Let the Forest Give You a Hug at Hillsborough River State Park


A short drive from downtown Tampa brings you to Hillsborough River State Park, a wild escape from the city with an adventurous suspension bridge, class II rapids, and plenty of room to roam.

Words and Photographs by Sara Sheehy
Live Wildly Lead Adventurist

Hillsborough River State Park is so close to Tampa that it’s tempting to think that this stretch of wild Florida would feel urban. But nothing can be further from the truth. Dense with a hammock forest that hides a treasure – rare Florida class II rapids along the Hillsborough River – this state park feels a world away from the hustle of our state’s third-largest city.

HIGHLIGHTS Hillsborough State Park Sara Sheehy Camera 4

Things to Do in Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park can be explored in a morning, but there is plenty to do here for a much longer stay.

Hiking: 7.3 miles of trails crisscross Hillsborough State Park. Our recommendation? Check out the 1.3-mile River Rapids Trail. This easy loop brings you to an overlook of the park’s rare Class II river rapids and to a neat wooden suspension bridge that spans the river. The bridge is surrounded by trees – we felt like the forest was giving us a hug as we walked over it.

Pro tip: Bring a tall friend to clear the cobwebs ahead of you! Adventurist Sara Sheehy learned just how hard the spiders of Hillsborough River work to build new webs on an early morning hike.

HIGHLIGHTS Hillsborough State Park Sara Sheehy Camera 10

Fishing: Fishing is a popular activity at Hillsborough River State Park, where bass, bream, and catfish can be pulled by anglers from the river. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required.

More fishing adventures: Exploring Tampa Bay

Paddling: Paddlers will want to launch a kayak or canoe into the Hillsborough River to ply the waters in and around the park. Bring your own boat, or rent one on-site. For more experienced paddlers, a 30-mile river trail connects the state park to Rowlett Park in Tampa.

Check out Journey Through the Wild: Paddling Fisheating Creek with Adventurist George McKenzie, Jr.

HIGHLIGHTS Hillsborough State Park Sara Sheehy Camera 1

Camping: Hillsborough River State Park has a 112-site campground that can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet. Tucked into the hammock, the sites are cool and shaded in the summer heat. As with all Florida State Parks, reservations are highly recommended.

The Details

Address: 15402 U.S. 301 North, Thonotosassa, FL
Hours: 8:00 AM until sunset, 365 days a year
Entrance Fee: $6 per car

Camping fees and reservations