Near where the Alafia River meets Tampa Bay, Alafia Scrub Nature Preserve offers immersion in upland habitats along a scrub ridge outside Gibsonton.
Encompassing 80 acres, this conservation property snugs up to the Alafia basin in a salt marsh. The river flows under Interstate 75, meaning a traffic hum along with your river views.
Along this gentle loop hike, which can be cut in half for younger and less agile hikers, enjoy dense oak hammocks and a jungle of palms that absorb the sound.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.8609, -82.3359
Address: 10243 Elbow Bend Rd, Riverview
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed pets permitted.
No bicycles. Limited trailhead parking.
From Interstate 75 south of Tampa, take exit 250, Gibsonton. Follow Gibsonton Drive east for 0.6 mile. As the curve starts to straighten out, make a left on Hagadorn Rd. Turn left after a quarter mile onto Elbow Bend Rd. The trailhead parking area is on the left.
From the trailhead adjoining the power line easement along Elbow Bend Rd, enter the gap in the fence and check the kiosk, which shows a map of the preserve.
Red markers guide you south towards a line of oaks, reaching the red-blazed outer loop at Marker 0. Turn right and follow the narrow wooded corridor.
Palmetto fronds lean over the footpath, and sunlight glistens through streamers of Spanish moss hanging from the forest canopy.
The trail briefly joins a fence line within sight of Elbow Bend Rd before turning back into the woods, passing a cluster of sweetbay magnolia.
Crossing a footbridge over an ephemeral waterway, the trail gains a little elevation as you reach Marker 1, tipped red and blue.
It indicates the junction with the blue-blazed Cut-Off Trail, the shortcut across the loop at 0.3 mile that cuts this hike in half. Continue straight for the longer hike.
The oak hammock opens into a grassy area lined with saw palmetto, where gopher tortoises graze.
Passing a bench, the trail narrows sharply as palm fronds crowd closely. You may have to push through them.
The oaks are taller here, limbs curving overhead, the understory dense with cabbage palms and dwarf palmetto.
A wild citrus tree dangles orange globes above a curve. A short footbridge is soon after, among the palms.
Rising onto an oak-topped ridge, the trail plunges back into palm fronds. Moss-draped vines hang low.
The first sounds of Interstate 75 carry through forest openings. Stepping over palmetto trunks, cross another footbridge.
This is a more substantial waterway flowing towards the river. Lined with giant leather ferns, it has a primordial feel.
The trail climbs a small rise, offering peeks into the salt marsh before the observation deck at Marker 2, 0.6 mile into the hike.
If the tide is out, you may see ibis and roseate spoonbills on the mud flats. If it’s in, the approach to the deck may be sticky underfoot.
After taking in the view, climb down the stairs and turn right. The trail soon turns away from the river basin to start the return loop.
The landscape drops off into a large basin filled with palms just before you pass Marker 3. Pines and oaks tower overhead.
Reaching a clearing where rust-colored bluestem grass waves above the saw palmetto, the trail opens onto the scrub ridge.
Spagnum moss edges the footpath as it emerges at a second intersection with the blue-blazed Cut-Off Trail at Marker 4 at 1 mile.
Turn right to head towards Marker 5, which is within sight of the property boundary with an apartment complex beyond.
Make a left here to continue along the loop. Bright white sand underfoot and sand live oaks and myrtle oaks herald the scrub forest you’re walking through.
Older saw palmetto arch up on long trunks, lifting well off the forest floor.
A slab of concrete is half-hidden by leaf litter at 1.2 miles. A yellow-blazed trail peels off the loop to connect to a pedestrian entrance at the southeast corner of the preserve.
Pass it by and stay with the red blazes. The oak hammock is more dense and mature through this part of the preserve, with taller laurel oaks and water oaks.
The understory is thick with young oaks before the saw palmetto takes over again. Close the loop on the red-blazed trail at Marker 0 after 1.4 miles.
Turn right to exit the loop, and turn left when you see the fence to return to the trailhead.
See our photos of Alafia Scrub Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Protecting uplands immediately east of Tampa Bay, Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve immerses hikers within oak scrub habitat along a sandy loop trail.
An island of high ground in the Alafia River basin, Rhodine Scrub Nature Preserve protects more than 400 acres of Florida scrub habitat south of Riverview
An easy-going 2.8-mile loop trail explores the south tract of Fishhawk Creek Preserve providing a glimpse of a few natural and endangered Florida habitats.