Even though it’s just 30 minutes from urban, bustling Tampa, Little Manatee River State Park can make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a day when these lands were just trees, water, wildlife, and blue sky. Rent a canoe or kayak and cruise the Little Manatee River, or lace up your boots for a 6-mile (9.7-km) hike that loops through the heart of the park. You’ll likely see deer as they trot through the bush or turtles sunning on a log, and keep an eye out for alligators that come up to rest and lie on the banks. There are also 12 miles of equestrian trails for exploring the park on horseback, as well as picnic pavilions set right on the forested riverbank. There’s a decent chance you could spot a manatee coming up to the bank for a feed, or herons silently stalking fish in the shade of the sand pine and oak. Bobcats, nine-banded armadillos, and river otters also call the park home.
All the animals in the state park are wild and in their natural environment, so it’s important to keep a safe distance and enjoy their beauty from afar.
Insider Tip: Winter is the best time for spotting manatees since they’re drawn to the river’s warm waters.