The Hillsborough River State park is managed by the Florida Park System and was one of the first state parks in Florida. As such, it has a lot of history, including a historic site called Fort Foster which is accessible via guided tours for an additional fee. There are endless activities to choose from here – camping, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking, swimming, picnicking, and playing on playgrounds, just to name a few! There is even a cafe next to the pool where you can order food if your camp cook skills are sub-par! The entrance fee for the park alone is $6.00 per car up to 8 people, swimming in the pool is $4.00 per person, and then there are additional activities like bike/surrey rentals, golf cart rentals, full hook-up campsites, and primitive campsites for additional fees. The park is open from 8 am to sundown, and the pool is accessible weather permitting from 9 am – 5 pm.
This is definitely a park that you will want to bring your children to and stay all day – maybe even overnight if you can make a reservation at the campgrounds! The restrooms do have changing tables (at least, the ones next to the pool do), and there are more than enough picnic tables, shelters, and BBQ grills to go around. Three playgrounds can be found here – one next to the restrooms just behind the pool and another one near the Baynard Trail entrance, with the third near the campgrounds. Check out the map here. Our kids particularly enjoy the suspension bridge here as well, which is easily accessible from the playground at the Baynard Trail head.
Speaking of trails, there are approximately 7 miles of nature trails here – ranging in difficulty from easy strolls to moderate hikes with boardwalks over the marshiest regions (that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get your feet wet, though!). Many of the trails meander along the Hillsborough riverbanks, so the chances of catching a glimpse of turtles, snakes, alligators, and birds is almost guaranteed. The trail here are also very well marked – you won’t have to worry about getting lost! After a long day of hiking the trails, it’s nice to take a dip in the pool located in the center of the park. This pool is especially child-friendly thanks to the zero-entry design that gradually slopes from shallow along the edges to deeper in the middle. After your dip in the pool, you can dry off with a surrey ride or bike ride around the road that loops through the center of the park. There are bike racks throughout the central areas of the park in case you want to take a break for a little while.
You can either bring your own kayak/canoe or rent one of the ones available through the park. There are two launches – one with a concrete walkway leading into the water, and another with wooden stairs leading down to the water. The Hillsborough river runs directly through the park, and within the boundaries there is one of the few places in Florida where you can paddle through some real Class II rapids! During your paddle you will be sure to see some fun critters – from armored catfish to snakes and maybe even an alligator! Just keep your eyes and ears open as you paddle! If you are feeling competitive after your adventures, there is even a volleyball court near the boat launch. I, personally, am usually exhausted after such an excursion, but maybe you (or your kids) have more energy than I do!
We’ve been to this park several times in the past, and each time was a lot of fun! Prior to meeting my fiancee, I visited this park with M’s aunt and cousin a few years ago. We had a picnic, went hiking, took a dip in the pool, and rented a surrey for an all-around fun day in the sun! D and I recently started visiting this park as well, once during the spring for a rainy-day nature walk and again more recently for a self-guided (and mosquito infested!) tour of the primitive campgrounds. The nature trails near the pool are nice and shady, but please make sure to bring some form of insect repellent, especially if you will be visiting during the summer! We were greeted by clouds of the winged pests during our most recent visit this August, and the children were not particularly fond of them. There is also an abundance of poison ivy along the trails, so keep an eye out and wear long pants whenever possible! I recently invested in some high-quality hiking pants and even in the August heat here in Florida, I was pleasantly surprised that overheating was a non-issue. If the option is open to you, and you are sensitive to mosquitoes or certain plants, I would highly suggest investing in a good pair of moisture-wicking pants that will reduce the amount of exposed skin on the trail. This will not only cut back on the number of mosquito bites you get but also reduce the amount of sunscreen and bug spray that you need to use, which may just result in a lighter pack weight!
As always, we appreciate all of the readers who continue to support us and welcome any feedback you may have! If you have suggestions, tips, or questions we are here and would love to hear from you! Let me know if I missed any details about this park, and I will be sure to add them. Until then, happy trails!