Get outdoors in the Sunshine State with this list of four great state parks near Sarasota, Florida! All locations mentioned are less than a two-hour drive from the Greater Sarasota Area. For a complete Sarasota travel guide and some great day trips from Sarasota, click here. You can find current information about these hiking spots on the Florida State Parks website. Note that admission to most Florida state parks costs anywhere from $3-$10 per car.
Highlands Hammock State Park is located due east of Sarasota and is about a one and a half hour drive from the city. This is the farthest state park on my list, but given the distance, it makes for an especially great day trip to escape the crowds along the coast! The Cypress Swamp Trail is a favorite and features a boardwalk through the swamp and forest. The beginning of the trail makes for an awesome photo-op, but note that the boardwalk gets narrower and has only one railing later on. Looks can be deceiving, as this seemingly wide, flat walk might not be the best option for those with small children or mobility impairments.
Located along the beautiful golden river for which it is named, Little Manatee River State Park in Wimauma also offers a great inland getaway. While the outlook opportunities to see the river itself are surprisingly limited, it is more beautiful than I imagined and would be an incredible place to visit on a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board (SUP). You can catch a glimpse of the golden Little Manatee River on the Oxbow Nature Trail, which is a flat but sandy looped path. According to the park map, the Blue Trail across the river may offer some better views, but it is not especially clear where to access it by car.
Myakka River State Park actually lies within the Sarasota city limits, but feels a world away from its bustling downtown. This large state park is brimming with family-friendly spots and scenic views. Kids and adults alike will love the Canopy Walkway & Tower along the Nature Trail. It is a fun place for kids to climb to new heights, while adults will want to walk all the way up the tower for a stunning overlook of the forest. This Instagrammable spot is the perfect place for a nature photo-op in Sarasota! Visitors can also take guided wildlife tours by tram or boat, which makes for a great way to see some of western Florida’s wildlife up close!
Just south of the Sarasota County border, Stump Pass Beach State Park lies in the beautiful town of Englewood. This park is mostly known for its beautiful beach and is the perfect place to spend a day by the water. It’s also one of the best beaches in western Florida for finding shark teeth! My family and I had a good handful of them by the end of our visit. On the inlet side of the peninsula, you’ll find stunningly clear and calm water. I’ve heard that this place is called “Ski Alley,” and it looks like a great place to water ski near Sarasota if you go early to beat the boat traffic. The park also has scenic, sandy walking trails. I recommend wearing shoes on the path, as there are sections where lots of little crabs scurry around!
What is your favorite Florida state park? I’d love for you to leave your recommendation in the comments below!