The Little Manatee River begins in a swampy area near Fort Lonesome and flows almost 40 miles before emptying into Tampa Bay. The river has been designated an Outstanding Florida Water and is part of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the rare ecosystems found within the park, including sand pine and oak scrub and oxbow wetlands, which can be explored by hiking, canoeing, horseback riding or camping at Little Manatee River State Park.
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The most unique feature of the Manatee River is the magical way that the little river flows with beautiful trees acting as a canopy of shade and beauty in so many areas along the path. This river is beautiful because of its size. The width is very narrow in many places making it a uniquely spectacular scene by canoeing and in select locations throughout the Oxbow Nature Trail.
The Little Manatee River flows for 4.5 miles through eleven unique natural communities within the park. The park boasts one of the premier hiking trails of Southwest Florida, a 6.5-mile stacked loop located in the wilderness area in north half of the park. The Oxbow Nature Trail, accessible from the main picnic area in the south half of the park, makes a one-mile loop along scrub ridges that skirt the main river and an oxbow wetland. In addition, over 15 miles of equestrian and multi-use trails meander through the southern half of the park.
Visitors can enjoy picnicking in one of the riverside pavilions or stay for the night in the full facility campground. Little Manatee River State Park is one of the best kept secrets of Hillsborough County with a little something for everyone.
If you are coming for a paddle, a ride or a nice long hike, take a moment to plan your visit Bring supplies for a picnic and make a day of it. Mornings are a good time to see white-tailed deer along the path. The afternoon sun tempts out the gopher tortoise, which are often seen eating grass on the trail. If you go out on the river, the water is often clear enough to see schools of mullet and other salt water fish along with the fresh water fish.
River otter and foxes have also been spotted along the riverside. The cooler weather is good for a long hike, paddle or horseback ride. The Little Manatee River allows you to get connected to the beauty of the Real Florida. Here at the park you will find many activities, programs, and amenities that will enhance your visit, whether staying for a day or overnight camping.
Some of the special features of this wonderful park are listed below.
Little Manatee River – Wildlife Viewing
Wildlife viewing is one of the most popular pastimes in the park. The park protects over 2,400 acres of habitat for hundreds of common Florida species and dozens of rare and listed species. Some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing are at sunrise and sunset especially with binoculars like this.
Wildlife on the River
The Little Manatee River is home to many freshwater and brackish water species. Frequent river sightings include turtles, alligators, and fish, with occasional sightings of otters and seasonal wildlife like the manatees. Freshwater turtles include the Florida cooter, snapping turtles, alligator snappers, chicken turtles, and the Florida softshell. Fresh and brackish water fish include the Florida gar, bluegill, warmouth, and many sunfish species, largemouth bass, catfish, snook, and mullet, and little minnows like the mosquitofish, shiners and killifish.
Many people visit the park for a chance to see the manatees in their natural environment. Manatees use the river in the park in late spring and summer, then congregate in the Gulf during the cold winter season.
Wildlife in the Flatwoods, Scrub and Other Uplands
Hundreds of animals live in the pine and scrubby flatwoods of the park including the white-tail deer, rabbit, red fox, grey fox, bobcat, eastern-spotted skunk, raccoon, and opossum. Gopher tortoise are often seen grazing along the road shoulders and the edges of the campsites in the park. Butterflies and insects can be readily found in every inch of the park, making for interesting wildlife observations at every turn!
The park is a designated location along the “Florida Scenic Birding Trail,” making it an ideal place for birdwatching. Species like the cardinal, blue-jay, sparrow, wrens, pileated woodpecker, and red bellied woodpecker live in the park year-round. Birds of prey like the great horned owl, screech owl, several species of hawks, and the kestrel also utilize the park year-round. Species of wading birds like Ibis, Herons, Egrets, Wood Storks and Roseatte Spoonbills can be seen feeding in the marshes and wetlands. Sandhill Cranes can be observed nesting and raising their young here. The park has been home to a small family of scrub jays, whose population is sadly bordering on extirpation.
Snakes like the black racer, yellow rat snake, corn snake (red rat snake), ring neck snake and the kingsnake are the most common snake species, with occasional sightings of the rough green snake and mud snake, and the rarely seen eastern indigo snake, a highly threatened species. Venomous snakes occurring in the park include the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, water moccasin, and coral snake.
Other Little Manatee River Amenities (more):
Little Manatee River – Amphitheater
The quaint and primitive park amphitheater is an inviting place for park visitors to enjoy evening programs in the park. The park program schedule is subject to change seasonally; call the Ranger Station for the current program schedule.
Little Manatee River – Bicycling
The Sand Pine Trail is a multi-use trail system for hiking and biking. The trail is a stacked loop system that covers approximately three miles and provides access to the main day use areas and facilities in the park.
Little Manatee River – Camping
The campground loop contains 30 sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, water and electrical pedestal with 20, 30, and 50-amp connections. A bathhouse with hot water showers is located the center of the camping loop. A laundry room beside the bathhouse has coin operated washers and dryers. A dump station is available at the main entrance to the campground. Some sites are wheelchair accessible, with a sidewalk at each site providing direct access to the campground bathhouse. Vegetation buffers between campsites provide privacy for each site.
Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521.
Little Manatee River – Camping Equestrian
One of the more unique park features is the availability of equestrian trails. You can enjoy riding more than 15 miles of equestrian trails, followed by an overnight stay in one of four sites in the equestrian campground. Each of these sites has a picnic table, fire ring, water hook-up, and electrical hook-up with 20 and 30-amp connections. Each site has use of two stalls in the horse stable, directly behind the campsites, and full service provided from the main camping area. Reservations are also available through ReserveAmerica.
Little Manatee River – Camping Primitive
The Primitive Campsite is a backpacking site for tent or hammock campers, located 2.5 miles down the primitive Florida Hiking Trail. The site is equipped with a picnic table and a fire ring. The site has no electricity and no potable water. All supplies must be packed in and packed out. Pets are not permitted in the primitive camping areas. Individuals or small groups up to 8 people may reserve the site up to two months in advance.
Reservations for primitive camping can be made by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005. Primitive campers with reservations must check-in at the Ranger Station at least two hours before sunset to allow enough time to reach the campsite before dark, and before the Ranger Station closes at 5 p.m.
Little Manatee River – Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing and kayaking are two popular activities in the park. The Little Manatee River is designated an “Outstanding Florida Water,” deemed worthy of special protection due to its natural features and water quality. Approximately six miles of the river wind through the park, making up a large stretch of the “Designated paddling trail.” The freshwater river makes many twists and turns through a shaded hammock of oaks, bays, ash, and hickory in the narrow upstream portion, where it enters the park near US 301 S. Canoe and kayak rentals are available from the Ranger Station from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. All rental equipment must be returned by 5 p.m.
Little Manatee River – Fishing
The six-mile portion of the Little Manatee River that flows through the park is a rain-fed freshwater river that is tidally influenced, providing fishing opportunities for both fresh and brackish water fish species. The best fishing access is by canoe or kayak on the river. While bank fishing is permitted within the park, vehicle access to the best fishing locations is limited. The best bank fishing location known as “the point” is accessible by foot or bicycle only and is approximately 3/4 mile from the nearest parking area. Anglers must possess both freshwater and saltwater fishing licenses, as the fresh and salt water boundary converges within park boundaries, and a mix of both species are present.
Little Manatee River – Hiking Nature Trails
A 6.5- mile hiking trail is located in the north wilderness area in the park. This stacked loop trail is accessible from US 301 N from the trailhead entrance on the north side of the Little Manatee River. This rustic trail takes hikers through many of the unique natural communities in the park, including riverine hammock and floodplains, scrubby flatwoods, mature sand pine forests, and remnant sandhills. The trail crosses Cypress Creek, a major tributary of the Little Manatee River and the scenic point where the creek feeds into the river. There are several points where the tall bluffs of the river bank offer picturesque overlooks along the Little Manatee River.
There is also a short 0.8-mile trail in the park called the Oxbow Nature Trail. This trail is accessible from the main picnic areas within the park. This trail is the perfect length for a short stroll through the sand pine scrub. The trail provides a great contrast between both upland and wetland communities, as the trail makes a ring around the outer ridge of an oxbow wetland and the scrubby upland river bluffs along the river.
The Sandpine Trail is a network of trails that connect the main use areas of the park. Comprised of three stacked loops and additional side trails, this trail has a total distance of over two miles. The trail leads through a mix of sandpine and oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods. Several old snags along these trails may offer a glimpse of one of the cavity nesters that live here, including a variety of woodpeckers or even a screech owl.
Over 15 miles of multi-use hiking and equestrian trails offer many more hiking opportunities at the park. A huge network of narrow loop trails, and wide firebreaks crisscross the southern half of the park. The primary trails within this multi-trail complex are the Dude Lake Trail, the Mustang Trail, the Blue Trail, and the Yellow Trail. Firebreaks connect many of these primary trails to each other and can provide alternate routes for hiking and exploration. For a complete trail map see the Ranger Station.
Little Manatee River – Horse Equestrian Trail
The park has an extensive network of equestrian trails, covering more than 15 miles throughout the southern half of the park. The equestrian trail system is comprised of four primary trails: the Dude Lake Trail, the Mustang Trail, the Blue Trail and the Yellow trail. In addition, many more miles of firebreaks are part of the trail system and are used to connect the primary trails to each other and provide alternate trail routes to explore by horseback. Equestrian trails are color-coded and numbered with posts at each trail intersection. Ask for an equestrian trails map at the Ranger Station.
Little Manatee River – Picnic Pavilions
The park has one large screened pavilion and two small open-air pavilions located in the main picnic area on the banks of the Little Manatee River. Any of the three pavilions can be reserved for birthdays, family reunions, employee gatherings, school picnics, or other group activities, by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005, Monday-Thursday between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
The pavilions are located approximately 1/3 mile, or 900 feet, from the picnic area parking lot. Restroom facilities are on the main path in the picnic area, located approximately half-way between the parking lot and the picnic pavilions, approximately 400 feet from the pavilions. The main walkway is a sandy path that leads downhill from the parking lot to the pavilions. The path is a mix of compact sand and crushed limestone, leading to a looser sand surface as you approach the pavilions.
Pavilion 1 is a large, screened-in space with eight picnic tables, electrical outlets, lights andceiling fans, and a water spigot. A large covered barbeque pit is located adjacent to the pavilion, with an additional water spigot and electrical outlets. Pavilion 1 will accommodate up to 80 people. It sits on the bank of the Little Manatee River, with river access adjacent to pavilion.
Pavilion 2 is a small, open-air space with four picnic tables, electrical outlets, lights, and a water spigot. One free standing grill is located adjacent to pavilion. Pavilion 2 will accommodate up to 40 people. Pavilion 2 sits on a high bluff of the Little Manatee River, offering a scenic river overlook adjacent to pavilion.
Pavilion 3 is a small open-air pavilion with four picnic tables and a water spigot. One free- standing grill is located adjacent to pavilion. Pavilion 3 accommodates up to 40 people. It sits on a tall bank bluff that overlooks the Little Manatee River.
The Little Manatee River
215 Lightfoot Rd. Wimauma, FL 33598
Visit here for other great parks in the Destination Tampa Bay area
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