Why should anyone drive roughly three and a half hours from Miami just to put a kayak in the water? Because Myakka River State Park offers fantastic paddling unlike anything in these parts. This is Florida's largest state park (roughly 45 square miles), and the Myakka is a rare gem, one of only two state-designated "wild and scenic" rivers. It flows for fourteen miles through the park boundaries, with many more miles downstream through protected lands -- all the way to Charlotte Harbor. The stretch between Upper Myakka Lake and Lower Myakka Lake meanders through a gorgeous landscape of moss-covered oaks, palm groves, and reedy marshes. A bazillion alligators live here, including some true leviathans. Up-close encounters are common. Between the lakes and the river, an earnest paddler would need at least a couple of full days to get a good feel for the place. And the place is much more than water, of course, including 39 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus camping facilities that range from primitive to comfy (the five historic log cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s). So plan ahead, make reservations (cabins book well in advance), and take a long weekend to enjoy an unforgettable kayaking experience.