Hillsborough River State Park is a 3,789-acre park located between Tampa and Zephyrhills, on the west coast of Florida. This park, built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is one of Florida’s first state parks. Built around the 50+-mile long Hillsborough River, which divides it, Hillsborough River State Park offers a wide variety of recreation and camping opportunities.
For those who visit, the park has four trails, totaling more than seven miles, twisting through hammocks of live oak trees, sabal palms, and hickories. The Wetlands Restoration Trail is open to hikers and bicyclists (bikes are available for rent if you don’t have one), while the Rapids Nature Trail leads to the Hillsborough River, where limestone rocks create rapids. The trail is close enough to the river that you get a wonderful view of the water passing over the rocks.
The park is lush, with places to take photos at almost every step. The river is flanked with pine flatwood, cypress, and freshwater marshes. You can sit and rest, often on fallen trees. Some of the trails are a little rough, but relatively easy to walk over, and well worth the effort.
There’s plenty of animal life in the park, for those who like to watch wildlife in its natural habitat. Birds of all kind are abundant, from owls to raptors to cranes and wild turkeys. You might also run across frogs and toads, alligators, snakes, turtles, feral pigs, deer, and fox, to name just a few.
Another way to enjoy the beauty of Hillsborough River State Park is via water, canoeing or kayaking: a canoe launch is available, and canoes can be rented at the park. The rapids add a little bit of excitement, if that’s what you’re looking for, but you don’t have to be a pro at canoeing to travel on the water.
This is probably the best way to catch a glimpse of a river otter, or alligator, which call the area home, or a turtle sunning itself on the river banks. The river is also open for freshwater fishing, with more than 25 species of fish found in its waters.
There’s a lot to do and see here, and it may take more than one day, but don’t worry, the park has numerous camping options for visitors. There are more than 100 full-facility campsites, a youth/group tent campground, and a primitive campsite for those who want to hike in and rough it. Campers can take a tram ride around the park on Friday nights, and on Saturday nights, rangers put on a slide show and give a nature talk at the campfire.
Other amenities of the park are playgrounds, picnic areas, pavilions, an ADA accessible swimming pool (temporarily closed for repairs), a poolside café, concessions, and a gift shop. The restrooms are also ADA accessible.
Hillsborough River State Park has a bit of history. The Fort Foster Historic Site is located within the park, adjacent to the river. Fort Foster was a fort constructed in 1837, during the second Seminole War.
There were three Seminole Wars, which were a series of battles between a group of Native Americans and the United States government. A reproduction of the original fort now stands in its place, constructed in wood picket style.
Tours of the fort are provided on weekends, led by park rangers, who explain how the fort was used, living conditions there, and the history of the Seminole Wars.
An interpretive center has displays of period artifacts, and provides more information about the fort and the Seminoles. Each February, the park hosts the ‘Fort Foster Rendezvous,’ with enactments of the battles between the Seminoles and the government.
For more information on the Hillsborough River State Park, and the Fort Foster Historic Site, or to make reservations, call 813-987-6771, or visit their webpage listed below.