Myakka River State Park

Wildlife Reserve in Southwest Gulf Coast

Image by Education Images UIG via Getty Images

Florida's oldest resident – the 200-million-year-old American alligator – is the star of this 39,000-acre wildlife preserve. Between 500 and 1000 alligators make their home in Myakka's slow-moving river and its shallow, lily-filled lakes. You can get up close and personal via canoe, kayak and pontoon-style airboat. During mating season in April and May, the guttural love songs of the males ring out across the waters.

The extensive park offers much more besides: its hammocks, marshes, pine flatwoods and prairies are home to a great variety of birds and wildlife, and 38 miles of trails crisscross the terrain. In winter, airboat trips (adult/child $15/7.50) depart at 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm; call for summer times. Winter-only wildlife trams run at 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm and cost the same.

Camping (sites $27.12) is prime during dry season, from January to April; avoid rainy, buggy summer. The five cabins (per night $70) have kitchens, air-con and linens. Book through www.reserveamerica.com.

To reach the park from Sarasota, take US 41 south to Hwy 72/Clark Rd and head east for about 14 miles; the park is about 9 miles east of I-75.

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