The Upper Tampa Bay Park, located at 8001 Double Branch Road, is open from 8am-6pm daily. It is managed by the Hillsborough County Park system and is located right on the edge of the bay. There is an entrance fee of $2.00 per vehicle. In addition to three nature trails with boardwalks, this park also has a boat launch, multiple pavilions that can be rented, a volleyball net, playgrounds, and an educational nature center. There is one air conditioned restroom in the nature center and two additional restrooms located in free-standing buildings near the pavilions. These restrooms are not air conditioned. None of the restrooms contain changing tables.
The nature center is full of educational materials including a touch table, aquariums containing various species of fish, terrariums containing reptiles, and educational infographics about Tampa Bay’s geologic history, structure, and detailed information about various habitats that can be found around the bay. One of the things that I love about this park is that it has both sunscreen and insect repellent available at the front desk just in case you forgot your own! The rangers here have always been incredibly friendly and helpful, and our kids all love spending time here!
The playground area is divided into two sections: a small playground for 2-5 year old children, and a large playground for 5-12 year old children. There are baby swings, big kid swings, a rock wall, a balance beam, slides of various sizes, and picnic tables on the edge of the playground. There is even a child-sized picnic table for the little ones to sit at while their adult counterparts sit at the adult-sized table next to it for a lunch or snack break.
Most of the nature trails here are short, sweet, and fun for beginners and experts alike. They are hybrid trails consisting of boardwalks and dirt trails. Our family has always been partial to the Bobcat Trail, but there is also a Nature Trail next to the playground and an Osprey Trail that can be accessed from a pull off along the entry road. There are guaranteed to be a multitude of insects at this park, so it is important to remember your insect repellent, or spray down at the welcome center when you come. Our favorite recently has been Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent. The trails have a mixed variety of shade and direct sunlight, so sunscreen is a must. They can also get marshy, so it’s wise to wear proper footwear for the occasion. Don’t wear anything that you don’t want to get dirty and/or wet.
On the trail, you could catch a glimpse of many creatures, but you are almost guaranteed to see some (maybe hundreds!) fiddler crabs scurrying out of sight as you mosey on down the trail. We have seen raccoons, banded water snakes (and a water moccasin once!), armadillos, and turtles during our visits here. Make sure to keep an eye out for diamondback terrapins during your stay, as well – and if you see one use your phone to jot down the geographic coordinates and snap a photo. When you get back to the nature center, let a park ranger know that you saw one! Diamondback terrapins live in brackish marshes and they are currently rated as Near Threatened on the ICUN Redlist. This park is trying to make a big difference to help keep this beautiful species out of trouble!
The kayaking here is also so much fun! As with many other places in Florida, make sure you keep an eye on the tide tables so that you don’t get stranded! I’ve been out here several times and each time was a blast! You can see all kinds of critters from jellyfish to raccoons, and if you go during the right time of year you might also get to find some baby horseshoe crabs on the sand bars. Just make sure when you stop that you are at a sand bar and not an oyster bar – big difference!
The kayak launch is located on a floating dock neighboring the nature center. It’s one of those nice ones (sorry I don’t know the technical terms! I’m a kayaking noob!) with little roller-wheels and a nice slope into the water. You will need to carry your kayak about 100 or so feet, or if you are renting one the nice park rangers will help you carry it! If you follow the markers in the water, it will lead you out into the bay where you can fish, paddle, or do whatever suits your fancy. We like to paddle out to the bay, have a picnic lunch, and paddle back in with enough time left to get home and have dinner on the table. They do have a kayak rinse station so you can spray down your gear when you get back ashore.
This is the park that M and I used to frequent when he was just learning to walk, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. This is an ideal location for families with children to come for a nice day trip. The trails are short, the water is beautiful, and if the Florida heat proves to be too much, just pop into the nature center and your kids will be entertained by the fish, touch table, and terrapins. You really can’t ask for much more when it comes to a park!