Take an Airboat Tour
Step aboard either the Gator Gal or the Myakka Maiden, the world’s two largest passenger airboats, for a one-hour cruise round the Upper Myakka Lake. You’ll spot plenty of gators and wading birds, and you’ll learn plenty about the ecology of the Myakka River and the surrounding swampy hammock. But don’t expect a dry biology lecture. The tour guides deliver the info with enough levity to keep things moving swiftly, even when the boat’s top speed is just 5 miles per hour. In the summer, go early to beat the heat. In the busy winter and spring, arrive early to snag a seat.
Tours depart from the concession stand area at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. from June 1 to Dec. 15, and at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 16-May 31; $14.98 for those 13 and older, $7.49 for kids ages 6-12, free for those 5 and younger.
Ride the Tram
Available in the winter and spring, the tram tour through the backwoods lasts about one hour and helps you understand the park’s flora and fauna and its history, from the early Scottish settlers to Florida Cracker culture. You’ll learn how cowhunters (don’t you dare call them “cowboys”) built lodgings out of palm fronds, made a primitive painkiller by boiling bark and crafted boots out of alligator skin.
Tours depart from the concession stand area at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 16-May 31; $14.98 for those 13 and older, $7.49 for kids ages 6-12, free for those 5 and younger.
Take a Hike
The Myakka Trail runs for 38.9 miles around the park, more than enough to satisfy even the most ardent walkers. Follow the white blazes to stay on the main trail, or cut across the park on any of the other trails and access roads that intersect with the trail. Hitting the paths allows you to see the diversity of land inside the park up close. You’ll stroll through hammocks, sandy pine flatwoods, prairies, marshes and more. Hiking in the summer can be (surprise!) very hot and wet. Some trails become impassable during rainy months. Late fall is the perfect time to begin exploring. You can stay on the trails until summer rolls around again.
Grab a detailed hiking map from the ranger station before heading out.
The park’s main drag makes for an excellent 6.1-mile paved pedal, with plenty of fun pit stops. Park at the nature trail and climb the canopy walkway, stop for a bite to eat at the concession stand and then pause at the birdwalk as you traverse the length of the park. To get away from the crowds, cycle out along dirt roads both north and south of State Road 72. Most of the paths are packed down enough to handle your two-wheeler, but watch out for sand and mud and land torn up by feral hogs. And, like much of the park, the backwoods bike paths tend to flood and grow swampy during the summer rainy season.
Bring your own bike or rent one at the concession stand for $15-$30 an hour.
Float your boat
Both the Myakka River and the park’s lakes are great destinations for kayaks and canoes. Slip one in near the concession stand and explore the upper lake, then drift downriver to the Park Drive bridge, where tourists gather to gawk at gators. Cross over to the park’s southern half to explore Deep Hole. If you’re looking for an extended adventure, connect with the ecotourism nonprofit Ecko, which offers multi-day excursions that will have you camping on private land that’s normally off limits. Experts say they’ve paddled for as many as 14 miles without seeing a single sign of human activity.
Rent a canoe or kayak at the concession stand for $20 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour. Visit eckotours.com for information on its extended paddling trips.