An important link in the South Hillsborough Wildlife Corridor, Fishhawk Creek Preserve protects over 3,200 acres along the Alafia River, including rare xeric habitats.
The northern portion of this conservation area provides wildlife space to roam while also offering recreation along a well-established loop trail starting at Lithia Springs Park.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 3.5 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.8649, -82.2279
Address: 3931 Lithia Springs Rd, Lithia
Fees: $2 per vehicle
Restrooms: Available at Lithia Springs Conservation Park
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to sunset
From Interstate 75, turn onto SR 52 heading west. Continue for 11.8 mile, then turn right at Kent Grove Dr. In 1 mile, turn left onto Orange Dr. After a sharp left turn after a half mile, turn right onto Minneola Dr. The preserve entrance is at the end of this road, inside Lithia Springs Park.
Immediately after passing through the entrance to Lithia Springs Park, the parking area for the preserve is to the left.
A sign for the trailhead can be seen from the parking area, behind a covered pavilion with picnic benches.
Heading past the sign, the sandhill habitat that covers most of the preserve is highly noticeable.
A short sandy path dips through scrubby vegetation, emerging into a wide grassy field. The trail crosses this open area towards a post visible on the other side.
Halfway across the field, a small Chickasaw plum tree stands alone in a patch of tall grasses.
In the springtime, these native plants are covered in small white flowers, often swarmed with pollinators.
Passing the arrow-marked post, a sandy service road rounds a couple of corners, flanked by longleaf pines and live oaks enveloped in Spanish moss.
The trail drops slightly in elevation as hikers are guided along by additional posts with arrows.
A row of tall green shrubs known as Walter’s viburnum borders the right side of the trail as it becomes grassy again.
This native flora also sports bunches of white flowers that eventually produce little clusters of berries.
Ecosystems transition quickly while approaching the Alafia River, where the trail weaves through dense palmettos.
Glancing through a break in vegetation, the creek can be seen below flowing swiftly past large chunks of limestone.
Following a left turn in the trail, a large bridge crosses over Little Fishhawk Creek.
This sturdy structure offers particularly scenic views of a small tannic stream below.
Across the creek, the trail narrows as it winds through an oak hammock interspersed with an occasional tall pine.
Paralleling the creek for a bit, the well-defined pathway follows rolling terrain shaped by centuries of erosion.
A side trail descends a bank of the Alafia River near a sign indicating wading and swimming are not allowed.
The river can be seen from the main trail and descending the bank on this little side trail offers a closer look.
Twisting away from the river, the trail slowly ascends again, this time into more of a scrub habitat.
Thick walls of young sand live oak line the sides of the path, sharing this dry land with sand pines and turkey oak saplings.
At a yellow-topped post marked with the number four, turn right to begin a counter-clockwise loop.
The loop trail is initially very wide with moss draped oaks hanging overhead. In about a quarter mile, turn left at marker number five.
Small patches of passion vine crawl along the ground, host to Gulf fritillary butterflies that drift through the woods and across the trail.
At marker six, the trail turns left as the predominant tree becomes sand pine.
The trail follows a fence line for the next quarter mile through desert-like surroundings.
Halfway to the next numbered trail marker, cabbage palms dot the landscape again, and the trail passes through a corridor of slash pine.
At trail maker seven, turn left, tracing the edge of the property for 0.2 mile where a neighborhood sits on the other side of a wire fence.
Mile marker eight is accompanied by a trail sign with an arrow pointing to the end of the loop. Turn right at marker number four to follow the trail back to the start.
Visit Fishhawk Creek Preserve South, which lies south of the creek and has a separate trail system
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.
Protecting uplands immediately east of Tampa Bay, Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve immerses hikers within oak scrub habitat along a sandy loop trail.