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Hike Florida’s Prairie On The Myakka Trail

Hike the Myakka Trail for a glimpse of the Sunshine State's wild and grassy past.

Expedition Planner: Myakka River State park, FL

DRIVE TIME: Myakka River State Park is

1 1/2 hours (70 miles) south of Tampa and

2 1/2 hours (130 miles) from Orlando.

THE WAY: From Tampa, take I-75 south for

60 miles to Sarasota and exit 37 (Clark Road). Head east on Clark Road (FL 72) for 9 miles to Myakka River State Park.

TRAILS: The Myakka Trail makes a 39-mile circuit, with numerous shorter loop options available. Combine backpacking and paddling by canoeing the Myakka River between the Lower and Upper Myakka Lakes. A backcountry fee of $3 per night for adults and $2 per night for children under 18 is required for camping (see Contact below).

DAYHIKE: For a good sampling of hammock and prairie ecosystems, start at the main trailhead near Upper Myakka Lake and hike the 6-mile Bee Island Loop around the Mossy Hammock campsite (return on Fox High Road, a dirt track closed to vehicles).

ELEVATION: The elevation imperceptibly shifts from a high of 40 feet atop the prairie down to about 25 feet near Upper Myakka Lake.

CAN’T MISS: Walking the sharp ecological border where the lush Deer Prairie Slough meets the dry, open prairie.

CROWD CONTROL: Winter is the best time to hike here (November to January); you’ll share a backcountry campsite with others only on weekends. Spring is more crowded; secure reservations for backcountry campsites at least a week in advance.

GUIDES: A free, comprehensive trail map is available at the park ranger station (see Contact below). A Hiking Guide to the Trails of Florida, by Elizabeth F. Carter (Menasha Ridge Press, 800-247-9437; www.backpacker.com/bookstore

; $12.95).

WALK SOFTLY: Campfires are permitted, but should be avoided, as the prairie is usually tinder-dry in winter. The Myakka River is home to the endangered wood stork. Admire wildlife from a distance and don’t disturb nests.

CONTACT: Myakka River State Park, (941) 361-6511; www.myakka.sarasota.fl.us

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