Natural Escapes Near Tampa

    For me, Tampa is one of those special places that I never get tired of visiting. I only live about an hour and a half away, so it's a pretty easy drive to spend the day in a park somewhere in the area. In fact, I've actually been to Tampa three times in the last couple of weeks! 

    If you find yourself near Tampa, here are some cool outdoorsy places to check out:

    Hillsborough River State Park - This is one of the original Florida State Parks, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930's. It's a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs, with tons of Second Seminole Indian War history (take a tour of Fort Foster) and one of the only set of rapids found in Florida. Bike, canoe, and kayak rentals are available – the camping is great in case one day at the park isn't enough.

    Eureka Springs Park - This is the only botanical garden that's owned by Hillsborough County and is one of those hidden gems for those looking for serenity. The park was donated by Albert Greenberg in the 1960's. It featues a boardwalk, a picnic area, short trails, as well as a greenhouse full of orchids and other plants. Don't miss this place.

    Morris Bridge Wilderness Park - It's hard to begin to describe how much there is to do at the places that make up this network of parks. Bring bikes (mountain and/or road), skates, or go for a trail run. Oh, better bring your kayak, too - launch at John B. Sargeant Park and enjoy a day on the Hillsborough River. 

    Fort De Soto County Park - Fort De Soto is less than an hour away from downtown Tampa. It's a must-visit spot for beaches, camping, history, and just about every other outdoor activity you can think of. I know folks who come to Florida just to camp and hang out at Fort De Soto, and they never really leave the park. Be warned: you might become one of these people after a visit.

    Weedon Island Preserve - Looking for a guided hike or kayak trip? Take a drive out of Tampa over the Gandy Bridge and spend some time exploring the natural side of things.  Rent kayaks or canoes and float through the mangrove tunnels on the South Paddling Trail. The wildlife watching is great here, so bring binoculars and cameras along too.

    Need some more ideas? Check out VISITFLORIDA.com/trails for lots of places to hike, bike, and paddle.

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