Welcome to Tampa Bay
-- the hip, urban heart of Florida’s west coast. This region of the Sunshine State is famous for its diverse and buzzing city life. But just a few minutes’ drive beyond the glittering glass towers, creative craft breweries, awesome eateries, and family-friendly attractions visitors can experience some of Florida’s best outdoor recreation. So, pick up your hiking stick, load up your mountain bike and get ready to explore the wild side of Tampa Bay!
Hillsborough River State Park
Follow Fowler Avenue east from the University of South Florida to find a slice of Original Florida. After you cross under Interstate 75, the urban environment drops away and U.S. 301 carries you through a rural landscape. Hillsborough River State Park is part of a sprawling wilderness preserve running from Lake Lettuce near USF north into neighboring Pasco County. At the heart of the wilderness the slow-moving Hillsborough River sparkles like obsidian. A classic blackwater river, the Hillsborough rises in the Green Swamp and flows south through Temple Terrace and Tampa to meet Tampa Bay in downtown. The water is stained dark by the tannin released as cypress and other leafdecay in the water. Within the state park, the Hillsborough River creates the state’s only Class II rapids, providing canoers and kayakers a bit of excitement on their way south.
Park staff rent paddle-powered boats rent paddle-powered boats for exploring the river. Fishing for native bowfin, panfish and other species is also permitted. Trails provide hikers and bikers access to the park’s towering cypress forests and oak hammocks. RV camping and primitive hike-in backpacking are both available, as is a public swimming pool for those who prefer their state parks a little more laid back.
History buffs will find what they love at Fort Foster, where visitors can tour on Thursdays a replica of the original fort that was part of a network of U.S. military outposts from which troops fought the local Seminole Indians as Florida was being settled in the 1830s and 1840s.
The park encompasses a reclaimed phosphate mine, and the reclamation process sculpted the land into maze of sharp hills and valleys laced with enough International Mountain Bike Association single-track to challenge even the most experienced rider. An on-site bike shop stands ready to help with gear needs and repairs to get riders back on the trail and keep them there. The park’s trails are also popular with hikers, horseback riders and trail runners who have 20 miles of their own trails to explore.
The park takes its name from the nearby Alafia River, one of four rivers to flow into Tampa Bay. Within the park, the cypress-filled South Prong of the Alafia provides ample opportunity for canoeing, kayaking and fishing for those who like to take things slower. Equestrian camping is also available within the park.
Little Manatee River State Park
A short distance off Interstate 75 near the community of Wimauma, the park is easy to reach from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton and Sarasota. The park protects the river as an Outstanding Florida Water and provides visitors with unparalleled opportunities for hiking, canoeing and exploring the nature world by foot, boat, bike or horseback. Tent and RV camping area available.
Located in Tampa Bay’s historic Latin Quarter, Ybor City Museum State Park celebrates and commemorates the cigar industry that, starting in 1885, turned a barren patch of scrub land east of downtown Tampa into a hustling, bustling melting pot of immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Italy and beyond.
The museum is housed in the former Ferlita Bakery in the old Italian part of Ybor City and includes displays that trace the community’s history from its founding by its namesake, cigar magnate Vicente Martinez Ybor, through the decades during which the industry earned Tampa the nickname “Cigar City.”
Beyond the bakery, visitors can tour the “casitas,” the small wooden houses developed for cigar works as some of the country’s first prefabricated housing. As for the wildlife, they’re right outside the door. Wild chickens cluck and crow in the streets surrounding the museum – the descendants of the yard birds kept by Italian immigrants decades ago. Look, take selfies, but don’t touch – they’re protected by local ordinance.