The Alafia River Corridor Nature Preserve protects over 4,700 acres within the Alafia River floodplain.
Extensive phosphate mining that occurred decades ago is still evident to this day, mostly in unnatural changes in elevation.
A healthy forest has grown on this disturbed land, and a hiking-only loop trail traverses the property with a primitive campsite for backpackers along the way.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 6.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.871242, -82.135743
Address: 9256 S CR 39, Plant City
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
Contact Hillsborough County for permission to camp at least 14 days in advance. See their website for full details.
From SR 60 west of Mulberry and east of Brandon, head south on CR 39 for 4.8 miles, and the parking lot will be located on the left side of the road.
Starting at a large sign for the property on the north end of the parking lot, head down the trail for a few feet to an informational kiosk.
The kiosk displays a map alongside important information about the preserve.
Continue down the trail as it is immersed in a dense jungle-like hardwood hammock.
Large cabbage palm fronds hang over seas of ferns under a shady canopy created by a variety of trees.
At 0.2 mile, the trail joins a service road under an archway of branches covered in Spanish moss.
Wild coffee and beautyberry join a multitude of shade-tolerant shrubs lining the pathway as it descends towards the Alafia River.
A large, sturdy iron bridge crosses the property’s namesake river in half a mile. Sweetgum and live oak trees stand alongside the banks as a slow current of tannic water flows southward.
Across the river, dark waters stand in the surrounding swamps, crossing the trail in small seasonal streams.
In another half-mile, the canopy opens completely as the road crosses a long clearing bordered by tall grasses.
Red-blazed posts indicate the trail while it parallels train tracks hidden behind a wall of trees and shrubs.
Butterflies drift back and forth across the trail, attracted to a multitude of small flowers amongst the grass.
In 1.5 miles, a sign marked with an “A” indicates a trail leading to the primitive campsite. Although this side trip adds a half-mile to the hike, it is worth the detour.
Evidence of the past phosphate mining operations are immediately noticeable, as the trail is bordered by steep thirty-foot drop-offs on each side.
Nearly a century has passed since the mining ceased, leading to unique landscape as nature reclaims the land with tall trees and thick vegetation.
A cozy campsite sits at the end of this trail, complete with a fire ring, benches, and a picnic table.
Returning to the main trail, turn right to continue the loop.
As the habitat transitions to pine forest, vibrant, purple-tined Florida paintbrush and blazing stars bloom alongside clusters of bright yellow asters.
Patches of reindeer moss cling to the sandy soils underfoot before the trail enters another oak hammock.
At 3.5 miles, the trail turns northward, following alongside an old canal for a tenth of a mile before crossing over and continuing onto a series of forest roads to the west.
The trail climbs and descends changes in elevation, traversing landscapes dramatically altered by phosphate mining.
Shade is abundant as the forest has regrown, allowing tall oaks to stretch over the wide trail. Completing the loop at the 5 mile mark, turn left, heading towards the entrance.
Continue for another 1.3 miles, over the river and through the woods back to the trailhead.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Straddling the confluence of the North and South Prong of the Alafia River, Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park provides immersion into lush riverine forests.
Meandering over hilly terrain past numerous scenic overlooks, the Singing Bluffs Trail at Edward Medard Conservation Park provides great birding among documented nesting bird colonies.
Alderman’s Ford Preserve offers a surprising treat for a Central Florida hike: whitewater, showcasing the Alafia River churning as it winds through a deeply eroded channel