One of the many perks of living in Tampa is the gorgeous weather we enjoy almost year-round. Yes, Florida summers are brutal, and you will not catch me hanging outdoors except for the beach during those months. During the rest of the year, however, the temperatures are so mild that all I want to do is to be outside. But since we are having our official wedding celebration next month, we haven’t had much time to explore, with our mile-long wedding-to-do list! Instead, I have researched and compiled a bucket list of five preserves and nature parks around Tampa Bay that I would love to visit soon. They are located all through the bay, and offer great family-friendly day-trip opportunities. Each park has playgrounds and picnic areas, and provides opportunities for camping, hiking, canoeing, and more. I can’t wait to explore them all!
1. Caladesi Island State Park
According to its website, Caladesi Island has been rated as America’s best beach. The park is only accessible by boat or ferry, an adventure on its own! You can catch the ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park every hour, beginning at 10:00 a.m. (ferry costs $14.00 for adults, $7.00 for children ages 6 – 12, children 5 and younger ride free; no pets). Caladesi Island offers more than just beautiful beaches; you can hike a three-mile nature trail through the island’s interior, or paddle a three-mile kayak trail through the mangroves and bay (rentals are available).
We visited Honeymoon Island last year, but did not make it to Caladesi, and that on its own was a great day of fun! Honeymoon Island is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown every day. The admission fee is $8.00 per vehicle. It’s a very popular location, and the line of cars to enter Honeymoon park gets to be insanely long, so going early or during the week might be a good idea if possible.
2. Weedon Island
When I first moved to Tampa two years ago, I asked just about everyone I met for the best nature spots around town. Weedon Island Preserve, located in St. Petersburg, was the first name thrown my way. According to the website, indigenous peoples occupied this 3,190 acre site for thousands of years, and it is now an integral and free nature preserve (donations are welcome). You can hike, bike, take free Guided tours, rent canoes, and more. The preserve is open daily, from 7 a.m. to sunset, and no pets are allowed.
3. Upper Tampa Bay Park
I stumbled upon Upper Tampa Bay Park last year while house-hunting, and even though my visit was short, I was really impressed by how beautiful the park was. Located right on the bay, between Oldsmar and Town ‘n’ Country, the park is open year-round from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Entrance costs $2 per vehicle. According to the website, you can see bobcats, red-shouldered hawks and bald eagles along the boardwalk trails if you’re lucky. Kayaking on the bay, you can see ospreys, otters, bottle nosed dolphins, and manatees.The park also has a nature center that also houses live animal displays that houses fish, snakes, and turtles.
4. Lettuce Lake Park
Located near the USF campus, Lettuce Lake Park is one of the most successful parks in Hillsborough county. According to its website, it receives well over a million visitors annually! The entrance fee is $2 per vehicle, and it is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset year-round. You can hike or bike the trail, rent a kayak or canoe, or take a $5 guided nature tour on weekends. During the guided tour, park rangers take groups through the boardwalk and along the Hillsborough River.
5. Hillsborough River State Park
Speaking of the Hillsborough River, if you are willing to drive a little further north to Thonotosassa, the Hillsborough River State Park will make your drive completely worthwhile. You can go camping, hiking, canoeing (rentals available), and more. There are four hiking trails, totaling over 7 miles. According to the website, the trails lead through a dense hammock forest and changing elevations, including a suspension bridge along the river. Leashed pets are welcome in all outdoor areas of the park.
Although our beaches and Disney get all the glory (and understandably so), Florida’s natural beauty goes way beyond the ocean. I’ve written about Homossassa Springs State Park and Weeki Wachee Springs, both incredibly beautiful areas nearby. As for my top five, you can see them all on the map below and take your pick.