Visit Tampa Bay parks: 8 places to explore nature in Florida this summer

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As we move into the summer months in Tampa Bay, many in the area often have family and friends visiting our beautiful area from up north and locations afar.  

But if your family member or friend isn’t a beach or theme park “person,” what else can you do to entertain your guests? We’ve compiled a list of 8 state and other parks where you can get out into nature and do everything from kayak, to observe alligators and birds and more. 

This is not a full list of parks near the Tampa Bay area – we attempted to stay close to home (all times are using Google Maps from our location in downtown Tampa.) But if you have an interesting story or comment about the list, send us a message to online@wfla.com

1. Circle B Bar Reserve

Time from downtown Tampa: 42 minutes 
Price: Free! 

Circle B Bar Reserve was formerly a cattle ranch and boasts 1,267 acres. If you’ve been following WFLA.com in recent years, you will have seen various stories about extremely large alligators at the park, and its websites says you’re “almost guaranteed” to see a gator in Lake Hancock. 

Folks visiting the park can hike the trails of varying length and see gators and other wildlife. Picnic shelters with grills are available on a first come, first served basis. 

Pets, balloons and music are not allowed. 

2. Lettuce Lake Park

Time from downtown Tampa: 24 minutes 
Price: Entrance fee is $2 per vehicle with 8 people per vehicle, county website states “rentals are extra” 

Lettuce Lake is one of Hillsborough County’s most visited parks, according to the county website. 

The park has picnic areas, playgrounds, a trail and a boardwalk and observation tower. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the park’s entry. For a fee. The county website states that tours led by park rangers as well as volunteers are available on weekends.

3. Egmont Key/Fort DeSoto State Park

Time from downtown Tampa: 43 minutes 
Price: Free with a personal watercraft, fee with passage to the island. Admission to Fort DeSoto State Park is $5 per vehicle  

This Tampa Bay area gem is accessible only by boat and features a lighthouse that has stood the test of time since 1858, as well as ruins from Ford Dade as well as wild bird sanctuaries.  

If you don’t have your own boat, services such as Hubbard’s Marina offer passage to the island for a fee.  

This specific ferry is located within Fort DeSoto State Park, which is home to a dog beach, various picnic areas, playgrounds, food concessions, snorkeling opportunities and more. 

4. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park 

Time from downtown Tampa: 1 hour  
Price: Admission is $13 for adults and $8 for children ages 6-12.  

Possibly one of the most famous state parks in Florida, with its pristine waters and its iconic mermaids, Weeki Wachee State Park is home to the deepest freshwater cave system in the country. 

Those visiting can take in a Mermaid Show and kids can splish n’ splash at Buccaneer Bay. On top of that, activities include boat tours, picnicking, snorkeling, swimming and so much more. 

The ever-popular kayaking and paddleboard rentals have reopened through the park itself and are available through reservation and launch from the head spring. Single kayak rentals are $32 and a tandem kayak rental will run guests $48.  

5. Caladesi Island State Park

Time from downtown Tampa: 39 minutes
Price: Ferry service is $16 for adults and $8 for children ages 6-12. Personal boats are $6.

Another Florida state park that is only accessibly by boat is Caladesi Island State Park. Guests to the island can walk the beach or on a trail to the historic Scharrer Homestead and take a kayak trip here as well.  

The Caladesi Connection ferry can be caught for a four-hour stay, similar to Egmont Key. The ferry operates out of Honeymoon Island State Park.

6. Weedon Island Preserve

Time from downtown Tampa: 20 minutes 
Price:  Admission is free, but donations are welcome

Spanning over 3,000 acres, Weedon Island Preserve is known for its hiking opportunities and trails, though all domesticated animals are not allowed.  All-accessible boardwalks and pavement are available to visitors.  

7. Myakka River State Park

Time from downtown Tampa: 1 hour, 7 minutes 
Price: $6 per vehicle 

The river spans 58 square miles of the park, which is Florida’s “first state-designated wild and scenic river.” 

GeoCashing, fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking and cycling are popular on the trails and backroads. Boat tours take visitors to experience the Upper Myakka Lake throughout the day, every day.  

8. Cypress Point Park

Time from downtown Tampa: 17 minutes 
Price: Free admission

According to the city of Tampa website, Cypress Point is smack-dab in the middle of a “very active neighborhood” and anyone visiting can check out the beach, jogging trail, volley ball court, playground and more.  

Park hours are from sunrise to sunset.  

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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