Drift down a lazy river in a canoe, discover Florida's wilderness on a hiking trail, swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico or explore Tampa Bay's bike trails. The area offers a variety of recreational opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast.
In addition to the many low-traffic neighborhoods found throughout the Tampa Bay area which are friendly to bicyclists, there are several designated multi-use paved paths that feature pleasing scenery and convenient facilities.
- The Upper Tampa Bay Trail, a paved multi-use, non-motorized, rail trail found in Hillsborough County, is currently about 8 miles long, but there are plans to extend it so that it connects with the Suncoast Trail.
- Suncoast Trail, running 42 miles from Hillsborough County through Pasco and into Hernando County.
- Pinellas Trail, an urban trail stretching from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg.
Relax as you paddle down a meandering river beneath a live oak hammock or through mangroves in a Tampa Bay estuary, or go kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico along a beautiful stretch of beach. There are several scenic spots in the area for such an adventure.
- Hillsborough River State Park, an access point for the 34.5-mile Hillsborough River Canoe Trail, offers canoe rentals.
- Weedon Island Preserve, in Pinellas County, boasts two canoe trails. The southern trail is a 4-mile loop which winds through mangrove forest, seagrass flats and along the edge of Tampa Bay. The one-way northern trail travels through mangroves and into Snug Harbor, ending near Gandy Boulevard.
- Upper Manatee River Canoe Trail, near Bradenton, offers the novice slow-moving currents and smooth curves along with gorgeous scenery.
Whether it's treated as a vocation, a sport or a pastime, fishing plays an integral role in the Tampa Bay area, where anglers will find plenty of choice fishing spots.
- Fort De Soto County Park, in addition to its award-winning beaches, features two fishing piers, including a 500-foot pier on Tampa Bay and a 1,000-foot pier on the Gulf of Mexico. Each pier offers a food and bait concession.
- Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, the world's longest fishing pier, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- Bradenton Beach City Pier and Cafe, recently renovated due to damages suffered during 2004's active hurricane season, is found in Manatee County on the north end of Sarasota Bay. The pier was created from the remains of the original wooden bridge to Anna Maria Island.
Hiking is the perfect way to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the Tampa Bay area, from its beach communities, longleaf pine and scrub oak settings to the live oak thickets, hardwood hammocks and cypress ponds.
- Brooker Creek Preserve, near Tarpon Springs, offers 4 miles of hiking trails through rugged terrain. Guided hikes are offered Saturdays, 9 a.m. Admission is free but pre-registration is required. Call 453-6800.
- Little Manatee River State Park, where wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy hiking a 6.5-mile trail through the park's northern wilderness area.
- Oscar Scherer State Park, near Sarasota, features 15 miles of unpaved trails which traverse pine and scrubby flatwoods.
Swimming in the clear, warm and often tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico can be exhilarating or relaxing, depending on your outlook. If swimming with the fishes isn't your cup of tea, the Tampa Bay area is home to many public swimming facilities.
- Sand Key Park, near Clearwater, welcomes a million visitors each year but still manages to appear less crowded than Clearwater Beach to the north. Lifeguards are on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from March through September.
- Highland Family Aquatics Center, in Largo, boasts swimming pools, wading pools and the tallest municipal water slide in Pinellas County.
- Adventure Island, in Tampa, for anyone who's ready to make a splash but doesn't enjoy the beach scene or public pool facilities.