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people canoeing in state park near sarasota floridaThe city of Sarasota, located south of Tampa on the gulf coast of Florida, is home to a variety of cultural attractions including musical, theatre, dance, and other performing arts venues.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is well known for its fine collection of both modern art and also works by old masters. And the city’s Sarasota Film Festival attracts independent films and their fans every year from around the world.

Sarasota is also well known as a hub for fantastic fine sand beaches around shallow waters. Siesta Key Beach, Lido Beach, and Caspersen Beach are three of the best, giving visitors the chance to relax in the sun, frolic in the surf, or view some of the areas wildlife.

With all of these cultural attractions and gorgeous beaches to keep you busy, why would you even consider exploring further?

The answer is that Sarasota is close to several state parks that offer amazing views of Florida’s landscape and wildlife. And the good news is that five of them are all within an hour and a half or less by car from Sarasota.

Map of State Parks Near Sarasota FL

Here is a map of the Florida state parks covered in this post:

List of State Parks Near Sarasota

Here are each of those state parks with distance from Sarasota and what is special about each.

1. Lake Manatee State Park

Location: 20007 FL-64, Bradenton, FL 34212

Lake Manatee State Park is located 25 miles northeast of Sarasota, putting it in easy driving distance of the city. It is open 365 days per year, and only charges $5 per carload for admission, so it is perfect for an inexpensive day’s entertainment.

As the name suggests, this park is centered around beautiful Lake Manatee, which offers excellent opportunities for swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. However, boaters should note that motors are limited to 20 horsepower or less.

The fishing at Lake Manatee is excellent, with anglers regularly catching bass (both largemouth and sunshine), bluegill, catfish, shellcracker, and also speckled perch. Fishing can be done either from boats or from one of the park’s fishing docks.

Lake Manatee State Park is also great for bicyclers, offering both a 2.5 mile paved trail as well as 2.34 miles of off-road paths. These off-road trails provide a variety of terrain, depending on your desired level of adventure. They are excellent places to see native wildlife, take in beautiful views of the lake, and see Florida wildflowers in full bloom.

Camping is also available at this park, with 60 campsites within easy walking distance of the beaches and fishing spots. Water hookups and 30-amp electrical connections are available at every campsite, meaning you can bring your RV and stay in style.

2. Beker – Wingate Creek State Park

Location: 38620 East, FL-64, Myakka City, FL 34251

This 614-acre park is located approximately 34 miles northeast of Sarasota. It is centered around the convergence of Wingate Creek and Johnson Creek, which join together inside the park and form a larger tributary flowing into the upper part of the Myakka River.

Beker – Wingate Creek is a simple park that is open daily from 8am until sundown. There are no fees to enter, so visitors are free to explore the landscape and the wildlife that lives there. There are also no facilities within the park, so it is best suited for those explorers interested in hiking, biking, bird watching, and observing nature.

Some of the critters you are likely to encounter at this rustic park are the gopher tortoise, the eastern coachwhip (a non-venomous snake that is not dangerous to people or pets), Sherman’s fox squirrels, and white-tailed deer. Birding enthusiasts regularly spot the great-horned owl, red-tailed hawks, and the wily wild turkey.

Flower lovers will be particularly interested in this park, as it is maintained using prescribed fire. That leads to a beautiful fall collection of wildflowers, including terrestrial orchids, blazing stars, Florida paintbrush, and pine lilies.

3. Myakka River State Park

Location: 13208 State Rd 72, Sarasota, FL 34241

Myakka River State Park is located about 19 miles southeast of Sarasota, and is one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. The river offers visitors beautiful scenic views, as well as boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing in its waters.

For those wanting to see more of the water, the park offers flat-bottomed boat tours of the Upper Myakka Lake. Tours are 45-minutes to an hour long, and cost $20 per person. But they are well worth it if you’d like to learn more about the park, see wildlife up close and personal, and get some excellent photo opportunities.

Birding is a popular activity at Myakka park. At over 37,000 acres in size, there is ample habitat for a huge variety of bird species. Birdwatching enthusiasts will find ducks and migratory birds, as well as wading birds, songbirds, and even raptors.

Myakka offers exceptional hiking opportunities for those looking to escape the everyday on foot. The Myakka Trail is maintained by the Florida Trail Association, and offers an impressive hiking loop that is almost 39 miles long. A number of backcountry roads cut back and forth across the trail system, which lets hikers shorten or extend their excursions.

There are extensive camping opportunities at Myakka, with three campgrounds that have 90 campsites between them. All come equipped with fire rings, picnic tables, water hookups, and 50-amp electrical connections, making them perfect for RV or tent camping.

For those who prefer to rough it, there are six primitive campgrounds located off the hiking trails for backpackers. So whichever your preferred method for enjoying a night in the Florida wilderness, Myakka Lake State Park has you covered.

4. Oscar Scherer State Park

Location: 1843 S Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL 34229

Oscar Scherer State Park is located just 14 miles south of Sarasota in the town of Osprey. Nestled in amongst highways and housing developments, this park can be a refreshing oasis for people looking to escape back to nature for a little while.

Lake Osprey and South Creek are in this park, providing opportunities for swimmers, anglers, canoers, and kayakers alike. And those who prefer land-based activities Oscar Scherer has fifteen miles of trails that will delight and challenge both hikers and bikers looking to stretch their legs.

There are 10 miles of bike trails, including a section of the paved Legacy Trail that runs through the middle of the park. There are 7 marked hiking trails that lead to remote areas of the park. While there are neither restrooms nor shelters along the trail, there are benches strategically located as resting spots. Everything is well organized and numbered, so be sure to grab a trail map when you enter the park.

One unique opportunity for anglers provided by this park is the ability to catch both freshwater and saltwater species of fish. The lake is home to bluegill, largemouth bass, bream, and channel catfish, while the stream is home to saltwater fish. And as an added bonus, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stocks catfish in the lake, greatly enhancing your chances of a successful fishing trip.

Oscar Scherer State Park is a great place to camp. The park has 104 campsites, each with water and electrical hookups that can accommodate either tents or RVs. They also provide grills and picnic tables, as well as restrooms with hot showers and even places to do your laundry.

If you are looking for a place near Sarasota to explore for a couple of days, Oscar Scherer should be on your shortlist.

5. Highlands Hammock State Park

Location: 5931 Hammock Rd, Sebring, FL 33872

Located 77 miles east of Sarasota, Highlands Hammock State Park is the longest distance away from the city in our roundup. But its unique features make it worth a little extra time in the car.

This park is a must-see stop for wildlife lovers, as it is home to more rare and Florida-endemic species than any other park in the state. Everything from deer and alligators to black bears and Florida panthers can be seen by visitors to Highlands Hammock.

The park boasts nine hiking trails, including one with an elevated boardwalk that takes you through a cypress swamp. There is a 3-mile paved bicycle loop and a 6-mile off-road trail for those who prefer to cycle through nature. And the park also has guided and narrated tours taking you through the park to observe wildlife at your leisure.

There are plenty of camping facilities in Highlands Hammock, with a number of spots with water and electrical hookups suitable for RV’s up to fifty feet long. There are also primitive camping sites on the park, and reservations can be made in advance to ensure availability.

After you’ve taken in the sites inside Sarasota, make plans to get outside of the city and stay in one of these exceptional scenic state parks. You’ll see for yourself all that Florida has to offer!