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Fall and Winter Adventures in Tampa Bay Estuary Explorations Archive from Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Hiking around Tampa Bay


Camp Bayou

4140 24th St. SE, Ruskin 33570
(813) 641-8545 http://www.campbayou.org ∞

A fun family exploration can be found at Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center, located some 30 miles south of Tampa in Ruskin. This 160-acre former RV campground is now an environmental education and hands-on learning center publicly owned through Hillsborough County's Environmental Lands Acquisition Program. Although most nature programs are geared for school groups, the public is welcome to walk the trails from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., visit a re-created Indian village, and stop by the Paleo Preserve for a bit of "fossil hunting" (Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 pm). Bring a kayak or canoe and put in at the launch here on the Little Manatee River.

Tampa Electric Co.'s Manatee Viewing Center

(813) 228-4289 or http://www.tampaelectric.com/manatee ∞

When Tampa Bay water temperatures drop into the 60s, hundreds of manatees gather in the warm waters discharged from TECO's Big Bend Power Station in south Hillsborough County. Signs tell the tales of various manatees who have made the center their winter home, and the viewing platform offers an astoundingly clear view of the endangered sea cows. Or stroll along the boardwalk hugging the banks of the canal as it passes through mangroves and slash pine. You can see waterbirds and wildlife, and be rewarded with more views of manatees at the end of the line. New this year is an expanded gift shop, and an exhibit on mangroves. January 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of this popular, FREE attraction.

Florida Botanical Gardens

12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo 33774
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
(727) 582-2100
Free admission and dog-friendly, but Fido must be on a leash

With over 30 acres of cultivated gardens and 90 acres of natural landscapes to explore, Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo is a great place to learn how to make your Florida garden grow. Here you will find a variety of native plants and shrubs, tropical fruit trees, succulents, wildflowers and palms. Visit the Butterfly Garden to learn what's attracting Sulfurs and Monarchs, or check out the Herb Garden to find the best heat-tolerant herbs for your backyard. An aquatic habitat area shows you how a retention pond can be landscaped to attract birds and wildlife. Between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, Holiday Lights in the Gardens draws visitors each evening to stroll among more than 425,000 twinkling lights depicting holiday scenes, birds and flowers. Call to check on dates and times for this year's Holiday Lights.

Bicycling at Flatwoods Wilderness Park

14302 Morris Bridge Road
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
(813) 987-6211
No entrance fee (donation only) http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/lh-flatwoods.html ∞

More than 5,400 acres of pine flatwoods and cypress swamp makes up Flatwoods Wilderness Park northwest of Tampa in rural Thonotosassa. Bicyclists love the park for its easy 7-mile paved loop trail which also is popular with joggers and inline skaters and hooks up with several off-road trails. On weekends, you're likely to be joined by various bike groups both serious and recreational, so come early to snag a parking space. Go during the week to enjoy some solitude, along with a variety of wading birds, gopher tortoise, armadillo and maybe even a gator or two (this is swampland!). The main facility is one-half mile from the entrance on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and is equipped with parking, bathrooms, and picnic tables. Additional parking is available another half-mile in, where the trail begins. The one downfall of this ride is the lack of shade, so be sure to bring sunscreen and a hat.

Bird watching at Fort DeSoto Park

(727) 893-9185 or http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm ∞

Fort DeSoto Park may be best known for its beautiful beaches, but that's no surprise to the thousands of birds that use it as a rest stop during their fall migrations. The park's popularity with feathered visitors has made it a favorite for bird watchers as well. More than 300 species have been sighted at the park in southern Pinellas County, which has nearly 20 prime bird watching locations scattered about. Among the favorite fall visitors are wood warblers, thrushes, flycatchers and orioles. Wintertime shorebirds include red knots and black-bellied plovers. Download a guide to birding at the park at http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/pdf/bird-checklist.pdf ∞.

Kayaking one of the Tampa Bay area's many waterways

Strap your kayak on to your car or head to one of the area's kayak rental facilities to enjoy an afternoon of peaceful paddling. Tampa Bay's watershed offers a tapestry of aquascapes from which to choose, including mangrove tunnels and quiet lagoons, the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks. Depending on your route, you might spot dolphins and manatees frolicking in the water, or alligators and turtles sunning themselves along river banks. And no matter where you go you'll see an abundance of waterbirds, such as egrets, herons and ibises.

Check out our list of EcoTour Operators for kayak rentals and the Paddling Tampa Bay section for downloadable trail maps.

South Florida Museum

201 10th St. W., Bradenton
http://www.southfloridamuseum.org ∞
(941) 746-4131

Plan an entire day for a visit to the South Florida Museum, the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida's Gulf Coast. There's something for everyone at this complex which includes Bishop Planetarium and Parker Manatee Aquarium. The Bishop Planetarium, featuring one of the most advanced all-digital projection systems in the world, presents astronomy programs the whole family will enjoy. The Parker Manatee Aquarium, part of Florida's manatee rehabilitation network, is home to Snooty, the oldest known living manatee. On the museum's second floor, you'll find the Environmental Wing focusing on Florida's ecology and bio-diversity.

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