Plan Your Outdoor Adventures in County Parks
Among 80,000 acres of Hillsborough County conservation areas, nature preserves, and trails, some facilities stand out for reasons you may find surprising.
Here are 12 places to sample what the County has to offer:
Most Unusual: Edward Medard Conservation Park, 6140 Turkey Creek Road. The sprawling park with a 700-acre reservoir features a tangle of roots exposed by the erosion of hills sculpted years ago when the land was a phosphate mine. There's camping, boating and fishing, hiking and equestrian trails, and a disc golf course.
Best Place to See Reptiles:Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, 6920 E. Fletcher Ave. Visitors can spot alligators, turtles, and other reptiles from the safety of a 3,500-foot boardwalk. Remember, it's illegal - and potentially dangerous - to feed wild creatures.
Most Remote: Alderman's Ford Conservation Park, 100 Alderman's Ford Park Drive. Popular with canoeists, hikers, and birdwatchers, the park is where settler James Alderman built his homestead, raised cattle, and fashioned a crossing of the Alafia River in 1848.
Best Paddling: Edward Medard Conservation Park (reservoir); Alderman's Ford Conservation Park to Lithia Springs Conservation Park 3932 Lithia Springs Road (Alafia River); and Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, 8001 Double Branch Road (Tampa Bay). Hillsborough County has lakes, rivers, and saltwater expanses for kayaks, canoes, and other paddle craft.
Newest: Lutz Lake Fern Trailhead, 7020 Lutz Lake Fern Road. Opened in 2015, the trail connects Upper Tampa Bay Trail with the 42-mile Suncoast Trail, which parallels the Suncoast Parkway, stretching from Hillsborough County north into Citrus County.
Best Sunsets: Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, 6760 Surfside Blvd. The Nature Preserve and adjacent beach are on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay, affording spectacular views of the setting sun.
Smallest: Eureka Springs Conservation Park, 6400 Eureka Springs Road. Hillsborough County acquired the 31 acres in 1967. The former botanical garden has the largest publicly owned collection of ferns in Florida, among other virtues.
Most Refreshing Place to Swim: Lithia Springs Conservation Park. The park's namesake feature, a natural spring that continuously discharges 72-degree water, is a fine place for swimmers to cool off on hot summer days.
Best Places to Birdwatch: Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Edward Medard Conservation Park, and Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve, 3839 Gulf City Road. Hillsborough County has habitats for a variety of birds. These three parks are among the best for seeing birds in their natural surroundings.
Most Challenging Bicycle Trail: Balm Boyette Scrub Preserve, 13998 Balm Boyette Road. The former phosphate mine retains much of its hilly terrain, enticing hard-core mountain bicyclists with 20 miles of off-road trails. Hillsborough County has trails for all types of two-wheel enthusiasts.
Best Place to Ride Horses: Northwest Equestrian Conservation Park, 9400 S. Mobley Road. About 250 of the park's 800 acres are suitable for riding. Expansion of the facilities to accommodate disabled children is planned.
Best-Kept Secret: Lake Rogers Conservation Park, 9010 N. Mobley Road. Though beloved by regular visitors and located in a growing area of Hillsborough County, the 272-acre park remains unexplored by many residents. Biking, camping, kayaking, and picnicking are popular activities.