One of the Tampa Bay area’s most beloved state parks, Hillsborough River State Park has always been a family favorite because of its rapids. Yes, rapids.
Enjoy a short and easy walk above the rapids, or take one of the longer loop trails to immerse yourself beneath the shade of ancient live oaks and tall cabbage palms. There are nearly 6 miles of trails to choose from at this popular state park.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: Up to 5.8 miles in a round-trip and two loops
Trailhead: 28.1491, -82.2273
Address: 15402 US 301 N, Thonotosassa
Fees: $6 per vehicle
Restroom: Yes, near suspension bridge
Land Manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8AM to sunset. Leashed dogs welcome. Watch for poison ivy along the trail.
Take Interstate 75 to Tampa exit 265 (Fowler Avenue). Head east to its junction with US 301. Turn north and drive 10.5 miles to the park entrance. Follow the one-way loop to Parking Area #2. The River Rapids Nature Trail starts at the Prayer of the Woods sign and connects to all trails except the Wetlands Trail on the south end of the park.
Start at the “Nature Trail” sign, walking past the “Prayer of the Woods” along a well-worn path in the floodplain forest. Pass a trail coming in from the left before you emerge at a log Civilian Conservation Corps shelter at 0.2 mile at the rapids overlook.
The tannic water rushes across dark boulders of Suwannee limestone, making a soothing sound. The trail continues to your left, following the river downstream, with boardwalks, benches, and observation decks to make for a pleasant walk.
After 0.6 mile you reach the suspension bridge over the river. It bounces, of course, which is all the more fun. On the opposite side, a marker notes the beginning of the Baynard Trail, a loop in the lush river hammock.
It heads upstream for a bit before circling around through a grove of wild citrus, and reaches the Florida Trail (FT sign) blue-blazed connector at 1.5 mile.
Turn right to start the Seminole Trail loop (formerly the Florida Trail), or continue straight ahead to return to the suspension bridge.
Once you reach it by following the blue blazes through a swampy hollow filled with cypresses, the Seminole Trail loop is 3.3 miles long. Turn right at the loop trail sign.
The trail winds between ancient live oaks and hickory trees, tall cypresses and cabbage palms whose trunks are dense with lichens.
At 1.9 miles, the habitat shifts as you cross a bridge and lose a little elevation; sweetgum and elm dominate, and the footpath may be damp underfoot.
You’ll soon pass the blue-blaze to the primitive campsite. As the trail continues its loop, it passes beneath oaks of incredible size, especially when it reaches the river bluffs.
You’ll walk upstream the remainder of the way, the trail providing sweeping views of the river.
After 4.8 miles, you finish the loop. Turn right and follow the blue blazes back to the Bayard Trail.
Turn right to continue along the Bayard Trail loop, which swings left and upstream before reaching the suspension bridge.
Back in the developed portion of the park, you can retrace your route along the River Rapids Nature Trail, or use one of its parallel trails through the floodplain forest—but these tend to be damp. Enjoy the rapids one more time before you depart.
Learn more about Hillsborough River State Park
Water in motion: the Hillsborough rapids foam and froth over limestone boulders beneath grand cypress trees in Class II rapids. One of Florida’s oldest state parks, Hillsborough River State Park showcases this masterpiece of nature from an overlook and trail system built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Along the trails of Hillsborough River State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
At the north edge of Tampa, Lettuce Lake Park protects 240 acres along the Hillsborough River, with a loop trail and boardwalk that shows off cypress swamps and uplands.
In addition to the 6.9 mile paved bike path loop at its core, Flatwoods Park at Lower Hillsborough Wilderness provides many different routes for outdoor exploration
A short drive from downtown Tampa, Cypress Creek Nature Preserve is an interesting window into a gradient of ecosystems along a tributary of the Hillsborough River.