Hiking Myakka River State Park with kids
A fun trail obstacle carrying a passenger.

After realizing we were on the wrong trail we turned around after 30 mins or so, and drove a little further down the road to the next trailhead, which was the Canopy Walk.

The Canopy Walk

The trail to and from the Canopy Walk is called The William Boylston Nature Trail, which is a quick loop known for birdwatching. You’ll see the Canopy towers after just a 2-minute walk from your car if you park on the southwestern side of the trail, so there’s no guessing when you’re there. Either way, the loop to and from the Canopy Walk is only 0.8 miles.

INSIDER TIP: There’s a scavenger hunt you can print out HERE, to make the trail more fun for kiddos!

the tower at Myakka River State Park
The Myakka River State Park’s Lookout Tower is 74’ high and provides a great view of the surrounding marshlands

Although a bit underwhelming compared to Instagram, the Canopy Walk was still totally magical for our girls who thought it was way cool being so “up high” in the trees.

My favorite part was the attached lookout tower. At 74’ high and over 100 steps to climb, be ready for a hike. Getting to the top is worth it, though; the views of the surrounding wetlands and prairie are impressive. I was surprised at how high we were! Those scared of heights need not apply.

INSIDER TIP: The Canopy Walk is a quick, one-way walk on a suspension bridge and allows for only 4 people to cross at a time. There is a tree branch crossing the walkway as well, meaning you’ll have to duck significantly in order to cross. Another fun obstacle for my husband carrying our 2-year-old on his back!

Canopy Walk
The Myakka River State Park Canopy Walk/obstacle course

A bike ride through Myakka River State Park

After this second jaunt, we loaded the girls into the Burley (bike trailer) and hopped on our bikes. We had heard Myakka was a nice place for a bike ride and it really was. Boasting 7 miles of paved roads and plenty of pretty scenery, it was a nice change of pace and a totally different way to experience the park.

Riding bikes through Myakka was serene and Oh-so quiet. As we were pedaling past a field, we noticed a pair of huge birds waddling towards us which turned out to be wild turkeys – you don’t see that every day!

We rode to the Outpost which hosts the park’s main restrooms and its restaurant, The Lazy Gator Café. Sadly, the restaurant was closed for renovations but concessions were still available from a food truck outside. We had brought a picnic lunch and enjoyed it at the perfect spot on the grass overlooking the water.

wildlife at Myakka River State Park
Tons of wildlife in Myakka River State Park, including a wood stork, baby alligators, turtles and wild turkeys

The Outpost was the busiest spot in the park by far but wasn’t obnoxious like some springs and parks can get, considering it was spring break. There’s also a gift shop and a Rental booth where you can rent bikes by the hour and canoes and kayaks when the water level’s high enough.

Flat-bottomed boat tours are also available depending on the water level for $20 per person ($12 for children – first come first served) and depart from the Outpost, meanwhile there’s a Birdwalk boardwalk that takes you out over the marshes which is always neat to see.

INSIDER TIP: From November through mid-April, there’s a naturalist at the Birdwalk to answer questions most mornings.

After our late lunch, the girls were in meltdown mode and ready to pass out on the car ride home. But not before a quick stop at Calusa Brewing in Sarasota for a celebratory beer. Cheers!

Know Before You Go:

  • Entrance to Myakka River State Park is $6 per car.
  • The motorized boat launch is $4; call to check the water level before you go.
  • For fishing, you must have a Florida freshwater fishing license (not sold at the park). There is no designated fishing pier.
  • Rentals are available for bikes, canoes, and kayaks, depending on the water level.
  • Daily 45-60 minute boat and tram tours through the wilderness are available every 2 hours, weather permitting.
  • Hiking and biking maps are available at the Ranger station.

Go All-In on the Experience:

  • Camping is available in 9 campgrounds within the park, including 6 primitive campgrounds. Hammock camping is permitted on specific sites.
  • During November-April, campfire circles are hosted every Saturday evening at 6 pm.
  • There are 12 miles of designated horse trails in Myakka River State Park.
  • You can stay in a historic palm log cabin for the weekend featuring a bathroom with shower, fully equipped kitchen, fireplace, and porch.