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Walking Club: Exploring Little Manatee River State Park

Walking Club: Exploring Little Manatee River State Park
Posted at 11:07 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 06:53:48-05

Many of us are looking for ways to remain active while also staying a safe distance away from others. That's why Sarah Phinney started 'Sarah's Walking Club’ to highlight some hidden, and some not so hidden, trails and parks across Tampa Bay.

Experience ‘Real Florida’ with your family this weekend at Little Manatee River State Park in southern Hillsborough County. This local gem has miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding, and one of the most pristine blackwater rivers in Southwest Florida.

Where is it?

Little Manatee River State Park is in an ideal location, about 40 minutes from Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota.

The main entrance is:

215 Lightfoot Road
Wimauma FL 33598

It costs five dollars per vehicle to get in.

What makes it unique?

Little Manatee Rive State Park spans about 2,400 acres in southern Hillsborough County.

You’ll find a lot of natural beauty, especially with the Little Manatee River flowing more than four miles through the park.

“It is a pristine blackwater ecosystem that’s home to many of Florida’s wonderful wildlife,” said Leanne Hinson, Little Manatee River State Park Park Ranger. “We get the alligators, the turtles, some salt and freshwater fish, depending on the season. And, as well depending on the season, we do get manatees.”

If you want to explore the park out on the water, you will have to bring your own canoe and kayak and walk a good distance to the temporary launch site. Dollies are available.

The permanent launch is under construction and will be ADA accessible when complete. Hinson expects rentals to be available when the launch reopens in 2022.

Horseback riding and hiking are also popular at the park. It’s a good idea to ask for a map when you pay at the Ranger Station.

Hinson recommends first-timers head for the short Oxbow Trail that has some views of the river. It only takes about 15 minutes.

“Once they get their feet wet there with the Oxbow Nature Trail, I definitely suggest walking out to Dude Lake,” said Hinson.

She says the lake was made by cattle ranchers who once occupied the area. It’s a great spot to bring your lunch and enjoy the views.

If your legs aren’t tired yet, consider leaving the main area of the park and heading to a 6.5 mile hiking trail that’s found in the north wilderness area of the park.

“My favorite part of that trail is the different natural communities of Florida that you will actually go through throughout your six miles,” said Hinson.

There are also multiple places along the trail to stop and take beautiful photos of the river.

The address for the north trail head is:

17837 US-301Wimauma, FL 33598

“Three left turns out of the park and then they’re there at the trailhead,” said Hinson.

When should I visit?

Little Manatee River State Park is open every day from 8 a.m. until sundown. The park is busier on the weekends. Hinson says there’s a better chance of seeing wildlife at the beginning of the day or the end of the day.

Join Walking Club!

Post photos of your adventures, ask questions and learn about upcoming Walking Club stories in Sarah’s Walking Club group on Facebook!

You can also keep up with Sarah on Instagram and Twitter