Explore Deep Hole in Florida's Myakka River State Park
Located near the western boundary of one of Florida's oldest state parks rests one of the state's true hidden gems. Unless you're a local, and even that's hit or miss, you're unlikely to ever hear about it. Myakka River State Park's Deep Hole is a massive 300' wide, 130' deep sinkhole partially engulfed by Lower Myakka Lake and one of the best places in North America to view alligators in the wild up close. During Florida's dry season, generally between October and May, alligators, oftentimes in the hundreds, line the sandy north shore of the sinkhole to warm their bodies and even snag a bird or wild boar for a meal. The photos of Deep Hole are incredible, but experiencing it in person is out of this world awesome. We frequently travel to Sarasota and have had the opportunity to explore Deep Hole on more than one occasion. Here's the skinny on how to visit.
Trailhead elevation 12'
Don't miss Keeping an eye out for wild boars that roam the grasslands
Hiking to Deep Hole
Head to the Myakka River State Park Ranger Station, but make sure to enter from the park's southern entrance along SR-72, not the northern entrance along SR-780 as this is often closed. The park issues only 30 permits per day, so getting there when the park opens at 8AM is important. Permits are included in the nominal park entrance fee. At the ranger station near the park's entrance you'll receive a hang tag permit to display in your car, trail map, and gate code to the Deep Hole parking area and trailhead located about a mile west on Lower Lake Court off SR-72.
A sign at the trailhead warns hikers of the presence of gators in the area, but the chances of seeing one prior to Deep Hole are slim to none. Live oak draped in Spanish moss flank the sandy trail near the start of the hike, providing patches of shade rarely found along the hike.
Soon after the area opens to expansive dry prairie, an endangered ecosystem unique to Florida. It's pretty much shadeless from here until Deep Hole so keep that in mind and plan accordingly, especially in the summer months. Wild boars inhabit the dry prairie so keep your eyes peeled for a chance to see one. The last time we were here we saw a large adult boar crossover the trail no more than thirty feet in front of us.
The two-mile (one way) trail is largely unmarked, but about as easy to follow as they come. If you prefer using a trail map, AllTrails does Deep Hole in their database. The only split in the trail comes at around 1.8 miles where a sign points you to veer right to get to Deep Hole, however either way you choose will get you there. Going left is a bit faster, but also a bit less safe since it leads you right into the middle of where all the alligators are. Going right is about a quarter mile longer, but leads to a better, safer viewing position. If you decide to veer right you'll likely encounter swarms of huge turkey vultures basking in the sun on tree branches on each side of the trail. Shortly after that you'll pass through the shaded area below, make a left, and continue for about 200 yards to reach Deep Hole. Just keep your eyes peeled for the tall palm trees in the photo two photos down.
The photo below was from our last trip three months after Hurricane Ian hit the Gulf Coast in September 2022. The shore, which was flooded over at the time the photo was taken, is normally around 10' deep and full of alligators. Due to flooding the shore really wasn't present so there were far fewer gators than normal.
During a normal sunny November or December afternoon you can expect a hundred or more alligators lining the shore. The photo below was taken in 2020 and shows an average day at Deep Hole.
It's worth noting that when you arrive at Deep Hole you'll be facing east, so if you intend on photographing your best bet is midday or later when the sun is high enough that it won't affect your shot. The park is open until sunset 365 days of the year and you're required to return your hang tag permit to the ranger station before closing time. There's a ton to do in Myakka River State Park, so you can easily spend an entire day there. The William S Boylston Nature Trail and its canopy walk and observation tower are very popular and absolutely worth the time to explore as well. Kayaking and SUP'ing the Myakka River, tram and boat tours, and viewing alligators along the Alligator Bridge are also great experiences inside the park. If you have even more time on your hands and don't mind the drive to Lido Key, we highly recommend kayaking the mangrove tunnels there.