Dashcam video – Departing (Coming Soon)
Dates of Stay:
March 31 arrival, April 4, 2015 departure
January 6 arrival, January 12, 2016 departure
Located in Sarasota in North Central Florida, Myakka River State Park is one of the oldest and largest state parks protecting one of the state´s most diverse natural areas along the Myakka River flowing through 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands.
Visitors can enjoy wildlife viewing from a boardwalk that stretches out over the Upper Myakka Lake, then take to the treetops with a stroll along the canopy walkway. The park´s river and two lakes provide ample opportunities for boating, freshwater fishing, canoeing, and kayaking; a boat ramp provides access to Upper Myakka Lake. Hikers can explore trails that cross large expanses of rare Florida dry prairie. Scenic lake tours are offered daily on the world´s two largest airboats. Safari tram tours of the park´s backcountry are offered from mid-December through May. Five palm log cabins, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, have been modernized for comfortable lodging. Located nine miles east of Sarasota on State Road 72.
There are three campgrounds in the park, Old Prairie, Big Flats and Palmetto Ridge for a total of 77 RV sites, 4 tent sites and 5 cabins. Big Flats and Old Prairie have back-in dirt sites offering electricity (50 amp) and water and can only accommodate tents or campers up to 35 feet in length. The newer Palmetto Ridge loop has 38 reservable full hookup sites with sewer, including back-in and pull thru gravel sites which can accommodate big rigs. Note that the remainder of our review here is focused entirely on Palmetto Ridge and the attractions in the park, we did not explore the other two campgrounds.
$26 per night for any of the campsites and $70 per night for the cabins. Florida residents over 65 get a 50% discount on the campsites. The fee to cancel a reservation is $17.75
Overall Impression – 4.5/5
Nice! Lots to do! Nature is very much part of the experience here, even in the campgrounds, but the park is huge and there are many remote areas to explore. Kayaking, boating, fishing, biking, hiking, etc. Numerous trails and other attractions like the canopy suspension bridge and its 76 foot tall observation tower.
Elsewhere in the park the well run “concessions” include a gift shop, restaurant, airboat rides and tram tours. As it is just 20 minutes from Sarasota, this popular park also attracts LOTS of non-camping visitors, so outside of the campgrounds expect some crowds. Also expect family oriented campers especially on the weekends.
Sites (Ratings Apply to Palmetto Ridge Loop Only):
Size – 4/5
Three campgrounds here, Palmetto Ridge, Old Prairie and Big Flats. There are a handful of sites in the Big Flats and Old Prairie loops that can handle up to a 35′ rig but most in those loops are for 30′ rigs and under. Palmetto Ridge is the only loop with sewer and the only loop suitable for rigs 36′ and over. There are 42 sites in Palmetto Ridge; 10 pull thru, 30 back in and 2 pull-in (for motorhomes only). All sites there are listed to handle at least a 40 ‘ rig and the ten pull thru sites can accommodate a 45′ rig with ease. However, despite the 40′ “max length” listed on Reserve America, several of the back-ins are also plenty long for rigs greater than 40’.
Each site has a picnic table, a fire ring and a grill with a grate.
Privacy – 4/5
Lots of foliage between most of the sites so pretty good privacy with a few exceptions such as the ADA sites. In regard to sites we have occupied, pull-thru site #56 has decent privacy on both sides, back-in site #80 has very little screening between the living area and the neighboring site #81. ADA site #63 has good privacy on the living side but is in full view of the bathhouse on the drivers side. Those are minor points though, all those sites were just fine with us!
Amenities – 4/5
All back-in and pull thru gravel sites in the Palmetto Ridge campground loop have full hook-ups (water, 30/50 amp electrical and sewer), a bath house (very clean btw), laundry facilities and a dump station. Within the park, there is a Visitor Center, biking, hiking, nature trails, airboat and tram tours, an outpost with general supplies, concession and restaurant, the Pink Gator Cafe, a Gift Shop and the Canopy Walkway and Interpretive Exhibit.
Convenience – 4/5
Located close to Sarasota (~9 miles) where there are restaurants, retail/grocery stores, medical facilities and any other service that you need.
Physical Surroundings – 5/5
Beautiful park, totally surrounded by nature and a good deal of it can be experienced by driving along the seven miles of paved road which wind through shady hammocks, grassy marshes and the Upper Lake shore. The North Drive often has less traffic than the main Park Drive because everyone heads to the air-boat tours.
Maneuverability and Roads – 4/5
Roads were fairly wide, paved and generally easy to maneuver. While the entrance to the park at SR72 is fine, the exit is somewhat narrow and forces you to brush up against some foliage slightly on the way out. Also, when leaving Palmetto Ridge sites 49-61 you have the option of using the exit “shortcut” opposite site #89 – big rigs might find this left turn to be tight due to the dumpster across the way (we made it, but barely), instead we suggest just following the rest of the loop all the way around to avoid that sharp left turn.
Peace & Quiet – 5/5
With 37,000 acres of state park surrounding the campground, it is generally very quiet. There are some hiking trails that parallel Hwy 72 that are less peaceful. Even though there can be a lot of non-camper traffic along the paved roads within the park, we didn’t notice any traffic noise at Palmetto Ridge campground.
Utilities – 4/5
- Sewer – Only available in the Palmetto Ridge Loop. No screw-in fitting. On site #56, the sewer cap was a massive concrete block a foot or more above ground level and far to the rear of the site so there was no chance for a down sloping sewer hose connection. Same situation for sites #80 and #63. A gas rig or 5th wheel might fare better.
- Satellite – depends on the site, mostly good but likely to be marginal on the wooded sites around the perimeter. From site #56 we had no problems hitting the DISH Network Western Arc (110/119/129) . From site #80 we could hit 110 and 119 in the DISH Western Arc plus 61.5 in the Eastern Arc. From site #63 we were able to easily find 110/119/129. For best DISH coverage throughout the FL peninsula we recommend using a Spot Beam in the Tampa or Orlando DMA’s (Designated market Area’s). Sites we identified that are more likely to have satellite view issues are 49, 50, 53, 58, 72-85, 89, 90.
- WiFi – none
- Cellular signal – Marginal to non-existent Verizon. With booster (Wilson Sleek), we eeked out 2-3 bars of 4G LTE on the MiFi. Data performance fluctuated from very good to very poor on a few occasions despite consistent signal strength indicating a congested Verizon uplink or tower. Verizon signal without booster (on our smartphones) fluctuated from 1 bar 1x to 1 bar 3G and sometimes no service at all, particularly inside the coach and out on some of the trails.
- Over-the-Air (OTA) TV – We were able to lock in to all major network stations.
- Power – 50A/30A on most sites in the Palmetto Ridge Loop with approximately 118 voltage on both 50A legs. Sometime during our stay we experienced an open ground as reported by our Progressive EMS which detected the error and shutdown the power. It must have been a brief event as we never noticed any additional evidence of a shutdown.
- Water Pressure/Quality – Good pressure at 42psi, moderately hard, strong Florida “swampwater” odor but tasted fine with no noticeable turbidity or discoloration.
The river, lakes and marshes here are completely rain fed so rise and fall with the weather. Therefore, it is not advised to visit this park in the summer. When the summer rains start much of the park can flood and it gets very hot and buggy. During the dry winter weather patterns, the water levels are greatly reduced, the park is much more pleasant and many more critters are visible as they congregate near the shrinking water sources.
The air boats here are massive 40+ passenger rigs with a whopping top speed of 6 or 7 mph (woohoo!), but provide a mostly pleasant and informative experience. The ticket office opens at 9AM (the park opens at 8AM) and we suggest getting there before 9AM to snag a ticket for the 10AM sailing. While we were there the 10AM sailing was sold out just a few minutes after 9AM. After acquiring a ticket, we also advise arriving at the waiting/booarding area at least 30 minutes early to increase the prospects of getting one of the better seats. During the air boat tour the captain/narrator was very knowledgeable about the wildlife but the primary focus seemed to be finding some big gators to look at, which is generally what all the visitors on vacation were most interested in seeing.
The tram tour is a pickup truck towed tram affair that winds thru some of the backcountry describing the flora, fauna, ecology and history. A bit scripted, our tour driver/narrator was not quite as lively as the air boat narrator but was nevertheless very informative and enjoyable.
Boat tickets are $12/person and the same for the Tram tour. If you choose both you get the second for half price, so $18/person for both. If you only have time for one, we found the air boat ride slightly more enjoyable (also cooler and less buggy). If you only take one of the two rides, you will receive a ticket that entitles you to a half price discount on either ride if you return sometime within a year.
The suspension bridge is another must see in this park. A 25′ tower with stairs takes you up to treetop level, from there the 85′ suspension bridge spans over to another 76′ tall tower that takes you well above the canopy for some awesome views. Yes the bridge sways and bounces a bit but is well protected and easy to navigate – as long as you can climb stairs you can do this attraction. We strongly recommend going first thing in the morning, ideally at first light or before 8, but definitely before 9 when most other people are still heading for the air boat ticket booth. If you are camping here it should be easy to get here before any outside visitors.
Deep Hole, on the south (opposite) side of SR72, is an ancient sink hole with unique characteristics. It’s a 2.2 mile hiking trek each way and requires a permit. We went during our Jan 2016 visit and the water level had not yet dropped enough to see the sinkhole. However, we were told that was unusual for the time of year as it is usually dryer. Pleasant hike nonetheless.
What We Liked
– Beautiful park, unique and fun features, very clean and well maintained
– Lots to do
– Decent sized and mostly private sites
What We Didn’t Like
– Crowds of non-camping visitors during our April 2015 visit, but much quieter during Jan 2016 visit.