Most people associate Tampa Bay with sandy beaches and water views, but the region also has plenty to offer those who love a good hike through a fragrant forest. In fact, Pinellas, Hillsborough, and the other counties in and around Tampa Bay offer an astounding number of wooded wilderness areas and nature preserves, but those are not the only places where you can find a forest. For nature-lovers who enjoy a relaxed experience, a stroll through the lush thicket of palms, flowers, and plants at Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg might be just the ticket. A more experienced hiker might prefer Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa, with its scenic overlook and a view of Class II River rapids, a rarity in Florida, and its historic suspension footbridge. Whatever your preference, if you love the look and smell of mature trees and needle-covered paths, Tampa Bay has the perfect spot for your next outdoor adventure.
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Here are just a few of the many forests with interesting features and attractions in the Tampa Bay area:
Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin hosts a three-mile nature trail through one of the last remaining virgin slash pine forests. Plenty of wildlife can be seen along the trail, from eagles, osprey, and great horned owls to gopher tortoises, raccoons, and armadillos. And if you get tired of hiking, you can always switch gears and go for a swim off one of the magnificent beaches on the island.
John Chestnut Sr. Park in Palm Harbor features a boardwalk and observation tower with beautiful views of Lake Tarpon. The enclosed path allows visitors to walk through a heavily wooded area without fear of encountering snakes or alligators, although lucky park guests may occasionally spot a gator below the boardwalk from a safe distance away. Near the boat ramp are boardwalk extensions that lead to picnic areas where guests can comfortably enjoy a private lunch surrounded by nature
Philippe Park in Safety Harbor is the place to go for those who like a dose of history with their taste of the outdoors. A 1.3-mile hiking loop runs the perimeter of the park and allows for views of both Old Tampa Bay and the Tocobaga Indian Temple Mound, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Informational signage is posted at the site for those who want to learn more, and from the top of the mound, hikers are treated to spectacular views of the bay and surrounding area. Palm trees and giant oaks, adorned with cloaks of Spanish moss, are abundant throughout the park.
Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg invites visitors to walk through one of the largest maple swamps on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The boardwalk and dirt trail provide several potential opportunities to observe various forms of wildlife in its natural settings, including butterflies, herons, egrets, ibis, wood storks, alligators, and turtles. The park is a popular site for birders and ecotourists from across the U.S.
Eureka Springs Conservation Park in Tampa often appears on the lists of best hikes in Tampa Bay because it offers something for everyone—easily traversed paved walking trails and boardwalks and a lush green forest of maples, tupelo, and cypress trees. Created by botanist Albert Greensburg in 1938 as a garden of rare tropical plants, the park now includes interpretive trails and is even dog friendly.
Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs is the place to go if you are in the mood for a more strenuous hike through a forest. The Pine Needle Path Loop Trail is four miles long and winds through pine flatwoods, forested wetlands, and cypress swamps. Be on the lookout for deer, gopher tortoises, and turkeys!
Wander just south of Tampa Bay, and you will find even more fabulous forests to explore, like the one at Leffis Key Preserve, in Bradenton Beach, which has a 26-foot-high hill that offers a 360-degree view of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Regardless of where you live or visit in the Tampa Bay region, chances are a forest, just waiting to be explored, is not far away. To find a site for your next great outdoor adventure, visit Discover the Forest (https://discovertheforest.org/) and enter an address, city, or zip code. The site also includes family-friendly activities and other resources to help you identify the names of trees and to enhance the experience for both adults and young people who want to learn more about nature.
Happy Trails! Story of the forest of Tampa Bay by Dianna Graveman written exclusively for Destination Tampa Bay™ . Photos are from each park mentioned for editorial purposes only–all rights reserved.