Myakka River State Park in Sarasota is popular for its vast open land and abundant wildlife–including an estimated 4,000 alligators that call it home.
While there’s lots to do at Myakka River State Park, photography is one activity that lures shutterbugs from around the world. In fact, photographer Clyde Butcher began to take his famous black and white photos at Myakka River State Park just a few years ago. His time in Myakka contrasted and complemented the oodles of pics he’s taken down in the Everglades. (Fun fact: He now has a darkroom, gallery, and studio in nearby Venice.)
As Myakka River State Park is so large–58 square miles with more than 39 miles of hiking trails–you may wonder where are some particularly key spots if you want to get great photos, including those of its famous gators (at a safe distance, of course). Here’s where our guide below comes in handy.
Our list is by no means exhaustive. We’ve been to Myakka River State Park many times, but we haven’t explored its more remote trails nor have we camped there. Feel free to comment and add additional areas at the park that you think are perfect for your pics, whether you use a smartphone or a fancy-schmancy camera (we use both).
Using the main entrance at Myakka Park off of SR72, you’ve got about a four-mile drive toward the concession area and Myakka River. About halfway there is a bridge that overlooks a wide swatch of water where you can literally see dozens of gators at once. On some days, you may visit and see a handful of gators resting in the water or gently gliding. On others, you hit the jackpot and will see many gators in all states of activity. We recently caught one large gator bellowing (a loud, scary sound) before getting a smaller gator in front of it to move. We also saw another gator who literally travelled with an island–a somewhat small patch of land that was on top of its body. (Visit our Instagram page, @Florida_Culture, for videos of these encounters.)
Part of the fun at the bridge area is people watching, especially for those visiting from out of town who are seeing alligators for the first time. Just be smart and don’t head down below the bridge! It’s a sure way to tempt fate and you’re not guaranteed solid ground to escape quickly from these apex predators.
There’s a quieter, small turn-off on the left past the bridge area called Fisherman’s Loop that can be terrific for photos, whether it’s looking out onto the open fields, watching the trees, or scouting for gators in the creek. We’d almost say it’s a secret area but we recently have seen more people there–so, not really a secret but best enjoyed early before more people come. As the name implies, Fisherman’s Loop has a small loop-shaped parking lot, a picnic table, some benches, and some walking trails. Every time we’ve gone, we’ve seen gators. We also recently saw a family of wild hogs, including babies, in the woods. Watch the water and you’ll notice a gator hanging out in the water under some large tree branches. You’ll also see them glide by in the water and then stop and rest. You can see all this from a slightly elevated vantage point as you look down at the creek.
Fisherman’s Loop is enjoyable as it’s quiet and more intimate than the bridge area, but again Use your telephoto lens or zoom, and keep a safe distance. Although gators aren’t actively looking to attack–they’re actually quite shy–you don’t want to risk taking extra steps and falling in the water.
Myakka River and Concession Area
After driving the four miles into the park to where it meets Myakka River, you’ve got several choices on what to do next, all of which offer some great potential pictures. Spend time right on the edge of Myakka River, and you’ll likely get some terrific bird shots. The birdwatching folks we’ve seen there can fill you in on what’s hanging out. If it’s in operation, the Myakka River Boat Tour will give you a few right on the water. (As of April 2023, the water levels were low so the boat tour wasn’t operational.) There are often alligators that hang out in the water, near where the boats dock. You can also take a tram for an interior view of the park; call in advance or look online to find out its hours.
From the area beside Myakka River, you can venture off into the woods onto some trails where you’ll find wildflowers and gators sunning themselves in the water and on land that’s on the other side of where you’re walking. Watch out for dragonflies, honeybees, and more.
And perhaps it’s not photo worthy, but a stop at the gift shop never hurts. The restrooms also are located there as are kayak and bike rentals.
After getting damaged by Hurricane Ian in September 2022, Myakka River State Park reopened the birdwalk boardwalk in April/May 2023. The birdwalk takes you closer to Myakka River so you can watch the birds and other wildlife.
As you walk along the peaceful boardwalk/birdwalk, you’ll also find a picture from the park of the different types of birds you can find in the park, like ibises, herons, and many more. Here’s more info from the park about the birdwalk.
Plus, there’s a small walking trail adjacent to the boardwalk that will take you toward the river, where you still might get some good pictures. FYI, we’ve found that Friends of Myakka River, either on its website or on social media, has done a great job of updating everyone on the state of the park during its hurricane restoration.
The Canopy Walkway
Myakka River State Park has a famous canopy walkway that gives you a bird’s eye view of the land around it. It’s a popular attraction and definitely worth the five-minute or so walk from the road once you park. You’ll see some cool angles for pics when you’re there. The Canopy itself also was damaged during Hurricane Ian and hasn’t yet reopened. However, the trails around it are open. We hope the Canopy is fixed and reopens soon.
The Open Fields
There’s a time period in the spring, usually in or around May, when Myakka’s open fields are filled with brightly colored flowers. We’ve seen people do photo shoots in the fields of themselves or with their kids or dogs. Whether you’re looking for a selfie spot or just nature shots, seeing the fields of flowers are definitely worth it. Just check in advance to make sure they are in bloom. Even if they’re not, Myakka’s open fields are still interesting. We spotted a group of wild turkeys in the same spot during our past two visits and got a few shots.
Deep Hole is a permit-only area of Myakka River State Park that allows up to 30 visitors a day. Show up at the park first thing in the morning to get a permit. It’s about a two-mile walk to get to Deep Hole, so plan accordingly with your water, sunscreen, bug spray, and camera equipment. The walk there may remind you of views from Africa, with open savana-like areas. Deep Hole itself is an area filled with alligators, which is why it attracts committed visitors. Be ready with good walking shoes and use a good telephoto lens instead of getting too close. Here’s a video from Sarah’s Outdoor Adventures with more info on Deep Hole and getting the permit.
Some Final Tips for a Great Visit to Myakka River State Park
–-If you have something specific you want to do, call the park in advance to make sure it’s open. As you may have guessed, many activities in the park are weather-dependent or may still be recovering from Hurricane Ian. You may or may not find the info you seek on the main website for the park, which is why we advise calling.
—Remember that you’re not at a theme park and those aren’t animatronic gators. The alligators at Myakka are very real. When you go to Myakka, you’re visiting their home so act accordingly. Keep a safe distance and leave them alone. We’re not trying to nag but there has been an increase in gator attacks in the past year or so as more people move to Florida and may not know how to give them the respect and distance they deserve. As the park brochure says, “Do not approach, tease, frighten, touch or feed”…and that applies to all wildlife there.
—Keep pets on a six-foot, handheld leash–or leave them at home. Your favorite Fido is allowed in limited areas of the park, with good reason due to all of the wildlife there.
—Have a little bit of money handy (or your card). If you’re traveling there alone by car, it’s a $4 entry fee; $6 if you’re with a car full of people. You can also pay your admission fee in advance online. The tram and the boat rides each cost $22 each for adults and $12 for kids.
–-Visit at different times of the year. Due to changing weather, you could get a completely different experience. That can make for some great variations in the photos you take.
—Plan to use the main gate off of SR72. There’s a north gate that’s only open 8 am to 5 pm on the weekend and during state holidays.
For more info on the wonders of Myakka River State Parks, here are some links to our previous stories:
Let us know in the comment section if you have other photo-worth places in the park you like to visit.
Wildflower at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota.