Today we went to Myakka River State Park in Sarasota to see the real Florida, away from ballparks and retirement communities. At $6 a car, it is what my grandfather calls “a good take.”  My family loves the great outdoors, a good deal, and the chance to learn something. State and  National Parks are at the intersection of these, so we go to them as often as we can.  This is a great place to get away from the theme parks and strip malls that Florida is usually associated with for vacationers.

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We took a ride on one of the world’s two largest airboats throughout the park, which features 12 miles of river. The guide took us to various spots where gators are known to hang out, and he did not disappoint. It was the middle of the day so most of the alligators were sunning themselves, but we also got to see a few in the water. It’s always so hard to imagine how animals camouflage themselves until I see it in action in the wild. I know there are a lot of places to go see alligators in Florida, but I prefer to see animals in their natural habitats and to support organizations that protect the animals and their habitats. We were also able to get incredibly close, and once the airboat cut its engine we floated up quite close to the alligators without bothering them. At $12 a pop for adults, we found the hour-long ride throughout Myakka River State Park to be very educational and well worth the money–definitely a highlight of our stay. Two boats operate daily at frequent intervals, and we never saw anyone have to wait long for a ride.

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There were no kids in my party, but the kids on the boat (and all the ones we saw throughout the park) were having a great time. Just be sure to keep an eye on children and small animals, especially if you go over to see alligators on foot. Also be aware, as always, of your trash. That’s always important everywhere, but it can cause serious problems for the alligators and for you.

Afterwards, we climbed up to the canopy tower and walkway up above the canopy of the palm trees, which was amazing.  It shook and rattled in the wind a bit, but it was great to get way up above the palm trees and see across the whole great damn flat state.  I’m fairly certain I saw Georgia.  It was also a great way to get up out of the heat.

myakka-river-state-park-orlando-florida-alligatorsThe view from the walkway

Over the course of the day, we managed to see about fifteen alligators and more buzzards than we could count.  Speaking of buzzards, they get a bum wrap.  Apparently, they aren’t flying in circles around carcasses.  They’re going in circles because of the columns of thermal air.  They fly around for hours and hours for the sheer joy of it, which is something I can get behind.

myakka-river-state-park-orlando-florida-alligatorsLooking down on the palm trees from the canopy walkway.

There are plenty of picnic tables in Myakka River State Park, so we packed a lunch ahead of time and ate in the sunshine. This was another way to keep our costs down, and it was great to enjoy the beautiful weather. If you forget to bring something to eat, you can check out the Pink Gator Cafe for all manner of alligator-based meals. Don’t worry, they also have an assortment of sandwiches and standard pub fare. They’ve since added an assortment of local and craft beer.

Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to eat some alligator jerky, along with my brother.  It’s not something I ever sought out, but I’m glad I tried it–that’s one more unusual food on the list! Like many so-called exotic foods, it’s pretty bland and tastes like whatever sauce you put it in. I opted for the barbecue flavor. I would eat it again, but it’s a bit too forgettable to ever have a craving or go out of my way to eat it.

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There was plenty more to do if you wanted to make a longer day of it, including hiking trails, canoeing or kayaking, cycling, and a tram “safari” of the backcountry section of the park. There are bikes and boats available to rent, and souvenirs and limited camping supplies available for purchase. There are also cabins and campsites available on the grounds. If you’re coming by for a visit, I recommend looking on the National Park website to check weather conditions.

Myakka River State Park is a great place to spend a day with the family in Sarasota, Florida. We had a fun day for a very low cost, away from the crowds. Have you ever been? What’s your favorite state or national park in Florida?

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