Conserving over 1,000 acres of land directly southeast of Tampa, Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve is carefully managed by Hillsborough County to protect local flora and fauna.
Taken together to form a loop, the Red and Yellow Trails provide a tour of various ecosystems as they wind through oak scrub, pine flatwoods, oak hammocks, and palm hammocks.
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Length: 5.2 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.
Leashed dogs welcome. Since two stiles cross barbed wire fences on this route, your dog must be able to scramble under the barbed wire to do the loop.
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.
From the parking area, head southwest on a crushed shell service road lined on both sides with fields of palmettos.
Follow red blazed posts along the road for about a quarter mile, as the landscape transitions into a scrub habitat.
The namesake golden aster grows in clusters to the left of the trail.
These unique flowers are accompanied by other scrub-loving vegetation, including narrow-leaf blue curls, coastalplain chaffhead, and prickly pear cactus.
A small pond is visible through gaps in the trees to the right. Continue following red blazes to the south end of the pond, then turn right at the first intersection.
The scenery quickly changes as scrub gives way to thick pine flatwoods.
The trail is initially bordered by columns of slash pine on each side, before opening to a mix of longleaf and slash amongst a sea of palmettos.
At the one-mile mark, a post is painted red and yellow, emblazoned with the number three. Turn right to start the Yellow Trail loop.
Along the yellow blazes to the west, the edges of the forest road are decorated with bunches of vibrant narrowleaf sunflowers.
Continue for a quarter mile, then make a right turn before reaching a powerline easement.
Cabbage palms and small pines extend from clumps of palmettos as the pathway heads north.
Posts on a fence line to the left are marked with yellow paint, designating the trail as it follows the powerlines for a half mile.
A large metal stile allows access over the barbed wire fence to the powerline easement.
Climb over and cross the easement for about 400 feet to another stile, then immediately turn left on the other side of the fence.
Follow the fence line again, this time heading south for a quarter mile, then turn right as the trail skirts around a cabbage palm hammock.
The wide path winds through a jungle of palms and occasional live oak through this wetter habitat towards the western edge of the property.
The trail makes a left turn at 2.8 mile, following a fence southward for the next 0.4 mile under a dense oak hammock.
An inviting tunnel of live oak limbs leads into the distance on this well-shaded section.
A pine tree painted with two blazes indicating a turn to the left marks the end of the oak hammock.
As the trail heads back towards the east, it becomes wetter and is possibly seasonally flooded in some spots. Small arrowroots covered in white flowers sprout up above grasses on the road.
In a half mile, a metal stile allows passage over a barbed wire fence onto the powerline easement again.
The crossing here is not as defined as it was to the north. No trail markers are available, but the next stile can be seen to the southwest.
Proceed through an open area of pine flatwoods for a quarter mile, then turn left. The path heads northward for a short jog around a wet depression before meeting the Red Trail again.
Turn right onto the Red Trail to head back to towards the trailhead. Follow the red blazes for 0.2 mile before turning left at a dirt road.
Oak scrub borders the trail to the east for a bit before the loop ends at the small pond. Continue heading northeast on the Red Trail for a half mile, ending at the parking area.
Learn more about Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Directly across Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg, two loop trails in Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve navigate restored wetlands and a lookout point known as Mount Cockroach.
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