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 and county parks. Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) public lands also offer many outstanding trails which are open to the public. You can order or download "Get Outside," SWFWMD's comprehensive recreation guide to public land, by going to watermatters.org/recreation.
Prime hiking time is from December to March, when cooler dryer weather sets in -- be sure to don bug repellent during hotter months.
The following locations are considered local hiking favorites:
Boyette Scrub Preserve, Riverview:
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. Triple Creek Preserve adjoins
Balm-Boyette Scrub's north boundary with 2 miles of hiking trails linking to the Balm-Boyette trail. Both
properties were purchased by Hillsborough County under the Environmental Land Acquisition program.
Little Manatee River State Park, Wimauma:
Little Manatee River State Park's nature trails have been designated as some of best hiking trails in south
Hillsborough County . The Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the park and is maintained by Florida Trail
Association. A 6.5-mile loop here is listed as one of their top trails in the state, taking hikers through a
diversity of habitats in the park's northern wilderness area. All hikers must register at the park's ranger
station. Wildflowers and songbirds are abundant in spring and fall.
Flatwoods Park, Thonotosassa:
Northeast of Tampa is the 5,400-acre Flatwoods Park, 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 on the Great Florida Birding Trail, but watch out for off-road bicyclists, too, who frequently use
these trails. Adjacent parks in the preserve include Dead River Park, John B. Sargeant Park, Morris Bridge
Park, and Trout Creek Park.
Hillsborough River State Park, Thonotosassa:
Adjoining the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve is the 3,000-acre Hillsborough River State Park,
noted for its natural setting of pine flatwoods, hardwood hammock and cypress swamp. Hikers can enjoy
four trails with over 7 miles of trails, 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.
Brooker Creek Preserve, Tarpon Springs:
Under the Pinellas County umbrella, the 8,300-acre Brooker Creek Preserve in north county offers 5 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 . Portions of the trails include boardwalks; keep an eye out for wading birds,
deer, snakes and gopher tortoises. Check the web site for guided walking tours to spot birds and native
plants which are offered regularly.
Honeymoon Island State Park
and Caladesi State Park, Dunedin:
These two adjacent state parks offer excellent bird watching opportunities thanks to their coastal location on the Gulf.
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 perfect for beginners and families. Accessible only by boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island,
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 3 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 makes this a great destination for a family outing.
Fort De Soto Park, Tierre Verde:
The largest park within the Pinellas County park system, Fort De Soto Park consists of 1,136 acres of diverse habitat
from beaches to mangroves, wetlands, palm hammocks, and hardwoods. A top birding destination as well as sea turtle
nesting site from April to September, 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 3/4 mile nature trail in the Soldiers' Hole area provides a glimpse of some the native fauna and flora.
Free one-hour nature walks geared for families are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 10 am from the main Ranger
Station; registration required by calling (727) 893-9185.
Hiking opportunities for nature lovers abound at Manatee Country 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/threatened species, the Florida scrub jay and the eastern indigo snake.
For a description of all preserves with location and trail information, go to mymanatee.org.
Preserves known for hiking include Duette Preserve, the largest in the system, with over
21,000 acres and 16 trails crossing the Manatee River in various locations. The preserve is closed to visitors during Hunt
Emerson Point Preserve, at the mouth of the Manatee River, offers hiking along
several miles of paved and packed shell trails and boardwalks and via a 60 foot tall observation tower. The 487-acre
Robinson Preserve offers hiking on packed shell trails and boardwalks along waterways,
marshlands and uplands, and a 50-foot observation tower.