6/1/23: Closed for several weeks to add a paved parking area at the trailhead.
Part of the extensive Alafia River Corridor, encompassing more than 10,000 acres of public lands east of Tampa along this scenic river, Alderman’s Ford Preserve offers a unique perspective on the waterway.
Below its bluffs, the Alafia River flows over limestone boulders, forming noisy, churning stretches of hydraulics that are mesmerizing to hear and watch.
There are open fields for birding, ancient live oaks in the dense river bluff forest, and historic reminders of the traditional crossings along the river.
This is a trail system that doesn’t look like much from the trailhead, but don’t let that fool you. It’s worth the hike to see the rapids.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 3.3 miles
Trailhead: 27.879559, -82.170972
Address: 8911 Turkey Creek Rd, Plant City
Land Manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to 5 PM. Leashed dogs welcome. Mosquito repellent and sun protection a must.
Swimming is not allowed. Bicycles are not allowed, but local equestrians do use the trails through the open fields.
From Interstate 75 exit 257, Brandon, follow SR 60 east for 2.7 miles. Turn right on Lithia-Pinecrest Road. Go 1.1 miles to the second traffic light and make a left on E. Lumsden Road. Make an immediate right at the gas station to follow Durant Road, a heavily canopied road through residential areas, for 6.2 miles to the community of Durant. At the stop sign with Turkey Creek Road, turn right and drive 1.2 miles to the intersection with Keysville Road in front of Durant High School. Continue straight down Turkey Creek Road (signposted as a Dead End) for another 0.4 mile to the well-hidden trailhead entrance on the right.
Slip through the pass-thru from parking area to preserve and walk around to the kiosk to check out the trail route.
A large chunk of the landscape, including the part you’re walking through to start, was formerly pastureland next to an orange grove.
The trail turns right at the kiosk and parallels the treeline along Turkey Creek Road.
Trees provide morning shade across an otherwise open walk marked with diamond-shaped markers with a hiker in the middle.
Coming to a trail intersection, continue straight on a gradual descent along the edge of the field.
After 0.2 mile, turn left to slip into the deep shade of a hardwood hammock.
Braided alluvial streams course their way down through the lush forest, with pools of standing water being a breeding place for mosquitoes.
The trail goes downhill fast, through dense stands of cinnamon fern with interspersed cinnamon fern.
The footpath is covered in oak leaves, with tree roots creating a stairstep effect. Descend quickly to a high bluff above the river.
Approaching a picnic table at a prominent bend on the river, turn left to look down into a deep gully for the source of the splashing sound.
Water runs across the limestone bedrock of the bluff, creating a cascade just a couple of feet tall.
The stream – fed by the braided streams that you passed – drops through the layers of rock and sluices down a deeply cut channel into the Alafia River.
The official trail map shows a trail going to the left here, but there’s no safe or easy way to cross the cascade unless you want a handful of poison ivy as you scramble to the far side.
An unmarked trail leads off to the right. This is a beaten path to a couple of incredible sights along the natural levee.
First, the big oak. You can’t miss it, given the sheer girth of the tree that extends out over the river.
From there, this rough trail narrows and drops down the bluff to river level. The river’s a bit rough here, so watch yourself on the scramble down and back up.
It’s worth the exploration, because the roar of rapids bounces off the bluffs as you climb back up and look down on a stretch of churning hydraulics.
The rough trail ends here after 0.4 mile, so turn around and retrace the riverside walk past the old oak tree. Return to the picnic table and enjoy the view.
As you emerge from the woods, the cloud of mosquitoes lifts. Continue back along the fenceline to the marked trail junction. Turn left.
This is the lower portion of a loop trail along the rim of a large field that looks as if it was once pastureland.
The trail keeps to the edge of the field, working its way around a drainage dense with sweetgum and red maple trees.
Colorful wildflowers appear in patches, including stands of purple dayflower. Take care not to step in fire ant nests dotting the broad grassy path.
Continuing along the edge of an oak forest, the trail looks like it might enter it, but makes a hard right at 0.9 mile to continue through the fields.
Patches of goldenrod, tall dog fennel, and the bright purple blooms of terrible thistle add color to the landscape.
A cool breeze flows out of the forest, off the river hidden behind the trees.
Shade is at a premium, with occasional lone oaks providing a spot here and there, especially as you get closer to the end of the loop.
A splash alerts you to the presence of an oxbow pond to the left behind a screen of trees.
It’s a portion of the river left high and dry as it settled into its current deep channel, a gathering place for wading birds.
After 1.5 miles, reach a prominent trail junction with a swale to the right. Turn left to continue.
Views of the oxbow are more open here, American lotus blooming on the surface.
The footpath becomes bright white sand as the habitat transitions. Take the left fork.
The sound of rapids grabs your attention. Look left to see the Alafia River at the base of the steep bluff.
Here’s another stretch of whitewater, a bit longer than the first, and from the angle you’re viewing it from, very reminiscent of the Big Shoals of the Suwanneee.
There’s no easy way to get down to the water’s edge, however. As the trail continues above the river, it’s wide as a forest road.
At another fork in the trail, blazes direct you under low-hanging oak branches before rejoining the more-beaten path surrounded by young hickories.
The trail becomes a forest road crowded by sand pines and oaks. Although you’re still very near the bluff, you can no longer see the river.
Take a slight downhill beneath large cedars and cabbage palms to a trail junction at 2 miles.
Continue past the junction to emerge into an open area under a power line. Look left. Walk through the grass for a closer look at a pair of railroad trestle piers.
Part of the original Plant System railway, these historic piers are built from brick and covered in Virginia creeper.
This is the far west end of the trail, so turn around and return to the trail junction. Turn left to follow the north side of this loop, passing some large oaks.
Skirt soggy spots near a nesting box near a patch of tickseed. The loop ends as the trail reaches the sandy forest road at 2.2 miles. Turn left.
Peek through the trees along the straightaway to find a place where you can descend safely to take in the splash of whitewater at the river’s edge.
Continue along a palmetto-dotted open area. At the fork by the oxbow, keep left. Scout for birds and alligators before returning to the pasture loop at 2.5 miles.
This time, continue straight to hike the north side of the loop, which offers a parade of spring blooms. Drops through the swale and quickly rise into old pastureland.
Cows moo in the distance as you approach a fence with the lights of the Durant High School football field in the distance. The trail turns right to follow the fence.
The trail passes gigantic live oaks in this part of the pasture, some large enough to have started their own hammocks, and the trail leads you past and around these gentle giants.
Passing a trail marker, follow a straightaway towards what looks like the parking corral ahead.
Another trail leads through the pines off at a diagonal on the right. It was overgrown, but if you find it open, use it for a more scenic return to the trailhead.
The trail we followed smacked up against a fence, but not for the parking corral. It was the back of the on-site residence.
Make a sharp left and continue along the fence back to the parking area, exiting at the pass-thru for a 3.3 mile hike.
See our photos of Alderman’s Ford Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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.
Looping through a former phosphate mine north of the Alafia River, this hike showcases the resilience of nature as the forest reclaims the land.
Straddling the confluence of the North and South Prong of the Alafia River, Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park provides immersion into lush riverine forests.