At the north edge of Tampa, Lettuce Lake Park protects 240 acres along the Hillsborough River, providing a getaway for hikers, bicyclists, and picnickers. Trapped between tall cypress trees in ponds dense with water lettuce, Lettuce Lake is a bend in the river creating a haunting swamp. Boardwalks lead you through this wild place. Best of all, a tall observation tower gives you a panoramic view of the river and the park.
Length: 1.8 miles
Type: loop and spur
Fees / Permits: $2 per vehicle admission fee
Bug factor: low to moderate
Open 8 AM – 7:30 PM spring and summer, 8 AM – 5:30 PM fall and winter
From I-75, take the exit for Temple Terrace and follow Fletcher Avenue 0.8 mile west to the park’s entrance on the right. If you cross the Hillsborough River, you’ve gone too far! Follow the entry road to a T intersection. Make a right and then a left into the parking area. The hiking trail starts here as a boardwalk between the picnic tables.
Starting in a picnic area near the Audubon Center, the boardwalk system at Lettuce Lake Park gets you up close to the floodplain forest. Red maples show their crimson leaves each fall. At the T intersection, turn right. The boardwalk meanders past massive cypress and there is a side trail to a sheltered cove where you can sit and watch the herons and alligators. Ferns grow riotously in the shallows as you approach the boardwalk’s end along a narrow spot in the Hillsborough River, where you may see kayakers slip past.
Retrace your steps to the intersection and continue straight ahead as the boardwalk swings out along Lettuce Lake. This is an excellent spot for birding. When you reach a junction where a cypress is encircled by the boardwalk, turn right to follow the river. At 0.8 mile, you reach the observation tower. Climb five stories for a birds-eye view of Lettuce Lake.
When you reach the end of the boardwalk, you’ve gone 0.9 miles. To make a loop of this hike (not wheelchair accessible), walk a short distance down the paved 1.5-mile bike trail past the restrooms to find the entrance to the nature trail. Continue on this natural footpath for 0.2 miles through the sandhill habitat.
The Audubon Center is an interpretive nature center open Fri-Sun 12-5. Stop here to learn more about habitats and their inhabitants along the Hillsborough River. They also have a map of the park available in their interpretive brochure.