Myakka River State Park is located not far from the well-known tourist centers on the Gulf of Mexico about 100 km southwest of Orlando. The park offers tourist activities such as canoe rentals and airboat rides on Myakka Lake as well as about 65 km of hiking trails through nature. These can be explored in day or multi-day tours. For overnight trips in the backcountry of the Myakka River State Park there are 6 so-called “primitive campgrounds” available, which can be booked at the Visitor Center (approx. 3 EUR per person/night).

Prarie Trail
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On our 1 1/2 day hike of about 25 km we met only one ranger and two birders, while at some sights near the road it was almost impossible to find a parking place.

We start our tour in the afternoon. Our overnight destination is Honore Campground, which is only about 8 km away. First we drive on a wide sandy path through old oak forests, which have a fascinating hanging of air carnations and mosses. These “beards” give the forest a mystical – even an eerie flair.

After a mile we come to the trail proper. This well-marked, mostly sandy trail leads through fields of small, young palms and pink flowering shrubs that stretch for miles – the so-called Florida Dry Prairie. These areas are repeatedly interrupted by palm groves through which the trail winds. The whole thing is accompanied by the constant rustling of the undergrowth and the intense chirping of birds.

The place we have chosen for this night is located in one of these palm groves. We find three campsites, about 20 meters away from each other, each with its own fireplace. There is also a water pump at the entrance to the site. The water, a brown broth, is only drinkable after filtering or boiling.

On one of the campsites we pitch our tent under a dense palm canopy. Already on the way here we met no soul and also on the place we are alone. After the tent stands and the coffee is cooked, the Sunshine State shows itself from its other side. A thunderstorm comes up – the whole night the rain pelts on our tent roof and thunder and lightning accompanies us through the night.

The next morning the thickest clouds have cleared and we can take down our tent in the dry. Unfortunately the sun does not shine from the sky yet.

After the first kilometers on this day through a lush vegetation it changes abruptly. A kilometer long firebreak lies in front of us. There was a fire here not long ago. The ground is littered with black, charred trunks from which, however, fresh, green palm tree shoots are already peeking out everywhere. Now we understand why we had to register at the Visitor Center and commit ourselves to one of the 6 overnight campsites! So the rangers can come to help in case of a fire.

But as we learn later, this fire was an intentional and controlled fire, which is to preserve the natural character of the “Florida Dry Prairie” we are hiking through here. After many decades of strict fire management, it had to be recognized that this was having a fatal effect on the prairie. Fires are part of the natural cycle of this habitat. Only after the park authorities recognized this and started regularly controlled fires, the prairie recovered.

After a few miles over this still largely “bare area” we pass through a dense and intensely fragrant pine forest. Here we meet Chris, a young ranger, who drives down the trails with a quad and looks after the right. Chris tells us that he is also a passionate hiker and gives us some valuable tips for further tours. After our interesting conversation, Chris explicitly apologizes for disturbing our peace and quiet on our hike and heads back on his way.

After about 17 km on this day, we are back at our starting point. Although the sun had been hiding in the overcast sky for most of the day, we got a sunburn. At this latitude, one should not underestimate the sun even when it is not visible at all – such a stupid rookie mistake….

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