The Top 5 Most Alligator-Infested Rivers in Florida

Adult Alligator Sunning on a Log
© Joe Pearl Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Sarah Feaster

Updated: November 8, 2023

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Discover the top 5 most alligator-infested rivers in the state of Florida.

Alligators in Florida Rivers

You’ve heard it time and time again: If you’re near freshwater in Florida, you’re not far from an alligator. From manatees to dolphins and panthers, there is a large variety of animals in Florida. However, only one is so famously known to the region that it became the coveted mascot of the University of Florida: the gator. And while it may be easy to assume that Florida’s largest rivers would have the most alligators, that may not always be true. You’ll be shocked to learn about some of the smaller rivers that provide a perfect home to the state’s famous reptile. Keep reading to learn more about the official reptiles of the state of Florida, as well as the top five most alligator-infested rivers in the state!

Fun Facts About Gators

American Alligator, alligator mississipiensis, Adult with Open Mouth Regulating Body Temperature

Alligators can be found in any freshwater body of water in Florida.

©slowmotiongli/iStock via Getty Images

Once thought to be nearly extinct due to unrestricted hunting, Florida’s alligator population has thankfully recovered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally removed alligators from the endangered species list in 1987. Now, biologists confirm alligators reside across all of Florida’s 67 counties and in any body of freshwater. As the state’s largest reptile, alligators can grow up to 13 feet long and 800 pounds. The largest alligator recorded in the state of Florida was a whopping 17 feet, 5 inches, according to Everglades National Park. In the wild, alligators can live 35-50 years, whereas they can live a long 60-80 years in the care of humans. Click here to learn 10 more incredible alligator facts!

American alligator with dragonfly on head, from eye level with water, Myakka River State Park, Florida

As of 1987, the alligator population has recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species list.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

How Do We Count the Alligator Population?

Because the Florida alligator population was once completely depleted, the state has made maintaining a healthy gator population a much higher priority. Each year, biologists venture out into the Florida waters to take count of the gators found in their rivers, lakes, streams, and marshes to calculate the appropriate amount of hunting licenses to issue for the upcoming season. Updated in June of this year, check out this interactive map of Florida from Donovan Myrie, Ph.D, showing how many alligators were counted in various bodies of water throughout the state!

Florida map

Alligators can be in any freshwater body in Florida, including streams, rivers, marshes, and lakes.

©Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com

The Top 5 Most Alligator-Infested Rivers in Florida

1. St. Johns River

One reason the St. Johns River is so alligator-infested is due to its massive size.

©Kim Pardi / CC BY 2.0 – Original / License

Location: St. Johns Marsh to Jacksonville, FL

River Length: 310 Miles

Alligator Count: 5,109

St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida at 310 miles long. Due to its massive size, it is no mystery as to why St. Johns River is also the most alligator-infested river in the state. St. Johns River is a popular location for several outdoor activities, such as fishing, paddling, hiking, manatee watching, and birdwatching. Explore more about the St. Johns River here.

2. Kissimmee River

Aerial view of the town of Okeechobee, on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee, with the Kissimmee River flowing into the lake, causing algae pollution.

Kissimmee River is home to approximately 2,387 alligators.

©Thomas Barrat/Shutterstock.com

Location: East Lake Tohopekaliga to Lake Okeechobee

River Length: 134 Miles

Alligator Count: 2,387

In second place, the Kissimmee River is less than half the length of the St. Johns River but is still home to an impressive 2,387 alligators. While the Kissimmee River is less popular for outdoor recreation than the St. Johns River, it forms the northern part of the Everglades wetlands area, which is why it creates such a hospitable home for alligators and other wildlife. Additionally, the Kissimmee River has been the subject of one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in the world.   

3. Harney River

Harney River, Monroe County, Florida

The Harney River is the shortest alligator-infested river, only measuring 10.19 miles long.

©Everglades NPS / Public Domain – Original / License

Location: Monroe County, FL

River Length: 10.19 Miles

Alligator Count: 1,579

The Harney River is the shortest river to make this list, at only 10.19 miles. However, despite its short length, the Harney River is reportedly the home to 1,579 alligators. This river is located in Monroe County and provides anglers with gratuitous amounts of shallow banks perfect for fishing.  

4. Withlacoochee River

withlacoochee river

The Withlacoochee River is not only known for its alligator population but also for the Withlacoochee State Trail alongside the river

©Essence of a Memory/Shutterstock.com

Location: Green Swamp (East of Polk City) to the Gulf of Mexico (Near Yankeetown)

River Length: 141 Miles

Alligator Count: 596

Reportedly, 596 alligators reside within the Withlacoochee River, but what it’s known for most is the state’s longest rail trail that accompanies it. Area residents and visitors can enjoy the beautiful views of Florida wildlife while walking, running, and biking the 46-mile-long paved Withlacoochee State Trail alongside the river. Additionally, the Cypress Lake Preserve, Nobleton Wayside Park, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District natural preserve are local favorites for outdoor fun along the Withlacoochee River.

5. Myakka River

USA, Florida, Herd of crocodiles enjoying the sun in everglades national park

Alligators lay out in the sun to help regulate their body temperature.

©Simon Dux/iStock via Getty Images

Location: Hardee-Manatee County Line to Charlotte Harbor (Gulf of Mexico)

River Length: 72 Miles

Alligator Count: 239

Rounding out the top 5 alligator-infested rivers in Florida is the Myakka River. Florida’s first state-designated wild and scenic river, the Myakka River, is a popular location for kayaking, paddleboarding, and canoeing, despite being an alligator haven. This river also flows through one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. Myakka River State Park is home to some of the state’s best camping, hiking, and biking. Click here to learn more about Myakka River State Park and plan your visit!

Florida Water Safety

man puts fingers down in lake kayaking against backdrop of golden sunset, unity harmony nature

You can still enjoy spending time in and around the water in Florida – follow these alligator safety tips.

©PERO studio/Shutterstock.com

Now that you know alligators can be found in any freshwater in Florida, how can you stay safe? Is it time to accept that you’ll never swim again? First, it’s important to remember that alligators do not consider humans to be a food source. Instead, gators prefer to eat birds, fish, and small mammals. Occasionally, they have been known to hunt larger animals, such as deer, smaller alligators, and the Florida panther. The chance run-in with alligators does happen, but attacks on humans are relatively rare, averaging only six fatal attacks per year in the United States. Follow these simple safety tips to coexist with Florida gators:

  • Do not feed alligators.
  • If you see an alligator, give it plenty of space. Do not approach to investigate or take selfies.
  • Observe any safety signs when spending time in or around water.
  • Stay vigilant and check regularly for any signs of alligator activity.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Do not swim after dark.
  • Swim only in designated swimming areas.
  • Avoid swimming in any murky water.
  • Leash your pets and ensure they are kept far from the water’s edge.
  • Take extra caution from April through June. Alligators are more aggressive during courting, mating, and nesting seasons.

See Ya Later, Alligator!

Spending time outdoors is great for your health and soul. While Florida may be home to 1.3 million alligators, there are still plenty of ways for us to soak up the sun while cohabitating with these apex predators. Check out these stunning five Florida alligator-infested rivers and follow safety precautions to ensure everyone makes it home in one piece.

Adult Alligator Sunning on a Log

Alligators are likely to keep their distance from humans and typically only attack if they feel threatened.

©Joe Pearl Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Summary: The Top 5 Most Alligator-Infested Rivers in Florida

RankRiver NameAlligator Count
1St. Johns River5,109
2Kissimmee River2,387
3Harney River1,579
4Withlacoochee River596
5Myakka River239


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About the Author

Sarah Feaster is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on outdoor recreation and dogs. A 2009 graduate of Lycoming College, Sarah is a creative and strategic marketing professional with more than a decade of experience crafting captivating content. When she's not in front of her computer, Sarah is typically losing herself in the Pennsylvania woods or enjoying the sunshine from her SUP - but either way, she's always accompanied by her two dogs.

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