Myakka – Gateway to the Everglades!

15 Jun

The most staggering part of exploring Florida is the diversity of the ecosystems throughout the state. Thick pine scrubs and high prairies dominate the northern peninsula highlighted by the Ocala National Forest. Here you’ll find forest dwellers like black bear, deer, fox and bob cat. Swamps and lakes cover the interior middle of the state from Tampa to Orlando and down the spine to Lake Okeechobee. These are the headwaters for the slow-moving Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Kissimmee Rivers. Your more likely to run into deer, egrets, hawks, eagles, otter and alligators in this sub-tropical, swampy setting. Heading due south from Tampa Bay, the soil becomes much more sandy and shallow. Saw palmettos and palm trees stretch across a flat endless coastal landscape that eventually gives way to the marshy grasslands of the Everglades. To get to this sanctuary, you must traverse Myakka, a long river basin that stretches from west of Bradenton to Charlotte Harbor on the southwest Florida coast. It’s easily accessed from anywhere off I-75 through Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

The Myakka River in Sarasota County

The Myakka River has been the life blood of this area for thousands of years. The river snakes it way southwest through the three counties toward Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. The river was first discovered along with the Peace River by Ponce De Leon. The Spanish explorer did not give either river their current name, but historical records indicate he made port in Charlotte Harbor during his first visit to Florida in search of gold and the legendary Fountain of Youth. Some believe a spring near the City of North Port called Warm Mineral Springs might be the legend De Leon was searching for and that the Myakka River was the river that would have taken him to it. There is no evidence he ever visited the spring or even voyaged far enough up the river to have found it, but there is archaeological evidence ancient Paleo Indians buried their dead in the area of the spring some ten thousand years ago. Perhaps they believed the water had healing or rejuvenating powers and that’s how the legend began?

The term Myakka is believed to have come from the Seminole term Miarca which means big water. This should be no surprise! Those who live in southern Florida know the Myakka River is one of the first rivers to flood during periods of heavy rain.

MyakkaProbably the most popular place to access the river and explore the Myakka basin is to visit Myakka River State Park off SR 72 near Sarasota. I like to think of the 58 square miles of the park as a gateway from Central to South Florida. The Myakka River meanders southwest from its source in Manatee county through the park , but the real highlight is Lake Myakka on the northern boundary.Birdwalk into the Lake Myakka shallows

At dusk I’ve seen multiple deer crossing the road near the lake with not a care in the world about my presence. I watched a Bald Eagle through binoculars while standing on the Birdwalk. She emerged from the treetops on the opposing bank. At first I didn’t know what it was other than a really big bird. Soon enough her striking features became evident. I was in awe. She swiped a fish cleanly out of the lake on her first attempt, then soared gracefully over my head carrying her prize in her talons. It was like something right out of  a nature show. Armadillo and wild pigs have scurried across the hiking trails right in front of me. They never stopped to pay me homage. Of course, my heart stopped while I stood there frozen in astonishment.

There are miles of these hiking trails throughout the park including 39 miles of the Florida NationaMyakka River State Park air boat tourl Scenic Trail. If the hiking sounds a little too dramatic, rent a canoe or kayak from the Outpost. Take a boat or tram tour of the park. Grab a snack. There are plenty of picnic areas. Whether it be boating, fishing, horseback riding,  or camping, Myakka River State Park has it all for the adventurer who dares to pay the $6.00 per vehicle entrance fee. The one thing I would not recommend, however, is swimming. The park has a heavy population of alligators. Alligator resting in the Myakka RiverRemember, always be alert around any body of fresh water when exploring Florida. Obey signs that designate no fishing or swimming. They’re there for your safety. Above all, never feed the alligators. That’s for everyone else’s safety!

For a little more of a subdued pace especially if you’re a hiking enthusiast like me, head further south on I-75 to the Myakka State Forest near North Port. There is a parking lot off River Road where you can access two loop trails; the 6 mile north loop and 7.4 mile south loop. These are excellent easy hikes for introducing the kids to the hiking experience. Depending on your pace you can accomplish either loop in under three hours. The trails are wide. Most importantly, there are no roots to trip over as my son would say because the terrain is flat and open prairie dominated primarily by saw palmettos and long leaf pine. What I like most about the Myakka State forest is the way the sound of the wind cutting through the palm prongs creates a sense of isolation. I definitely recommend wearing a hat and sunscreen regardless of the time of year, though. With the terrain being so open, the trails are exposed to the elements. Both loops are part of the Florida Trailwalker Program.

Myakka State Forest North Loop Myakka State Forest Honey Bee Boxes

Florida is known for slow-moving winding rivers that traverse the state connecting lakes and tributaries that all end up in either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. It all culminates the further south you go with the ultimate slow-moving river, the Florida Everglades. Myakka is where these two worlds meet. Life flourishes here whether it’s a prehistoric alligator or a tiny sparrow. People have thrived in Myakka for ten thousand years. In many areas the land remains the way it has been for centuries, a portal in time if you will, a gateway to the watery wilderness of the Everglades. The big waters of Myakka play as big a role as any in the survival of such a treasured place. When the floods come, it’s just the voices of the past reminding us of that. It’s definitely worth the visit.

Welcome to Snook Haven The Menu Snook Haven Live Entertainment on the Myakka River

Visit Snook Haven for a quick bite, good music and all around good time just off I-75 near Venice right on the Myakka River!

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