Typically state parks get all the love, but there are a bunch of other parks around the Tampa Bay area that are just as fun. From boardwalks and observation towers to mangrove coastlines and even a birds of prey sanctuary — these lesser known Tampa Bay parks are worth a visit!
Lettuce Lake Conservation Park
Just 10 minutes away from New Tampa and the USF area, Lettuce Lake Park is a diverse park where you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the Hillsborough River. This is one of Tampa’s most visited parks. There’s an extensive boardwalk through marshy floodplains around the Hillsborough River. You’ll likely see birds, alligators, turtles and more! There is also a huge observation tower where you can get a great view of the river.
You can also rent kayaks from the park and enjoy the river by boat. This is a dog-friendly park (excluding the boardwalk) so you can enjoy nature with your pups. There is a main paved trail that’s great for walking, biking and strollers. There are also several miles of unpaved trails through different ecosystems. Enjoy picnic shelters, grills, water fountains, and more.
The entry fee is just $2 per car.
Cypress Point Park
If you are looking for a more natural beach setting, Cypress Point Park is a must-do. This completely free park is located in South Tampa on Tampa Bay. While the water is not as pristine and clear as a beach on the coast, it’s worth forgoing swimming to spend some time amongst the picturesque mangroves.
It’s also a great place to launch kayaks and paddle around the bay — there are many fun places to explore. Enjoy a picnic with the several shelters and grills. Or catch a beautiful Florida sunset over the bay. It’s truly a hidden gem in the normal hustle and bustle of Tampa.
Eureka Springs Conservation Park
This former botanical garden is now a lush park featuring tropical plants and boardwalk trails through flood plains. Eureka Springs Park is the only botanical garden in the Hillsborough County park system. It’s a small park but makes for a quaint and relaxing walk. Explore the rose garden, orchid room, greenhouse, and the largest publicly owned collection of ferns in Florida. This park is a must see for plant lovers!
The entry cost is $2 per car.
Curtis Hixon Park
Curtis Hixon Park is a spectacular green oasis in the midst of downtown Tampa. This is a popular venue for concerts, movie nights, yoga in the park and more. Surrounded by some of Tampa’s incredible museums and situated on the Hillsborough River, you’ll have plenty to do in this area. Take a stroll down the famed Riverwalk and enjoy drinks and a bite to eat, or watch the kids play in the interactive fountains. Or bring your dog for a walk and a visit to the dog park.
Check the event listings for what’s happening at the park! One thing to note is that because this is a community park there is no designated parking for the park. You will need to park at a parking garage (and pay) or find street parking in order to enjoy this area.
Sawgrass Lake Park
Located across the bay in St. Petersburg, Sawgrass Lake Park features a mile of elevated boardwalk and an observation tower overlooking Sawgrass Lake. There aren’t too many woodsy parks in St. Petersburg, but this one was a good mix of forest and swamp. You can walk along the boardwalk through a large maple swamp and observe birds, turtles, butterflies, and maybe even an alligator. Then hike through the pines on the other side of the park. The Hammock Trail was a great easy hike and we didn’t run into any other hikers on a beautiful Saturday. This free park is so quiet and peaceful you may never want to leave.
Fort de Soto Park
Fort de Soto is hands down one of our favorite Tampa Bay parks. The diverse activities and beautiful setting make this park a true must visit. From paved and unpaved trails, biking, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and enjoying the beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, Fort de Soto park is a nature lovers dream. This is a great place for a family picnic because they have huge shelters and grills.
The history found in the park is also a huge draw. Much of the historic fort is intact, despite being abandoned for most of the 20th century. Entry to the park costs $5 per car. Plus there are 2 toll booths you’ll hit coming from I-275 that’ll run you about another $2. But we think the price is well worth the visit. There is always parking and you can enjoy a much less crowded beach.
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve is one of our favorite Tampa Bay parks for hiking. Walk around Lake Maggiore through a variety of diverse ecosystems including swamp, willow marsh, pine flatwoods, sand pine scrub and hardwood hammocks. Be sure to keep a lookout for alligators, birds, snakes, butterflies, gopher tortoises and more.
Another draw of this park is the Birds of Prey Program. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve is a safe, healthy home to birds of prey who are permanently injured and non-releasable to the wild. You can see bald eagles, falcons, vultures and owls up close! The park costs $3 per adult and $1.50 per child.
Weedon Island Preserve
Weedon Island Preserve is an expansive 3,100 acre park located on the western shore of Tampa Bay. There are boardwalk trails through aquatic ecosystems and a cool observation tower overlooking the preserve. You’ll wind through tidal flats and mangrove forests, pine flatwoods, and more and see a variety of plants and animals. Birding, fishing and paddling are some of the other popular activities available at this free park.
Almost 2 miles of handicap accessible boardwalk and paved path are available to enjoy at Weedon Island preserve. You can also peruse the exhibits at the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center. The park has a rich Native American history. You can even view a prehistoric dugout canoe inside the history center.