Experience a Real Florida day hike through a variety of undeveloped ecosystems, with plenty of wildlife viewing and solitude at Terra Ceia.
Less than an hour from Tampa, the surprisingly wild Terra Ceia Preserve State Park features 9 miles of trails through mangrove swamps, creeks, estuaries, wetlands, uplands and more.
This 2,000 acre park is on the more primitive side as far as Florida State Parks go. There are no restrooms or facilities, no trash cans, benches or picnic tables. There is not even an entrance sign or parking lot.
However, that adds to the adventure and solitude you will enjoy at Terra Ceia Preserve State Park. Less infrastructure and amenities usually means less people! We ran into only one other group at the parking lot and didn’t see anyone else while we were there, despite there being a few cars parked. By the time we left around 3pm, there were no others cars there.
Getting To Terra Ceia
Getting to this park can be a little tricky. We found that just typing the name into Google Maps will take you to the wrong place — about 10 miles away from the trailhead. Instead you’ll want to navigate to Hightower Road for the trails.
If you’re coming from I-275, you’ll want to take exit 5, then turn left onto Terra Ceia Rd., then continue until Hightower Rd. where you’ll take a slight left. Continue on this road until you reach the dirt parking area.
The park also has a boat launch, and paddling through the wetlands and mangrove swamps is a popular activity. To access the boat launch, head to Bishop Harbor Boat Launch, which is on Bishop Harbor Rd.
The launch is best suited for kayaks and smaller vessels, especially at low tide. But parking is available right at the launch site so it makes for an easy entry point to the surrounding waterways including Tampa Bay.
See map below where you would start from point 1, the Bishop Harbor Boat Launch.
Things To Do and See At Terra Ceia
We saw lots of beautiful native wildflowers during our visit in late May. Lantana, morning glory, and more lined the hiking trails.
We saw several birds including a redheaded woodpecker, egrets, and roseate spoonbills. We saw tracks for deer and alligator, although we didn’t see any!
The most abundant wildlife we found at the park were tiny fiddler crabs! They were everywhere in the marshy sections of the park.
Bring bug spray because there are a LOT of mosquitos! And potentially other critters like ticks and chiggers. There is a lot of tall grass and plants in and around the trails here.
Florida Hiking Tip: Make sure to spray your clothes with bug spray too, not just exposed skin. Mosquitos can bite you through many types of thin fabric!
If you hiked all 3 trails at the park you’d clock about 6-7 miles of hiking, because the trails all have the same starting point and branch out from each other.
The blue trail goes through a hammock, and the white trail leads you through the wetlands and right up to the edge of the water. The orange trail loops take you through pine flatwoods.
Much of the preserve is in various stages of habitat restoration which is intended to return agricultural land to its natural and ecologically diverse condition. Prescribed burns are also ongoing, and a big part of maintaining the natural ecology.
While the trails are decent, these are definitely not pristine high-traffic trails. It seems like they are mostly maintained by an ATV driven through. But these trails do not get enough use to be completely worn down. There are tall grasses, roots, and rocks that make the trails a moderate hiking level.
The trails can get a little wet in spots, but we didn’t find it to be too bad. It was easy to avoid the mud in most of the spots by walking in the grass next to the trail. However, after a heavy rain it might be wetter considering it is a wetland.
There was some shade along the blue trail, but the white trail is almost entirely in direct sunlight. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water!
Remember this is a primitive park, so if you bring it in, you bring it out. There are no trash cans.
Trails: 8am – sunset, 365 days a year
Boat ramp: 24/7
The trails are available for foot traffic only. No biking or pets allowed.