By Jake Stachovak
Myakka River State Park is situated about 20 miles from the coast and wasn't officially on my route. However, an opportunity during a break from my journey brought me there and up-close to literally hundreds of alligators. If you do go, be sure to arrive early and get a permit to paddle the Wilderness Preserve (south of Highway 72) where the big ones live. The "Big Hole" (where we saw more than 30 gators on one beach) is a must-see.
Beta: Put in at the first bridge past the park entrance and head downstream into the Myakka River Wilderness Preserve and Lower Myakka Lake. Permits (available from the ranger station) are required to paddle in the preserve. Camping is available at the park. Permits and camp spots are limited, so reserve yours early.
Don't forget: The gators are more afraid of you than you are of them ... right?
Afterward: Check out the 85-foot-long, 25-foot-high canopy walkway located in the park.
Ed Note: In 2009 and 2010, Jake Stachovak paddled around the eastern half of the United States. These are some of his favorite stops along the way.
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