Kayaking Florida – Myakka River State Park

Kayaking Myakka River State Park

Last fall I decided to pack up the kayak and spend a weekend camping in Myakka River State Park. I remember spending a few Easters up there with the family and figured I would see how things have changed in the past 20 years since I last visited.

Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. The “Florida Wild and Scenic Myakka River” flows through 57 square miles of wetlands, prairies and woodlands. In addition to the river and its lakes there are a multitude of other attractions in this park.

After I set up camp, next to a couple of rednecks drinking rum-n-cokes and blasting AC/DC, I quickly set off to hit some of hiking trails and see the park’s famous Canopy Walkway.

Old rickety bridges cross through a few marshy rivers.

I like my boardwalks with a bit of nature creeping in.

Nothing like some super mossy old oak trees.

Making it up to the Canopy Walkway was easy. Since it is a suspension walk, there’s a weight restriction. I think nothing more than 8 people at a time. The walk itself is surprisingly short. 85 feet to be exact.  The main problem is when you are half way across and there is a herd of tourists behind you all piling onto the walk, totally disregarding the restrictions.

I did manage to get a shot down to the floor for perspective. But honestly, it is a bit boring. I am sure it’s a lot more exciting for the scientists who use it for the research it was intended for.

Thankfully there is a 74 foot tower on the other side. Climbing up its extremely narrow staircase was a lot more exciting. In the shot above, you can actually see the walk through the canopy.

Here is a part of the river.

And a panoramic of the river.

Climbing back down the tower was a lot of fun as well. Perhaps that was because the top of the tower was beginning to overflow with tourists. The same tourists who had no disregards for restrictions on the suspension bridge. Personally I did not feel like being involved with the crumbling of a 74 foot tall tower, with me at the peak.

A shot of the Canopy Walk through the wood planks.

After the exciting tower experience it was time to hit the water. On my first day out, I decided to tackle the North portion of the river which included Upper Myakka Lake.

All of the water lilies were covered in black flies. The only way to get them off was to dunk the flower in water a few times and take a quick shot before they returned. Dunking the lily and navigating the kayak in high-wind was quite the chore. I think I only got a copy shots in focus.

These Egrets wanted nothing to do with a giant yellow kayak. 50 yards was about as close as I could get.

However, the Great Blue Heron could care less and went on fishing.

Where the lake meets the river, there is a small cement dam. Along this dam, there is a part where the river flows through, but it’s obstructed and covered with alligators. I really wanted to cross over, so I decided to kayak up along side the dam, hop out, and drag my kayak over the dam as quickly as I could. The whole thing would have been a lot less stressful if it wasn’t for the crowd of people on a nearby observation dock making comments on how crazy it would be if I got out of the kayak and hopped the dam. I did just that and felt like a boss. Hah.

After the dam, the river becomes very narrow. At some points the soft grass is touching on both sides of the kayak.

As I made my way down through the tight river trail, grasshoppers and birds would burst from their perches in an attempt to escape from my passing. The best was when I would scare small alligators, only about 4 feet in length, which were also hidden in the tall grass. I wouldn’t see them and they wouldn’t see me. Well not until I was right along side of them. They would then explode in a panic and find any means to get into the water. Thankfully they never ended up in my kayak with me, and thankfully I didn’t suffer from a heart attack.

After the grassy trail, the river started to open back up a bit.

That’s when I saw this monster sitting on the shore. It’s a bit hard to tell, but he/she looks to be about 10 feet or more.  I couldn’t get much closer until it decided to jump into the water with me. That’s when I decided to continue on, rather quickly. I did look back a few times and expected to see this massive gator head trailing me. Fortunately, I was just over thinking things.

I could only make it down the river about a quarter of a mile further, before things closed off all together. Before turning around, I decided to take a break and had my lunch up on dry land. As I was finishing my lunch, a family of five pulled up in their truck to do some fishing. Three little boys grabbed their chairs and fishing poles and ran down to the bank to set up camp. As I was shoving off I told the parents about the gator I just saw, and to keep a close eye on their kids. The Mom thanked me and screamed at her kids to get away from the water. I laughed to myself, but in reality, who knows how many other +10 foot gators are lurking about just under the murky surface waiting for someone to get just a bit too close.

It took me a little bit of time. But I made my way back to the boat ramp and got everything cleaned up in time for sunset. I figured I would check on the tent and then see what this bird walk was all about.

The setting sun against the palms.

The bird walk stretches about through a marshy section of the lake. This is a look back about half way.

You can get a better idea of the marsh looking North.

I was all alone for the sunset over the lake. Well alone if you didn’t count the random dragonfly sized wasps that were flying about. Thankfully as the sun started to set, the wasps went back to their homes.

After the sun had set, I went back to my camp and hid inside of my tent. I was actually worn out from all the kayaking and didn’t want to stay up all night drinking with the rednecks. It’s a good thing I always carry a pair of ear plugs with me in my car.

The next morning I put in at the south river access point. This part of the river goes into a preserve so you have to register at the station and only a restricted number of people are granted access per day. I think I was the only one so far.

The rising sun was throwing some beautiful colors on the shore line.

That’s my feet! right before it was time for some sunblock.

This part of the river is really beautiful. Palms and oaks line the bank and clumps of moss dangle down towards the waters edge.

Even though there were storm clouds brewing, this is probably my favorite shot from the trip. A lot of overcast sky, but there were pockets of sunrise illuminating the shoreline in its warm glow.

As you can see the storm clouds were starting to get a bit thick.

And then I made it out onto the lake. I looked over and there were some wild hogs rooting along the marshy banks.

I caught this white egret fishing for frogs or minnows.

However he didn’t want to stick around with me so close by.

After that the rain started to catch up with me and it was time to head back to camp. Everything became rather dark and overcast so there was no real need for photos.

If you only have one day to explore the river, I definitely recommend doing the south access point. The views along the way are breath taking and the river really changes up from forest to marsh to lake. Just make sure you get there early enough so you can make it past the access restriction.

Here is a handy little satellite shot of my kayaking. each day is a different color.

Map of Myakka River State Park

I hope you enjoyed this! I will be posting some select black and white shots from the trip in a separate article.


  • Lisa Thorell says:

    Wow! So happy to fine your fine website and this splendid post. Truly fab pics and just the information i was looking for for our foray into the Myakka this weekend. (I’ll check around on this website to see what camera you use…)

    Before i go, I do think i am going to do a bit of research on alligator behavior based on your description of their quantity. 😉

    oh- and the coolest thing is i believe i can see you have a sit-on-top kayak as do we. Therefore this seems possible. Thanks for the tip on turning the paddle to decrease wind resistance too- will try that!

    PS We just did the Ocklawaha River last weekend – pristine beauty and 70-100 ft old forest trees, quite unusual for Florida.

  • sandrine says:

    thanks so much for all the pics and explanation. I can prepare my canoe trip there now!

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