A woman walking away from the camera on a sandy hiking trail with a few trees on either side.

Hiking to Deep Hole in Myakka River State Park

Check the hike to Myakka River's mysterious Deep Hole off your Florida bucket list with our guide. This sinkhole is home to hundreds of alligators, making it one of the most unique hikes in the state.

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The Deep Hole is a mysterious place. It's been charted by divers to at least 130 feet deep.

When water levels of the Myakka River drop low enough, thousands of fish can become trapped, isolated from surrounding bodies of water.

And then the alligators come. Sometimes numbering over a hundred.

They cover the banks, sunbathing, and feeding on helpless fish who have nowhere to go.

Alligators can be seen throughout Florida, within its national parks, and even in populated areas.

But not like this. When conditions are right, there's almost no better way to see gators in their natural habitat.

And the Deep Hole is somewhat remote, preserved within Myakka River State Park, with visitors limited by a permit system.

In our guide to this exciting wild Florida destination, we're covering everything you need to know and our own experience on the hike.

Planning Your Visit to Deep Hole

A good plan is essential to making your Deep Hole hike a success.

The reason: only 30 permits per day are handed out at the Myakka River State Park ranger station.

During the peak season, especially on weekends, these permits can be claimed within an hour or less of the gate opening.

For reference, our last visit was on a Friday in March. We were the fourth vehicle in line when we arrived at 7:30 AM. Once the gate opened, there were about ten vehicles waiting to come in.

You'll need to pay the $6 entrance fee per vehicle for the state park, but there's no additional cost for the Deep Hole permit. You just need to park, walk back into the ranger station and go through a briefing before you're handed your permit, along with a map and instructions on how to get to the trailhead.

Tip: You should arrive early to guarantee a permit, but it's valid all day, so you don't have to be in a rush to do the hike. We felt it was best for us to wait until later in the day, so we got our permit and then enjoyed some of the other activities within the park, like the canopy walkway.

Note that you're also required to return the permit to the ranger station after your hike and before sunset. They want to account for everyone who's been out on the trail that day, so factor a short return visit to the park entrance into your plans.

Where is the Deep Hole

Myakka River State Park is just a 30 minute drive east of Sarasota, Florida.

The trailhead for Deep Hole is one mile west of the main park entrance, but it's secured by a locked gate. You'll need to first stop at the ranger station to pay the entrance fee and pick up a permit.

Once arriving at the parking area, there's a clearly marked gate blocking the service road that leads out to Deep Hole. This is what you'll be walking on, a soft sandy road with almost no shade until you reach the banks of the sinkhole.

A woman walks past a gate with a sign that says 'Deep Hole'.A woman walking down a sandy hiking trail with trees on either side.

The trek itself is a 4.4 mile out-and-back. It's generally considered an easy hike, since it's completely flat.

We would add that the soft sand, being difficult to walk on, and the constant exposure to sun make this a moderately easy hike. It's not particularly strenuous, but don't underestimate the extra work required in the sand and the need for sun protection and plenty of water. Just come prepared and you'll be fine.

The Hike to Deep Hole

By the first mile in sweat was already beginning to trickle down, leaving our shirts damp.

It didn't help that we were racing against the sinking sun, moving at a pace that felt somewhere between a fast walk and a light jog. The sand refused to push back against each step, making our legs work that much harder.

The walk out to Deep Hole is boring. It's beautiful, but in a boring way.

We knew the journey wasn't part of the appeal to this adventure, it was almost entirely about the destination.

A man walks along a sandy path through an open field on a sunny day.

The wooded banks of Deep Hole were a welcome sight by the time we made it to that destination. The dry, wide open landscape gave way to heavy shade. Dry scraggly branches of dead trees jutted up into the sky, a foreground to the dense palms and Spanish moss covered oaks that stood between us and the water.

Vultures circled overhead in numbers we've never seen before. Those perched on the dead tree limbs turned their heads and evaluated us from above. It was a slightly eerie greeting.

Vultures perch on dead tree limbs and fly across a blue sky.

With hushed voices we slowed our pace and began taking more careful steps.

We weren't sure if we'd be walking into a den of hundreds of alligators, or if we'd see any at all.

That's the gamble with Deep Hole. A 2.2 mile walk out in the Florida sun to see either something incredible, or not much at all.

An alligator resting along the bank of Deep Hole in Myakka River State Park.
An alligator sunbathing with green foliage behind it.A sandy trail with a few trees on either side in the late evening sun.

Our experience fell somewhere in between.

Deep Hole is a captivating place. It would be all the more captivating full of wildlife.

We saw a great blue heron hunting along the edge of the water. Smaller birds flying around.

Then, finally, we spotted two long dark figures right along the bank.

They were the only two gators we saw that day, not the dozens or hundreds that others have reported on their visits.

All the same, we felt fortunate to have such a peaceful little corner of nature to ourselves for a bit and to have seen a few animals. The hike wasn't a disappointment.

We grabbed a few photos, took a last look, and then raced our way back against the unrelenting sand and sun to return our permit.

What to Bring

While it's not a long or especially strenuous hike, there are a few things you need to have with you to be prepared for the Deep Hole.

Plenty of water | Either in a reusable water bottle or hydration bladder. It's important to stay hydrated, especially on a hot Florida day when you'll be exerting yourself. If you're looking for a bottle that can double as a water filter on future trips we love using these Grayl bottles.

Energy snacks | Some of our favorites that pack nicely for paddling or hiking are Clif bars, these delicious honey waffles, and Solely fruit jerky.

Sun protection | A good quality (and eco-friendly) sunscreen might be the most obvious, but you're also going to want a hat, sunglasses, and some SPF clothing to shield you from the harsh Southern sun.

Good hiking boots or shoes | A comfortable set of footwear with some ankle support is a solid investment. Laura loves her Danner boots and Joren is a fan of the Merrell Moab line.

A daypack | Something small to hold your water, snacks, and any other extra items. We recommend the REI Ruckpack or Osprey's Daylite Pack.

A camera | If you're lucky and find yourself among hoards of alligators at Deep Hole, you'll surely want some photos of the occasion. If you're interested in the gear we carry along on all our adventures, you can shop our entire camera gear list.

Other Activities at Myakka River State Park

The Canopy Walk

Another major attraction to Myakka River is the canopy walkway, along the William S Boylston Nature Trail. The wooden bridge is suspended 25 feet above the ground, between two towers.

You can walk through the treetops before climbing the second observation tower for a panoramic view of the surrounding forest.

A wooden bridge passing through treetops suspended between two towers.

Biking

Bikes are both available for rent from the Myakka Outpost concession building and included in a guided E-bike tour of the park, which will also feature a stop at the canopy walkway.

The Birdwalk

For wildlife lovers, a visit to Myakka River should also include a stop at the Birdwalk, on the northern end of the park. Especially during the winter months, when water levels are lower, you're likely to spot a huge variety of animals here.

Bald eagles, osprey, herons, and other birds are common, as well as more alligators, softshell turtles, and other reptiles.

Want to see the gators at Deep Hole? Pin it for later!

An alligator sunbathing with text overlay that says 'Hiking to Florida's Deep Hole'

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