One of the Tampa Bay area’s most beloved state parks, Hillsborough River State Park has always been a family favorite because of its rapids. Yes, rapids. Until I spent years researching Florida’s history and discovered that rapids used to occur in places like the Miami River – but were removed in the name of “progress” – I’d thought these were perhaps the southernmost rapids. They’re not, but they sure are beautiful from the hiking trail system here.
Enjoy a short and easy walk above the rapids, or take one of the longer loop trails to immerse yourself beneath the shade of ancient live oaks and tall cabbage palms. There are nearly 6 miles of trails to choose from at this popular state park.
Length: Up to 5.8 miles in a round-trip and two loops
Lat-Lon: 28.1491, -82.2273
Fees: Florida State Parks entrance fee
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Bug Factor: Moderate
Restroom: Yes, near suspension bridge
Watch for poison ivy along the trail.
Take I-75 to Tampa exit 265 (Fowler Avenue). Head east to its junction with US 301. Turn north and drive 10.5 miles to the park entrance. Follow the one-way loop to Parking Area #2. The nature trail starts at the Prayer of the Woods sign.
Start at the “Nature Trail” sign, walking past the “Prayer of the Woods” along a well-worn path in the floodplain forest. Pass a trail coming in from the left before you emerge at a log Civilian Conservation Corps shelter at 0.2 mile at the rapids overlook. The tannic water rushes across dark boulders of Suwannee limestone, making a soothing sound. The trail continues to your left, following the river downstream, with boardwalks, benches, and observation decks to make for a pleasant walk.
After 0.6 mile you reach the suspension bridge over the river. It bounces, of course, which is all the more fun. On the opposite side, a marker notes the beginning of the Baynard Trail, a loop in the lush river hammock. It heads upstream for a bit before circling around through a grove of wild citrus, and reaches the Florida Trail (FT sign) blue-blazed connector at 1.5 mile. Turn right to start the Seminole Trail loop (formerly the Florida Trail), or continue straight ahead to return to the suspension bridge.
Once you reach it by following the blue blazes through a swampy hollow filled with cypresses, the Seminole Trail loop is 3.3 miles long. Turn right at the loop trail sign. The trail winds between ancient live oaks and hickory trees, tall cypresses and cabbage palms whose trunks are dense with lichens.
At 1.9 miles, the habitat shifts as you cross a bridge and lose a little elevation; sweetgum and elm dominate, and the footpath may be damp underfoot. You’ll soon pass the blue-blaze to the primitive campsite. As the trail continues its loop, it passes beneath oaks of incredible size, especially when it reaches the river bluffs. You’ll walk upstream the remainder of the way, the trail providing sweeping views of the river.
After 4.8 miles, you finish the loop. Turn right and follow the blue blazes back to the Bayard Trail. Turn right to continue along the Bayard Trail loop, which swings left and upstream before reaching the suspension bridge.
Back in the developed portion of the park, you can retrace your route along the River Rapids Nature Trail, or use one of its parallel trails through the floodplain forest—but these tend to be damp. Enjoy the rapids one more time before you depart.
start at parking lot
trail joins from left 90* 0.1
rapids overlook 0.2
observation deck 0.2
boardwalk w/metal plates 0.6
suspension bridge 0.6
trail curves right 0.7
left away from river 0.8
sharp left 0.9
trail marker 1.0
sharp left at trail marker 1.3
FT sign, turn right 1.5
FT loop sign, right 1.6
dbl blz left 1.8
small bridge 1.9
veer left 2.2
cross bridge, left along creek 2.3
campsite blue blaze 2.6
turn left (south) 3.2
turn left (east) 3.3
emerge river 3.4
SP marker 3.5
bridge after downhill 4.3
END FT loop 4.8
jct with Baynard Trl, right 4.9
left at bridge 4.9
suspension bridge 5.1
return to rapids 5.6