Initially I was petrified at the thought of being in a body of water with alligators, but then I realized I didn’t sign up for this kayak trip to see birds. If you’ve spent much time in Florida, you realize that anytime you are in a body of water there’s the chance alligators are there too.
Are gator attacks a threat?
After I saw my first alligator basking in the sun on a log I realized that alligators are not creatures to be feared, but instead should be respected. There have been plenty of alligator attacks in Florida, but these attacks are far and few compared to the number of Floridians and alligators that coexist here.
Kayaking or canoeing gives paddlers access to the state's remote areas to see nature (including alligators) close up and personal. Being in close proximity to wildlife does come with an added element of danger. But kayak and canoe attacks are rare, provided you remain watchful and cautious and give the gators plenty of distance. Once you see your first alligator and overcome that initial fear, you realize that they want absolutely nothing to do with you.
Every time we paddled too close they would submerge and swim away with a big splash. So don’t be afraid to canoe or kayak around them; it's a thrilling experience.
Kayaking Myakka River
Alligators can be found in almost any body of fresh water across Florida. Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, Florida, is one of the best places to see alligators and birds in the South. You’ll think you’re watching an episode of PBS Nature. The abundant wildlife includes deer, wild turkey and bobcats. But the main attraction here is gators. All the kayaking/canoeing guides here guarantee frequent alligator sightings.
Down the Myakka River is a mysterious 140-feet deep sinkhole called the Deep Hole. Here there are hundreds of white pelicans and alligators and dozens of black vultures all basking in the sun. It was amazing to see so many alligators in one place.
Other park options
If you prefer not to see alligators so up close, take a ride on one of the two largest covered airboats in the world around the Myakka Lake; the one-hour guided tour is narrated by a park ranger or naturalist. If you prefer to stay on land, there's a one-hour tram land tour around the park as well as a beautiful canopy walk (left) with sweeping panorama of the river basin from a 76-foot observation platform.
The Florida sun can be very strong, so be sure to wear a hat and sunglasses and protective clothing. Keep your camera in a waterproof bag when not in use. Park admission is $4 for one person and the tour is $12.
When to visit
Florida gators are more visible in January through April during the mating season, and they spent much of their time in the sun during the cooler months. Once the weather is warm, they spend most of their time underwater.