This place is a "must see" for visitors to Florida's gulf coast. Myakka River State Park is located about nine miles east of Sarasota. One of the state's largest and oldest parks, it offers excellent hiking trails through various park ecosystems--including wetlands, rare dry prairies, hammocks, and pinelands.
My family visited the park last year in early March. It was a highlight of our time together, and it's funny: We didn't know anything about this place until we researched things to do the day before our visit.
The first amazing thing I noticed was the Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium antustifolium) surrounding the parking lot. I posted about this plant in May.
The hiking trails we used were extremely well-maintained and easy to traverse. We covered only a small area, but the park includes about 39 miles of loop trails through shady Live Oak/Palm hammocks, sandy Pine flatwoods, sunny dry prairies, and marshes--all teaming with fascinating plants and wildlife.
Soon after we entered the park, we headed for the canopy walk.
Along the way, we walked through a "jungle" of Oaks and Palms.
Just as I found myself wondering what species of Palm I was seeing ...
A sign described the differences between Sabal Palms (Sabal palmetto) and Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens), both native to Florida.
I think most of these young plants I captured in photos are Sabal Palms.
This tree had a fascinating growth pattern. I wonder how this happened?
Soon, we reached the canopy walkway, suspended 25 feet above the ground and extending 100 feet through the hammock canopy.
But before you move to the next photo, I must share a personal story: I'm afraid of heights. I find it extremely difficult to climb open-air towers. Guess what? Part of the canopy walk includes climbing an open-air tower!
I don't have any photos of the climb, because I was hyperventilating and shaking most of the way up. (Here's a great video of what you can expect.)
My family encouraged me all the way ... to the pay-off ...
Jungle wilderness as far as the eye could see, in every direction! I'm so glad I didn't miss out on this!
Completed in 2000, the canopy/tower walkway was the first public treetop trail in North America. The tower extends to 74 feet above the forest floor.
No photos of the climb back down, but that was much easier (for me). Still so much more to see ...
This moss really was this bright green!
Mosses, ferns, lichens, and fungi were everywhere. I found the epiphytes particularly fascinating.
Just imagine how many life forms were living on this tree trunk!
Did you see the lizard?
Of course I had to snap a photo of this colorful mushroom. Based on quick research, I'm guessing it was a poisonous Russula emetica?
There were several benches along the trails for resting and reflecting.
And numerous wildflowers, including this Iris, which I believe is a Savanna Iris (I. hexagona var. savannarum).
And this St. John's-wort, which I think is St. Andrew's-Cross (Hypericum hypericoides).
Boardwalks stretched through the wetland portions of the trail.
Easy walking with more benches along the way ...
Warnings along the trail alerted us that alligators were present, but looking at this scene I never would have guessed danger lurked below the water's surface.
Judging from the behavior of water fowl, I never would have guessed it either.
In fact, we saw no gators until we began driving out of the park. We noticed numerous parked cars near a bridge over the river, so we stopped to check it out.
Perfectly pastoral, safe, and innocent, right?
But, did you see this? Fortunately, I had my optical zoom camera with me ...
Turns out, I didn't need the telephoto: The gators were all around us in the water and under the bridge!
They sure blended in to the water's color and its rippled surface.
I don't recall seeing gators in the wild before: Just one of many reasons our trip to Myakka River State Park was incredible. And I want to go back!