In the age of the iPhone, quiet is elusive. Sometimes the only way to relax is to go off the grid: no TV, no cell phones, no Internet. This fall, I found a perfect place to do that—right here, in our back yard.
Residents and visitors have long recognized the allure of Myakka River State Park, with its winding trails, towering oaks and the most diverse Florida wildlife this side of the Everglades. For most, though, the park is little more than a daytrip destination. Growing up, I’d visit the park several times a year, wandering the trails, renting bikes and canoes, and touring the river to spot as many alligators as possible. Then I’d head home, never knowing that I could spend a night in the park—and not just in a sleeping bag, but in the rustic comfort of a sturdy cabin.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built five log cabins for the park. The project, part of the Depression-era effort to create jobs by building infrastructure, was intended, park manager Jon Robinson says, to “provide an outdoor recreational activity for people who wouldn’t normally have one.” The cabins offer a perfect camping balance—a more authentic experience than a luxurious RV, yet more comfort than sleeping in a tent.
I checked into Cabin 5 on a Thursday afternoon, a few hours before sunset. The five cabins line a dirt road near the park’s main entrance, each set in a secluded alcove, surrounded by mossy oaks, leaning palms and dense undergrowth. They were built from the trunks of cabbage palms from the park, rather than from the cedar or pine used to construct most cabins. Each is furnished with a kitchen and bathroom, a fireplace, two beds and a fold-out sofa and can sleep six people. The lingering scent of the fireplace mingles with the aroma of the palm logs, and the effect is exactly what I hoped for from a log cabin: a warm, rustic atmosphere that can only be found deep in the woods.
The cabins are close to the Myakka River—nice for boaters and sightseers, but a problem for the historic structures. New developments upstream have dramatically altered the river’s flow, and now, says Robinson, “We seem to hit 100-year flood levels every three years.” As a result of such continuous water damage, he says, park rangers have become skilled in “the fine art of log replacement.” Maintaining the cabins is an ongoing struggle, especially since every effort to repair or prevent flood damage has to be done while maintaining the cabins’ historic integrity.
The not-for-profit Friends of Myakka River has launched an effort to renovate and raise the cabins above current flood levels. Modern rules for permitting and construction mean that the intended renovations, which include elevating the cabins at least 18 inches, will be much more expensive than the original construction. The Friends of Myakka River recently raised $200,000 through grants for the project, which will cost $150,000 per cabin; most of those funds have already gone to permitting and engineering costs.
After exploring the cabin, I used the last hours of sunlight to wander the surrounding area. The park’s 37,000 acres support nearly 750 types of plants. The main road winds through a dense canopy of oak, palm, cypress and magnolia trees (among others); then the sky abruptly opens and you’re surrounded by flat, expansive marshland—perfect for watching the sunset. I stopped at the Big Flats Marsh to watch the sky’s color fade as a variety of birds enjoyed the day’s last glide across the water and the nearly full moon rose in the east.
Back at the cabin, I remembered what coming to the woods alone means: silence. No music or TV, no humming appliances, no traffic.
It is an overwhelmingly peaceful experience until that silence is interrupted—not by an incoming call or a passing car, but by the rustle of an unknown animal or a snapped twig.
As I sat by the fire pit behind my cabin, in darkness broken only by moonlight shifting through the trees, each of those sounds took on a mysterious urgency.
It was then that I discovered what might be the greatest advantage of staying in a cabin. When the thrill of the unknown turns into uneasiness about what might be lurking in the shadows, four log walls are far more comforting than a tent’s flimsy canvas.
I slept better that night than I have in many years.
The next morning, I sipped coffee behind the cabin long enough to spot three wandering deer. As the birds sang to the morning and sunlight moved through the woods, I realized I wanted to return as soon as possible. I am not alone in that sentiment. Robinson says the cabins are often booked as far as 11 months in advance by a diverse group of visitors: families escaping the grind of day-to-day life, groups of friends renting a handful of cabins for a long weekend, foreigners who drive into town for the opera before retreating to the woods—and yes, even writers seeking a little solitude.
Rent a Cabin >> It costs $70 per night to stay in one of the cabins. The weekends are especially popular, so it’s best to book far ahead. You can book up to 11 months in advance. To reserve your stay, call (800) 326-3521 or search for Myakka River State Park on reserveamerica.com. The park offers frequent special evening events, from Moon over Myakka concerts and bike rides to campfires with rangers; visit myakkariver.org to learn more.