Terra Ceia Preserve State Park protects 2,000 acres of coastline along Tampa Bay, rich in ecological diversity.
Mangroves, palms, oaks, and pine stand together alongside salt and freshwater marshes, attracting an array of wildlife.
The Hightower Trail System provides several different routes to follow. This moderately easy hiking loop showcases the variety of habitats within the preserve.
Resources for exploring the area
Disclosure: As authors and affiliates, we receive earnings when you buy these through our links. This helps us provide public information on this website.
Length: 4.1 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.58083, -82.57266
Address: Hightower Rd, Palmetto, FL 34221
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
From the intersection of SR 41 and Interstate 275, head south for 0.4 mile, turning right at 73rd St E. In 0.3 mile, make a slight right onto Bishop Harbor Rd and continue for another 0.3 mile before turning left onto 77th St E. Continue straight for 1.4 mile as the road changes to Terra Ceia Rd, making a slight right onto Hightower Rd. The trailhead is at the end of the road in half a mile.
From the trailhead gate, head north, keeping an eye out for a kiosk on the left.
The kiosk contains information about restoration, native and invasive species on the property, maps, and a note of current trail conditions.
Initially, the path is a combination of the orange, white and blue trails. Continue northward along a service road bordered on each side by salty marshes.
Oaks, palmettos, and mangroves line the edges, occasionally leaving a gap that offers a glimpse of the surrounding wetlands.
Follow this avenue through increasingly lush jungle of cabbage palms for about a half mile, to the first main trail junction.
Turn right, starting a clockwise loop on the blue and white trails.
A freshwater pond becomes visible through tall grasses on the left, its outer edges covered in bright green aquatic vegetation.
The trail rounds the east side of this body of water, then another pond before opening to a small prairie.
At the next blue and white marked post, turn left to follow a road through the middle of the prairie. This landscape is noticeably different.
It’s predominantly covered in tall gold and green grasses except for one scraggly little longleaf pine in the middle of the field.
At a mile, the white trail continues north, and the blue trail branches off.
If the trail conditions on the main kiosk indicated the trails were wet, the white trail northward may be under water.
This portion of the loop can be skipped by continuing the blue trail loop to the east.
Follow the white trail towards the salt marshes at the north end of the park.
The path becomes a bit muddier as it leaves the prairie, passing between marshy landscapes lined by palms and pines.
Trail markers become scarcer towards the end of the road as the path opens to a grassy clearing.
Follow a trail to the right, through a tunnel of trees, revealing expansive tidal flats.
The ground is surprisingly solid, allowing easy exploration of the mangrove-bordered habitat.
From this point, head back south to the blue and white trail junction, turning left to continue the loop.
The path takes a short jog to the east, then south, skirting the prairie edges before returning to the woods.
After a few twists and turns through columns of charred cabbage palms and over a small footbridge, the trail descends into a dense oak hammock.
Huge live oak branches covered in Spanish moss and resurrection ferns cast shadows over a thick understory of palmettos.
Ample posts with blue blazes designate the path as it winds through a subtropical jungle, emerging on the other side into a clearing of pines.
Continue west for a quarter mile before turning left onto the main trail marked with orange, blue and white blazes.
Follow the road between salt marshes, returning to the parking area after another 0.2 mile.
Learn more about Terra Ceia Preserve State Park
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.
Where the Manatee River meets the Gulf of Mexico near Bradenton, Emerson Point Preserve protects the Portavent Mound, one of Florida’s most ancient temple mounds
Farmland turned back to mangrove marshes: that’s Robinson Preserve, with more than 4 miles of hiking on shell and wild pathways along Tampa Bay at Bradenton.