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Hiking trail

Florida falls are a great time of year. The heat and humidity subsides slightly, making it an ideal time to venture out to enjoy nature in the Florida state park system.

I was in need a hike through the woods and was tried to think of a place that entail getting on a plane or having a long car ride. I had not been to Hillsborough River State Park in several years, so thought this would be a perfect day hike getaway. It is located just outside of Tampa, Florida, perfect for me.

I arrived shortly after the park opened. Even though it is fall according to the calendar, Florida fall days still get very warm as the sun rises. I always enjoy moving water so the Nature Trail, which meanders adjacent to the Hillsborough River, would be great place to explore.

Class II rapids at Hillsborough River State Park

I started the hike and made the adjustment from the outside world to the forest by taking in the sounds of the birds and insects, and exhaling and inhaling long smooth breaths. About five minutes into the hike, was snapped out of that moment by the sounds of leaves and bushes crashing and a flash of a brown streak. Instinctively I turned, and saw a white tailed deer about 50 yards off the trail. She was staring intently at me. I didn’t have my camera ready, so I grabbed the iPhone and started recording, trying to get a decent view but she was hidden well among the pines and palmetto bushes. After a minute or so, she decided she’d seen enough of me. She leaped and disappeared as quickly as she appeared. 

I continued the hike and made my way to the river and the class 2 rapids. The rapids are not deep nor large enough for rafts or kayaks, it was perfect to just sit, listen, and enjoy the flowing water rush over and around the rocks and castaway tree limbs. It was so relaxing to take it all in while setting aside the outside world.

I moved along the river bank trail, enjoying the forest noises and bird chatter, thinking hadn’t seen any alligators. Surprisingly, they weren’t out along the banks at this point. Walked across the suspension bridge enjoying the view from over the river and heard a splash behind me on the opposite bank. Turned and saw a black racer snack had fallen from a limb into the water and was racing to the river bank. I watched from the bridge as he slithered up the bank to a more familiar area among the forest floor brush.

Hiked the loop trail, circled back through the woods and made my way back along the river. Saw the first gator of the day, he was swimming, stalking upstream looking for breakfast or a place to lay in wait. The search continued in a small bend in the river, where a group of free floating plants congregated, this is prime gator cover. Not to disappoint, a small gator was hanging around the plants’ edge, waiting for his next meal. Along the trail are informational signs describing wildlife and plant life one may see along the trail. There was an American Alligator sign, and coincidently, directly across the river was a gator sunning. The tourist board would have loved his placement right across the sign. I laughed.

American alligator sunning

The short hike turned out to be a perfect quick woods getaway. It also reminded me that I need to explore the state parks more frequently.

Cypress tree in Hillsborough River State Park. Check at the on the sand bar.

Until next time….Find your venture.

Gary Gresham

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