Weekend in the Corridor: Tampa Edition
This city’s wild side is surprisingly closer than you think
Tampa may be known as the city of cigars and Cuban sandwiches, home to Super Bowl champions and white-sand beaches – but there’s even more to this Gulf Coast town than meets the eye.
With its high rises and busy streets, Tampa doesn’t always scream “nature” at first glance. But the truth is, you don’t have to travel far to tap into Tampa’s wild side. One weekend immersed in the Florida Wildlife Corridor will make you wonder, “Is this natural paradise really this close to Tampa?” It sure is.
Ready to find out for yourself? Let’s go!
- Water bottle
- Packed lunch (x2)
- Bug spray
- Park maps
- Hiking boots or water-resistant tennis shoes
- Camping or fishing gear
- Overnight bag
- Bike and helmet
- Kayak, canoe or paddleboard
Saturday: Withlacoochee State Forest
Photo by Alex Freeze
Drum roll please … this state park was once voted to the top of the “10 Coolest Places You’ve Never Seen in North America” by the World Wildlife Fund (true story!). Only an hour from Tampa, Withlacoochee State Forest transports you to somewhere magical or “enchanting,” as one visitor described it.
As the third-largest state forest in the Sunshine State, Withlachoochee State Forest provides an opportunity to see several tree species at once, including slash and longleaf pine, pond and bald cypress, oak, maple, southern magnolia, gum, hickory and more. You may also spot endangered or vulnerable wildlife, such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Florida Scrub Jay. In fact, many migratory birds find refuge here during winter months.
Live Wildly Fact: Withlacoochee is the Creek Indian word for “little big water.” It’s fitting since water levels along the 70-mile Withlacoochee River fluctuate throughout the year.
The Croom Tract, named after a nearby ghost town, is known as the most accessible and recreation friendly spot in the forest – but don’t worry, it’s not actually haunted (… or is it???). Here, you’ll find the Silver Lake Recreation Area and Campground, where visitors can camp, hike, bike, boat, paddle or picnic. Check out Croom A, B or C Loops that will take you hiking through sandhill habitats. Or access the paved Withlacoochee State Trail from the recreation area, which spans 46 miles – making it one of the longest paved rail trails in Florida. Enjoy your packed lunch under a shaded pavilion overlooking Silver Lake.
On your way home, stop by GenX Tavern for dinner. Whether you’re an 80s or 90s kid at heart – or a fan of themed restaurants in general – you’ll appreciate this blast from the past. The walls are decked out in retro décor and the menu features odes to beloved pop-culture classics, from “Forrest Gump” to “Friends” to “Top Gun.” And while we don’t recommend drinking too much after a long day of hiking in the sun, they do offer spiked Capri Sun and Gusher-flavored shots.
With an unforgettable name like Withlacoochee, you’ll go to sleep dreaming about the unreal sceneries, sounds and experiences of the day. Rest up for tomorrow’s adventures!
Sunday: Crystal River Preserve and Archaeological State Park
Photo by @flyjackiefly
Your second excursion is a bit farther away but trust us – it’s worth it! Crystal River Preserve State Park encompasses 27,000 acres of salt marshes, scrub, pinewood and hardwood forests, wildflowers and mangrove islands. It covers 20 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline and is considered one of Florida’s most biologically diverse estuaries. Most of the park remains as untouched as it originally appeared when Europeans first visited 500 years ago – giving you a glimpse of Florida in its purest form. Plus, you can bring your leashed pets with you!
Start with a scenic hike along one of the short-to-moderate hiking trails. The Eco-Walk Trail takes you around a 2-mile loop, including 11 “discovery zones” with tips to improve outdoor skills. Look overhead for neo-tropical birds and hawks making their migratory trips. The Lake Loop Trail traverses one mile around three man-made lakes. Finally, the shortest Churchhouse Hammock Boardwalk Trail extends a third of a mile through mesic hammock and pine flatwood trees. The Primitive Trail breaks off from here, taking you three-quarters of a mile through sawgrass marsh to Kings Bay.
Photo by James Scott/Tandem Stills + Motion
Live Wildly Fact: Manatees love Crystal River. Kings Bay offers manatee sightings, boat tours, and kayak and canoe launches!
If you’re looking for a greater challenge, try the peaceful 7-mile, unpaved loop trail. You’ll cross over three tidal creeks where you may spot a family of otters. Rest and enjoy a scenic lunch break on the bench at mile 2. Near mile 5, wildflowers decorate the grounds in the spring and fall, attracting butterflies and bees.
After hiking, take a short drive to the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. This area transports you back thousands of years to where Native Americans used to bury their dead and trade goods. Before walking through the six burial and temple mounds, get a history lesson at the park’s museum. Then, climb the 51 steps to the top of Temple Mound A for a breathtaking view of the tidal creek, wildlife and sunset.
End your weekend with a night cap at Magnanimous Brewing, one of Tampa’s many local breweries. Sit outside, grab a bite from one of the nearby food trucks and relax under twinkling lights. As you sip your refreshing brew, reflect on everything you discovered while traveling deep into the Florida Wildlife Corridor.