It was a father’s day to remember, mainly because my knee won’t let me forget it!
Just a 45 minute drive from sunny St. Petersburg sits the Hillsborough River State Park. With miles of trails, a calm river, mangy mosquitos, and a green luscious canopy, it is safe to say we crossed the invisible but ever present ‘Central Florida’ border.
Tyler and I decided to take my New York born and raised father here for fathers day. Turns out half of the Tampa Bay had the same idea since the park was crawling with families! The park was extremely family friendly with multiple playgrounds (roped off due to COVID-19), picnic areas, and a variety of trails ranging in difficulty and length.
We parked in parking lot 3, right by the suspension bridge. Our plan was to do multiple trails for the highest alligator spotting probability.
We started off on the River Rapids Trail to the right of the suspension bridge. This trail is as family friendly as it gets.
It’s an easy class 2 1.2 mile loop. The trail varies between elevated boardwalk edging the river and a sandy/dirt path on the rivers edge.
The trail sports a variety of wildlife and plant life. Cypress Knees surround the trail and are a great talking point. Along the trail are little signs to let you know what you are seeing around you.
It didn’t take long walking this trail to spot my first gator and crest into that Florida life! He was just sunning on the rock for everyone to see. I was jumping with joy and stayed a few minutes to watch him.
We continued on and found out why it is called the River Rapids Trail. At the loop you look down upon the river rapids. Nothing too crazy but always a good sight.
We ventured back to the beginning, taking detours every few hundred yards or so to climb closer to the edge just to get the best gator spotting spot. The water was deceiving clear. While it looked dark due to the tree coverage and dirt river bottom , you could actually see straight to the bottom of the clear water. We spotted turtles and all types of fish chilling on the bottom.
On our way back our gator friend had fled his tanning spot but no worries, we found another soon thereafter! Dude was just chilling the middle of the river getting his tan on!
We continued along back to the suspension bridge and straight on over it to the Baynard Trail. While the River Rapids Trail stayed along the river the entire time, the Baynard Trail gave views of the river and exposed you to a more wooded Florida ecosystem. This trail was a moderate 1.1 mile hike.
My dads goal at this point changed from seeing gators to seeing snakes. Luckily we didn’t, otherwise I would be crying instead of happily looking back on our adventure.
We circled through this trail rather quickly. This time climbing to the rivers edge but on the opposite side of the river.
We didn’t spot much on this trail, just a few turtles and lots of mosquitos!
After the Baynard Trail we went right into our longest trail of the day, the Seminole Trail, a 3.2 mile loop. This trail is also home to one of the campsites.
Same as the Baynard Trail, the Seminole Trail is partly in the woods and partly on the river. We went to the right when we started so we could do the first half through the swampy woodlands and the second half viewing the river.
This trail was long, taking us through the brush, over foot bridges, and to the rivers edge. Luckily the canopy was thick enough to give us some relief from the sun but once you stop bugs WILL fly all over you.
We spent the first half huffing it to get to the river and me freaking out about snakes. However, this trail was very rooty and every time we looked up, someones ankles were rolling.
The woodlands looked like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park and we were half expecting a velociraptor to jump out of the brush. Sadly, it was just more mosquitoes.
We made it to the river part of the hike and wow, water never looked so refreshing, I don’t even like open water but I definitely thought about jumping in.
We took a break and climbed down to the river to dump some water in our hats and splash our faces. We were drinking the whole time but nothing beats the feeling of cold water on your skin.
The remaining mile and half was spent hiking along the river and excitedly thinking any ripples would be our next gator. But no more while at the park. We did see a fish excitedly swimming upside down and in circles which was a first for me! We also saw some crazy looking red beetles that were cool and freaky at the same time.
By the time we made it to the end of the trail our knees, ankles, and backs were failing us and our camelbacks were drained. We called it quits, three trails in and heading back to Tampa for Mr. Dunderbak’s. If you’re in the mood for beer, schnitzel, and soccer, this is the place for you. The most authentic German place in town! I’ll admit, I grew up in New York and my dad is Jewish, I live off of latkes, and Dunderbak’s does them right.
Pro tip for Dunderbak’s, buy the jalapeño mustard, it is a game changer for your everyday, run of the mill ham and cheese sandwich.