Acquired by Hillsborough County in 1995, Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve protects over a thousand acres of land adjacent to the mangrove-lined shores of Tampa Bay.
A series of blazed trails showcase the varied ecosystems within the preserve, with two distinct loops possible.
The shorter of the two, the Blue Trail loops along a ridge on the eastern edge of a dry habitat that is home to Florida’s only endemic bird, the Florida scrub-jay.
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Length: 3.3-mile loop
Trailhead: 27.82093, -82.35316
Address: 12181 East Bay Road
Restrooms: Vault toilet off the red trail.
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
From Interstate 75, head west on Gibsonton Dr for less than a tenth of a mile and turn left onto New East Bay Rd. Continue for two miles. The road will dead-end into the preserve parking area.
Starting at the trailhead, head south on an access road marked with red blazes for a quarter mile. Palmettos and grasses line the edges of a wide crushed shell path.
At the first intersection, the Blue Trail starts, splitting from the Red Trail. A restroom is available a tenth of a mile ahead on the Red Trail.
Turn left onto a sandy access road heading southeast. Around the corner, a blue blazed post indicates the direction of the trail.
At first the path meanders through scrubby flatwoods, with saw palmettos and pines being the most prevalent flora.
Continuing south, the trail runs along the edge of a small depression marsh, offering a picturesque view across the open space.
As the trail comes closer to the eastern side of the ridge, sand pines become more common.
The next trail intersection introduces a striking change in landscape, as the road ends at a wall of scrub oak. Scrub-jays can be heard, and occasionally seen, within this tangle of low-lying trees.
Turn left, following the blue blazes towards a wetter habitat surrounded with taller oaks and pines. The trail has some potential for flooding as it runs alongside a marshy area to the south.
As the trail changes in elevation, it becomes sandy as it approaches the north shore of a lake. A few different species of pine cluster together along the edge of the water.
The path follows the shore for a quarter mile before climbing up onto the ridge again.The ecosystem rapidly changes again, with scrub oaks and sand becoming the predominant features.
This habitat can be considered a type of desert, harboring many species that have adapted to arid conditions.
Follow the blue blazes, turning right in a quarter mile, then left in another 0.2 mile.
Tall sand pines rise from the scrub where the landscape becomes more habitable. An occasional sand live oak covered in Spanish moss branches up and over the trail.
Continue north along the western side of the ridge. Scrubby flatwoods are off to the left, and a mass of scrub to the right.
At the next intersection, turn right as the trail goes up and over the ridge, lined with walls of scrub oaks on each side.
In 0.2 mile, turn left, following the Blue Trail for its final half mile. It returns to the intersection with the Red Trail.
Turn right onto the Red Trail, following the blazes for about a quarter mile back to the trailhead to finish this 3.3 mile hike.
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