Did you know that more people travel to Florida to see wildlife than any other state? It’s true! Observing, feeding, photographing and painting our wildlife and nature scenes is very popular. And why not? Where else can you see alligators, bobcats, deer, dolphins, eagles, egrets, flamingos, horned owls, loggerhead turtles, manatees, osprey, rays, scrub jays, sharks, snowy plover, tarpon, wild boar and much, much more?
Sarasota County has been really conscious of the need to conserve natural lands. The county website lists too many parks, preserves and beaches to list them all but here are a few highlights:

Check it Out!

Carlton Reserve
1800 Mabry Carlton Way, Venice
941-861-5000 and ask for Natural Resources
This 24,565-acre reserve was purchased in 1982.While exploring the Reserve’s network of trails, visitors may see diverse natural communities- including dry prairie, pine flatwoods, mesic hammocks and seasonal wetlands. Visitors can also observe white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcats, swallow-tailed kites, various wading birds and an assortment of wildflowers, such as pine lily, tarflower and purple iris. Non-native feral hogs, commonly seen on the reserve, compete with native wildlife for food and their rooting for plants and insects disturbs sensitive soil ecosystems.




Deer Prairie Preserve

7001 Forbes Trail, Venice
941-861-5000 and ask for Natural Resources.
This 6,400-acre preserve, located along the wild and scenic Myakka River. While walking the preserve’s trails, visitors will see a variety of native habitats including pine flatwoods, prairie hammock and seasonal wetlands. Portions of the trails provide scenic overlooks along the banks of the Myakka River and Deer Prairie Creek. A variety of wildlife species inhabit the preserve including gopher tortoises, alligators, river otter, wild turkey, swallow-tailed kite, Florida scrub-jays and an assortment of wading birds. Native flowering plants, such as St. John’s wort, tarflower and pine lily thrive throughout the landscape, with particularly striking displays during the spring and fall.
The preserve has more than seventy miles of hiking trails, which are unpaved but accessible for most visitors. All trail intersections are marked with numbered trail markers and certain trails may be shared by hikers, bicyclists and equestrian users.


Jelks Preserve
2300 N. River Road, Venice
This 614-acre preserve was purchased in 1999 through the one percent county sales tax and a very generous contribution from the Jelks Family Foundation, for which the preserve is named. The Jelks Preserve is one of the publicly-owned properties bordering the Wild and Scenic Myakka River, forever protecting a piece of the riverine floodplain. One can view the river at three different locations, while relaxing in the shade of mature live oak trees, festooned with epiphytes.
While exploring the preserve’s network of trails, visitors may see diverse natural communities including hammocks, pine flatwoods and seasonal wetlands. Visitors can also observe gopher tortoises, swallowtail butterflies and swallow-tailed kites, an assortment of song birds and wildflowers, such as Carolina jessamine and coralbean. While some trails may be cool as they meander to the river through canopied hammocks, others may be open and sunny as they traverse pine flatwoods.
The preserve has more than eight miles of trails, including the 3.3 mile outer loop trail. The trails are unpaved but accessible for most visitors.

Manasota Scrub Preserve
2695 Bridge St., Englewood
This 145-acre is named after one of the earlier landowners, the Manasota Land and Timber Company and the scrub vegetation that exists primarily on the west side of Bridge Street. Although this is a small pocket of vegetation in a suburban community, one can observe a variety of upland and wetland communities along a system of trails. Visitors may also spot resident wildlife such as gopher tortoises, northern quail, swallowtail butterflies and great-horned owls. An assortment of wildflowers such as grassleaf, goldenaster and blazing star may be visible from the trails. Enjoy a break by relaxing on benches placed along the marked trails.




Myakka River State Park

The park is located 9 miles E of I-75 at
13208 State Road 72,
Sarasota, FL USA 34241

Park Highlights: Over 28,875 acres of pristine area, wildlife trails, canoeing, biking, camping, visitor’s center, elevated tree canopy walk, snack bar and highly recommended airboat rides and tram tours; each ride and tour takes about an hour, and no walking is required.

Canoes and bicycles are available for rental, picnic tables are located near boat and tram tour rides. If you are planning to take one of the tour rides, getting there early is a good idea. No reservations are accepted. Group rates and charters are available.

Tour Highlights: Extremely knowledgeable and entertaining tour guides; ranger-guided walks Sat. mornings at 9 a.m.; “Gator Gal” (the world’s largest airboat); alligators, deer, bobcat and bald eagles in the wild; plenty of fresh air. Fares: Adults $10; children (6-12 years) $5; toddlers (5 and under) free if held in lap.

Old Miakka Preserve
251 Myakka Road, Sarasota
This 129-acre preserve, purchased in 2006 through the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program, is named after Old Miakka, the historic rural community where the preserve is located.
While exploring the preserve’s network of trails, visitors may see diverse natural communities – including scrub, pine flatwoods and seasonal wetlands. Visitors can also observe gopher tortoises, swallowtail butterflies, an assortment of song birds and wildflowers, such as, spiderwort and beautyberry.
The preserve has more than four miles of unpaved hiking trails, including the 1.5 mile long Tim Cash Loop Trail. All trail intersections are marked with numbered trail markers. Some trails may flood after heavy rainfall and several trails may be wet year-round where crossing creeks and ditches.

Oscar Scherer State Park
U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trl.), Osprey
Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset
Admission: $4 per car (up to 8 people), sunset entrance $3
This park includes The Lester Finley Nature Trail, a special hiking trail constructed in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The park originally consisted of 462 acres of scrubby flatwoods and mesic flatwoods; South Creek, a blackwater stream, flows through this area. An additional 922 acres acquired in 1992 contain tracts of depression marshes, pine forests and additional flatwoods on the banks of a small tidal creek. The park is noted for its population of Florida scrub jays, a threatened species (some will land on your outstretched hand). Bald eagles, as well as bobcats, river otters and alligators, are often seen in the winter months, as are many birds. The rare gopher tortoise, gopher frog and indigo snake are occasionally seen here. Pick up an animal identification booklet at the entrance.

Highlights: Self-guided nature trail, voicebox information stations, freshwater lake swimming, picnic area, canoe rentals, fishing, both freshwater in the lake and saltwater in South Creek, campsites with water and electric hookup, plus the very impressive Lester Finley Nature Trail for outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities — a sight-impaired-adapted and wheelchair-friendly hike with touch-activated audio speakers that provide interpretive information.

Pocono Trail Preserve
189 Pocono Trail, Nokomis

This 8.2-acre preserve, shares the same name as the street where it is located. The name has historical significance as it was named by Dr. Fred Albee, an early settler of Nokomis. While exploring the preserve’s network of trails, you can see diverse natural communities, including maritime hammock, tidal swamp and scrubby flatwoods. Keep your eyes open for gopher tortoises, grey squirrels, and an assortment of wading birds such as the little blue heron, snowy egret, white ibis and wood stork.

The preserve offers approximately one mile of shady, unpaved and unmarked trails.
The preserve has very limited parking along the right-of-way so visitors are encouraged to park at the nearby Nokomis Community Center. Visitors can walk two blocks and access the preserve via a walk-thru gate.



South Venice Lemon Bay Preserve
5472 Kenisco Road, Venice

The South Venice Lemon Bay Preserve comprises 217 acres of protected land along scenic Lemon Bay. The preserve is nestled in the densely packed suburb of south Venice. This is a refuge for people as well as several protected animals such as gopher tortoises, Florida scrub-jays, bald eagles, river otters and an assortment of snakes, including the eastern coachwhip. A variety of plants thrive here. Look for mangroves, cord grasses, oak species, lupine, palafox, coontie and Curtis’s milkweed. There are boardwalks across the wetland slough. Great photo opportunities of coastal habitats including tidal swamp, tidal marsh, coastal hammock and upland communities such as mesic and scrubby flatwoods.

The preserve has nearly eight miles of unpaved hiking trails, including the 1.6 mile long scenic marked trail. Some trails flood after heavy rainfall. There is limited parking along road shoulders and you enter via walk-thru gates near three intersections (Ocelot and Phorus roads, Macon and Osprey roads, and Kenisco and Euclid roads).  

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