Who can resist climbing Mount Cockroach? At Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve, home to more than 500 acres of restored wetlands, this promontory offers a unique perspective on Tampa Bay.
A joint effort between Hillsborough County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Cockroach Bay Ecosystem Restoration Project commenced in 1991.
Completed nearly 21 years later, it is a popular spot for birders. In addition to hiking, it provides boat launch access to Cockroach Bay.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 1.8 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.69134, -82.50167
Address: 3839 Gulf City Rd, Ruskin
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs permitted.
From Interstate 75, head west on College Ave for 2.7 mile, and turn left onto US 41. Continue for three miles, then turn right onto Cockroach Bay Rd. In 1.9 mile, turn right onto Gulf City Rd. The preserve entrance will be on the left in 0.3 mile.
From the parking area, head west on the service road to an intersection with a post marked red and blue. Mount Cockroach will become visible in the distance behind a stand of pines.
Follow the Red Trail towards this distinct rise in elevation, stopping for a moment at a highly informative kiosk on the left side of the trail.
A full map of the property is displayed, alongside descriptions of wintering songbirds in the preserve.
In a few hundred feet, a curious old block building decorated with murals stands at the next intersection.
Turn right, climbing the mound on a crushed shell path lined with gardens of native plants. The trail ascends quickly to a sheltered picnic bench.
The view from the top is spectacular, overlooking restored marshes in all directions.
A distant city skyline emerges from the horizon: St. Petersburg’s tall buildings are clearly visible across Tampa Bay.
Another kiosk accompanies the bench, displaying images of dozens of bird species that inhabit the area.
Continue across the rise, descending on the other side to an intriguing strangler fig wrapped around a cabbage palm.
At a red and blue post marked with the number two, stay straight to head towards the south loop.
After a little dip in the road, the pathway opens to a verdant meadow dotted with oaks and cabbage palms.
Turn right at a blue post marked with a three to begin the counterclockwise loop around a restored palustrine marsh along the Blue Trail.
Follow the well-defined blue blazed trail to an intersection about a tenth of a mile to the west.
Turning left cuts through a field of tall grasses and palmettos. Turning right skirts a tidal marsh, then quickly rejoins the main trail in a few hundred feet.
In 0.2 mile, the trail takes a ninety degree turn to the south. Moderately tall cabbage palms line the grassy passage, their trunks charred from past burns.
A pond at the center of the loop becomes visible through gaps in the thick surrounding vegetation to the left.
The trail continues to the south end of the loop, then turns left at a fence line along Cockroach Bay Rd.
Rounding the corner, you may hear the distinctive call of coots while approaching an edge of the pond. Small and black with little white bills, these waterfowl typically gather in large groups.
This section of the trail offers several views of the pond to the north while it follows the fence line for a quarter mile.
It then makes a sharp turn to the left, heading north. You can see the shelter on top of Mount Cockroach, which rises above the pines, palms, and tall grasses.
In a quarter mile, turn right at the blue post marked with a three.
The trail heads east for 0.2 mile along golden fields interspersed with stands of pine. It then reaches a blue post marked with an arrow indicating a left turn.
After another 200 feet, the Blue Trail rejoins the Red Trail, and the parking area can be seen directly to the east.
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.
With sandy shores around every bend and a canopy of trees overhead, Little Manatee River State Park provides a place for a pretty paddling trip for families.
E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin offers a campground along with its beaches and mazy mangrove-lined waterways for paddlers and anglers along Tampa Bay.