Most folks who hear about the Green Swamp imagine a giant watery wilderness like the Okeefenokee or the Everglades. But it is far more subtle.
The birthplace of the Withacoochee, Hillsborough, Peace, and Ocklawaha Rivers, it is a complex mosaic of low-lying cypress swamps, oak hammocks, and pine flatwoods.
On the western edge of the Green Swamp, Withlacoochee River Park provides a gentle introduction to its ecosystems while offering trails and camping for all activity levels.
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Location: Dade City
Length: Up to 6.5 miles on a network of footpaths
Trailhead: 28.344642, -82.119806
Address: 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd, Dade City, FL 33525
Fees: No entrance fee. Fees apply for camping.
Restroom: at several trailheads
Land manager: Pasco County Parks
Open daily dawn to dusk. Leashed pets permitted but not allowed in cabins.
The park has cabin rentals, a primitive family campground, a nicely shaded campground for trailers and RVs and tents, and primitive backpacker campsites in the backcountry.
Heading south into Dade City on US 98/301, keep left at the fork for the truck route and immediately turn left onto River Road. Go 4.5 miles to Auton Rd at the Withlacoochee River Bridge. Turn right. The park entrance is immediately on the left.
Stop at the kiosk at the entrance for a trail map and an interpretive guide. The hikes start next to the canoe dock in the first parking area on the left, but can also be accessed from the last parking area on the left.
The park has offers two different footpaths for two different audiences, plus a paved bike path loop. You can connect these together or overlap them to vary the length and course of your hike.
All three start at the canoe launch parking area, with additional access points at the south parking area and from the campground.
This 2.5-mile yellow-blazed interpretive trail is perfect for a hike with kids. It weaves along and across the paved bike trail to emerge at the far parking lot and restrooms.
Past the water fountain is the 40-foot observation tower. From the base of the tower, parts of the Nature Trail take off in several directions and connect back into each other.
Each showcases a little slice of Green Swamp habitat: sandhills to the left and wetland straight ahead, where you might see alligators from the boardwalk.
To the left, the trail reaches a primitive campground with its own vault toilet. It’s just far enough from the car for the family to feel like they’re roughing it, but close enough you can dash back for supplies (and flush toilets) if you need them.
From the campground, the Nature Trail loops around to the wetland. After visiting the wetland, follow the trail downhill into an oak hammock, where it ambles around the campground past playgrounds and picnic areas, back to the parking lot near the canoe launch.
Withlacoochee River Trail
The 5.4 mile Withlacoochee River Trail starts out at the canoe dock. It’s here you’ll immediately find a trail register and memorial referring to this as the Florida Trail.
Back in the 1970s, when volunteers in the Suncoast region first started working on a route for the Florida Trail, this was one of their routes.
Eventually the Florida Trail was located on the east side of the Withlacoochee River, but this orange blaze route remains and pays homage to those early trail builders.
The first stretch of the trail offers the best views of the river, including an ancient cypress stump with new life sprouting from it.
Most of the cypresses here were logged out 50 to 150 years ago, and a second-growth forest has emerged.
The trail is shaded by live oaks festooned with resurrection fern and orchids. In wet weather, the forest is a riot of green.
Emerging from the forest, you’ll walk along the edge of a prairie. Soon before the trail takes a sharp left, away from the park and into a bower of live oaks. A right turn here will take you to the south parking lot and the Nature Trail.
Continue along the prairie’s edge, keeping alert for the orange blazes as you leave the park boundary and enter Green Swamp WMA.
The loop along the Withlacoochee River Trail begins at 1.6 miles. Turn right to walk through a pine forest at the prairie’s edge; look for herons and egrets.
At 1.8 miles and 2.9 miles are blue blazes leading to the trail’s two primitive campsites.
At around 3 miles, the trail turns to parallel the Withlacoochee River floodplain upstream, alongside the vast cypress swamp.
At 3.9 miles, look across the dark water to see a cabin at Bigfoot Wilderness Camp, a Boy Scout high adventure camp, on the far shore.
The loop ends at the 4-mile mark. Continue back along the trail to either the south parking lot or the canoe landing.
Or take the trail leading straight north from the loop sign to meet the Nature Trail at the primitive campground, and join it there.
See our photos of Withlacoochee River Park. Please note that the Creek Village shown here and mentioned in our older books has been disassembled and removed. The campground is now in its place.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
At Cypress Lakes Preserve, a 1.7-mile segment of the Florida Trail follows the edge of a series of cypress-lined lakes where ancient trees have survived the ages