Top Tampa Bay Hiking Spots

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An abundance of natural areas across the Tampa Bay watershed offer countless trails for hiking enthusiasts. Many popular maintained trails can be found at state, county and city parks. Also, the Southwest Florida Water Management District has public lands that offer many outstanding trails which are open to the public. Prime hiking time is from October to March, when cooler dryer weather sets in. If the heat doesn’t bother you, be sure to don bug repellent and drink plenty of water.

To learn about the abundant natural resources within the Tampa Bay watershed that are accessible to hikers, visit the following links:

Southwest Florida Water Management District: download the free Recreational Guide to SWFWMD’s public lands (along with many other helpful publications) or call 352-796-7211

Manatee County Parks & Natural Resources or 941-742-5800

Pinellas County Parks & Preserves or 727-582-2100

St. Petersburg Parks & Beaches or 727-893-7441

Hillsborough County Parks, Preserves & Trails or 813-272-5900

City of Tampa Parks or 813-274-8615

Pasco County Parks & Recreation or 813-929-2760

Florida State Parks or 850-245-2157

Hillsborough County

Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve encompasses almost 5,000 acres of prime wilderness habitat with some of the watershed’s most scenic hiking trails. Natural habitats include sand pine scrub, xeric oak scrub, pine flatwoods, hardwood hammock, wet prairie, freshwater marsh, cypress swamp, and hardwood swamp. Many protected species of plants and animals may be seen here, such as Florida golden aster, Eastern indigo snake, Sherman’s fox squirrel, sandhill crane, Southeastern American kestrels and gopher tortoise. (Keep an eye out for the exotic Tegu lizard, an invasive reptile that can grow up to four feet.)

Triple Creek Preserve adjoins Balm-Boyette Scrub’s north boundary with two miles of hiking trails linking to the Balm-Boyette trail. Both properties were purchased by Hillsborough County under the Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection program.

Flatwoods Park is located northeast of Tampa. The 5,400-acre Flatwoods Park is part of the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve with more than 60 miles of forest trails within five parks. With entrances on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Morris Bridge Road, Flatwoods Park is best known for its paved 7-mile loop which is popular for biking. The park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Adjacent parks in the preserve include Dead River Park, John B. Sargeant Park, Morris Bridge Park, and Trout Creek Park.

Hillsborough River State Park adjoins the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve. The 3,000-acre park is noted for its natural setting of pine flatwoods, hardwood hammock and cypress swamp. Hikers can enjoy four trails traversing more than seven miles, including a sub-section of the Florida Trail. Pick up a trail map at the ranger station. If it’s rainy season, call ahead (813-987-6771) to check on trail conditions as much of the property is prone to seasonal flooding.

The Old Fort King Trail, a supply route from Tampa to Ocala during the Seminole and Civil wars, is now a trail that connects the state park to the adjacent wilderness preserve. The trailhead is located in nearby John B. Sargeant Park.

Pinellas County

Brooker Creek Preserve, Tarpon Springs is an 8,300-acre park offers five miles of easy, marked trails perfect for families. An excellent education center (open only on weekends) is a good place to begin a hike. Trails meander through forested wetlands, pine flatwoods, cypress swamps and palmetto plains. Regular guided tours are offered — see their website for details.

Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi Island State Park, adjacent state parks in Dunedin, offer excellent bird watching opportunities thanks to their coastal location. The star is Honeymoon Island, where hikers will spot osprey and eagle nests, a wide variety of shorebirds, and one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in South Florida. Start at the excellent nature center before taking a jaunt on one of the easy, marked trails that are perfect for beginners and families. Accessible only by boat or ferry, Caladesi Island’s 3-mile trail that winds through the interior of the island makes a fine hike, but walkers who stroll the adjacent shoreline will be richly rewarded with seabird and shorebird sightings.

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg – Located on Lake Maggiore in the heart of south St. Petersburg, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve offers three miles of nature trails over 245 acres and five ecosystems. Bring your binoculars, this is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. An extensive program of guided hikes also makes this a great destination for a family outing.

Ft. de Soto Park, Tierra Verde, consists of 1,136 acres of diverse habitat from beaches to mangroves, wetlands, palm hammocks and hardwoods – along with one of the best beaches in the world. A top birding destination as well as sea turtle nesting site, the park affords plenty of opportunities for wildlife watchers. Seven miles of paved multi-use trail connects both ends of the park while a 1-mile nature trail in the Arrowhead Picnic area, and a ¾-mile nature trail in the Soldiers’ Hole area provides a glimpse of some the native fauna and flora.

Manatee County

Hiking opportunities for nature lovers abound at Manatee County preserves. A variety of birds and wildlife take refuge in the preserves’ pine flatwoods, hardwood swamps, xeric oak scrub, depression marsh, and vast dry prairie. Keep an eye out for burrowing owl, snowy egret, white ibis, gopher tortoise, and at least two endangered or threatened species, the Florida scrub jay and the eastern indigo snake.

Duette Preserve, the largest in the system, with over 21,000 acres encompasses the headwaters of the Manatee River and is well known for its hiking trails.

Emerson Point Preserve, at the mouth of the Manatee River, offers hiking along several miles of paved and packed shell trails and boardwalks along with a 60-foot observation tower.

Robinson Preserve offers hiking on packed shell trails and boardwalks along waterways, marshlands and uplands, and a 50-foot observation tower.

Pasco County

Suncoast Parkway, which runs 42 miles from Hillsborough to Hernando counties, is the region’s top paved trail. Multiple trailheads in Pasco County feature ample parking, rest rooms and picnic areas.

Crews Lake Park in Spring Hill covers 113 acres with natural trails, paved bike path, an observation tower and botanical garden. Picnic shelters, camping sites and an outdoor amphitheater also are available.

J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park in Western Pasco County covers 8,300 acres of land as a cooperative venture between the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Pasco County Parks and Recreation. More than 177 species of birds have been identified on the birding trail. A 7.3-mile multi-purpose trail connects to the Suncoast Trail. Separate equestrian and hiking trails traverse the park.

See related BackBay Adventures story.

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