Hillsborough River State Park: A Bit of Florida Wilderness Just Outside of Tampa
Hillsborough River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest parks with an opening date back in 1938. Over 7 miles of hiking trails and a 2 mile walking/biking loop around the park allow you to lose yourself in this beautiful wilderness setting. The trails feel so remote (for Florida) that you will forget you are anywhere near a city. Really, there are so many peaceful views here of wetlands, forests, and wildlife. It’s one of the best parks I have visited in the Tampa area thus far. The setting is very quiet, a world’s away from the beach congestion. You can easily spend the whole day here exploring the various hikes.
Hillsborough River State Park is the place to visit if you are looking for a weekend escape from the beach/shopping/restaurant/tourist crowds.
Park Habitat and Wildlife
Some of the habitats found within the park include: pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, floodplain swamps, grass ponds, and cypress swamps. The diversity of plant life gives you numerous opportunities for spotting various types of wildlife. And of course, the views are wonderful. The trails here feel much more natural than other parks in the area, especially those featuring serene river views.
River Rapids Trail – 1.2 miles
Baynard Trail – 1.1 miles
Wetlands Restoration Trail – 1.6 miles
Florida Trail – 3.2 miles
Fort King Trail – 6.7 miles
The Rapids Trail gives you the chance to view the beautiful river up close. You will be able to hear the sounds and see the sights of a Class II Rapids. We even saw a gator at one point during the hike. I am sure we will see many more during a return winter visit.
We saw various small wildlife including birds and the turtle pictured below that is basking in the sun. The Rapids trail consists of an easy, shady walk through beautiful hardwood hammocks. It’s only a little over a mile and very flat with no hills, making it accessible for almost everyone. Beautiful views combined with plentiful wildlife and light, refreshing exercise await you along the Rapids Trail.
The Wetlands Restoration Trail is available for both hiking and biking. This is the only trail open to cyclists. It’s great for those who enjoy mountain biking, however, others should be aware that it’s a tough ride with lots of long grass to trek through. Views are serene and peaceful, although shade is a bit limited. Do this trail first when temps are cooler if planning to hike multiple trails.
The Baynard Trail is another fantastic short, relaxing nature walk. It takes you over a historic suspension bridge, complete with nice views of the river.
Trails are quiet, clean, and very scenic. Just a warning – the mosquitoes are bad! Be sure to cover up all the way or use bug spray. I came home with 10+ mosquito bites.
The bike loop
The 2 mile loop around the park is absolutely beautiful. A few trips around on your bike is a must. It’s a flat, smooth, easy relaxing ride. If you do not have your own bike you can rent one. A surrey rental is another unique way to explore the park. The 4 wheel surrey resembles an early automobile and is an interesting way to tour the park with your whole family.
Other activities and attractions within the park include: kayak and canoeing launch (no rentals), a community pool, camping, fishing, and a small interpretive center. In addition, tram tours are offered at 6 and 7:30pm on Friday nights.
A day at Hillsborough River State Park provides a much needed break from the urban surroundings. This is a great park to enjoy that wilderness vibe. You will leave feeling rejuvenated, relaxed, and fit.
Tips for a great visit
*Bring with plenty of water, preferably a camel backpack. It’s really hot most of the year! Prevent dehydration!
*Bring a picnic lunch. There are plenty of scenic shady picnic areas.
*Wear bug spray or fully cover yourself. The mosquitoes are really bad, especially once you start sweating.
*Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy after your workout.
*Bring with a phone/camera in case you come across a gator or any other form of wildlife. Always keep your distance!
*Wear hiking shoes. Some areas of the trails can be muddy or slippery, especially The Wetlands Trail.
*Arrive early in the day to enjoy peace and quiet, as well as cooler temperatures.
*Bring a lock for your bike and park it at each of the trails instead of driving to each trail separately. The loop around the park will take you to the start of each trailhead.
*Wear light, loose colored clothing.
*Wear a hat and sunblock to protect yourself from the sun.
*If biking, get a proper tune up before heading out (check tire pressure, brakes, etc.)
*Plan at least half a day for the 6+ mile Fort King Trail. Arrive early in the morning to give yourself enough time. It will take much longer due to the intense Florida heat and humidity. Avoid this one during the summer.
Location & Parking Info
Address: Hillsborough River State Park is located at: 15402 US 301 in Thontosassa, Florida 33592.
Parking is $6 per vehicle.