Posted on 14 Comments

Tampa Bay’s Natural Beach Alternative: Hillsborough River State Park (Florida)

Bridge over Hillsborough River, Florida, Tampa Bay

Escape the blazing beach sun and sweltering city: take a break in the shady forest of the Hillsborough River State Park. Enjoy the view from the river on a kayak. Yes, there are gators – and even Class II rapids (but upstream).

Hillsborough River State Park Overview

Hillsborough River State Park is about 20 miles north-east of Tampa along US 301. It’s about a 30-min drive from downtown Tampa, 45 minutes from St. Petersburg, and about an hour from Clearwater. The park opened in 1938 and is one of the eight original Florida State Parks.

Naturally, the Hillsborough River State Park is known for its river, which invites visitors to fish, canoe, kayak, and observe alligators, birds and other wildlife. Oh yeah, and then there are those Class II rapids!

Tree island and rapids, Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay

But the park offers even more than just the river and kayaking fun. There are 7 miles of trails along the river and through the woods, a sizable camp ground, and a picturesque bridge. Unfortunately, the large outdoor pool is closed for maintenance until summer 2023.

In theory, you can rent kayaks and canoes to paddle the river – and bikes to tool around on. However, concessions may be closed. Check via the contact number below first if rentals are available on the day. Ideally: bring your own kayak, canoe or bike to the Hillsborough State Park.

And yes, there are alligators in the Hillsborough River. So while pets are allowed on the trails in the Florida state park, don’t let them swim in the river.

Wild alligator resting on bank of the Hillsborough River, Tampa

A man-made attraction of the park is the replica of Fort Foster from the era of the 2nd Seminole War. The fort is currently closed. A good time to remember that Hillsborough State Park, as well as all of Tampa Bay, is on land once inhabited by the Tocobaga Indians.

If you want to know which native tribes are historically and spiritually tied to other locations (maybe where you live), check out the very handy map and info website:

Hillsborough River State Park Map

map, trails, river, campgrounds in Hillsborough River State Park, Florida

Hours, Fees, Location, Contact and other FAQs


Hillsborough River State Park is open 365 days a year – from 8am until sunset.


$4 for single-occupant vehicle

$6 per vehicle with 2 – 8 people

$2 for pedestrians, cyclists, additional passengers etc.

$24 per night for camping on main campground.

Location, Contact, Website

15402 U.S. 301 North – Thonotosassa, FL 33592

813-987-6771 or 813-326-5867

Official park website

Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay


The main campground has 112 campsites; most offer electric for RV and tent camping. Across the river, there is also a primitive campground, which is closed as of this writing (July 2021). Pets are allowed as long as they’re leashed or under their human’s physical control. Make camp site reservations via the Florida States Park camping reservation website.

Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay
If you find this tree and have your picture taken in it, share it on social media and tag us to win a prize.

Additional Visitor Information

Pets are allowed in most areas of the park, but should be kept on a 6-foot leash.

You can fish in the Hillsborough River State Park. Most fish seen (and maybe caught) are bass, bream and catfish. Find out about obtaining a Florida fishing license.

Last but not least, there are several pavilions you can rent for an outdoor gathering of the kinds of people who make you happier. Prices vary, starting at $60.

Please check ahead of time if kayak, canoe, or bike rentals are available – since they’re not always guaranteed.

There are several restrooms available throughout the park.

Tree branch reflection, black and white, Hillsborough River

More Photos from Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay
Gator Face in the river
Bridge across the Hillsborough River
Trail into the woods, Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay
small fern leaves growing on tree, lit by the sun
Alien in the tree, natural formation, Florida
lizard among the fungi growing on tree
Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay

Other Tampa Bay Area Guides

Best-Kept Secret: Caladesi Island State Park (Florida)

Natural Beach Paradise: Honeymoon Island State Park (Florida)

Hidden Botanical Wonder: Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg (Florida)

Share your favorite image on Pinterest.

Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay
Hillsborough River State Park, Florida, Tampa Bay

All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal.

Let’s Inspire Each Other

Have you been to Hillsborough River State Park – or other cool nature spots around the Tampa Bay Area? Want to share stories or tips? Do you have other shady “escape the heat” places to recommend?

Please leave a comment below – inspired by these questions or whatever you’d like to share…

14 thoughts on “Tampa Bay’s Natural Beach Alternative: Hillsborough River State Park (Florida)

  1. The place looks great, but alligators ? Oh no, then I’ll have to be extra cautious while visiting the Hillsborough River State Park. Great post

  2. I am totally checking this out when I go down to visit my sister 😉 Thank you for sharing!

  3. I love going to state parks. Nice pictures too.

  4. That looks beautiful, If I was near Florida I think I would go there a lot. It seems tranquil and fun to walk through. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Would love to visit Hillsborough River State Park! It is such a beautiful place to visit and so close to nature as well

  6. This looks like an awesome place to go and explore, although I don’t know what I’d do if I saw an alligator x

  7. Looks like an incredible park but my goodness you have to be so careful!

  8. My husband loves to visit parks. He would love to go to this park in Florida.

  9. The fees seem really reasonable. I think this would be a lovely place to visit with the family. I do love Tampa.

  10. I have been to Tampa a few times. I have never gone to the state park. I want to go soon.

  11. Hillsborough River State Park seems to have some beautiful trails. There seems to be a serene look about it. 🙂

  12. We were just talking about going to Tampa on vacation. I would love to visit this park!

    1. Excellent. I’d definitely add it to your list if you have the time. Especially if you’re heading to the Tampa Bay Area in the summer, it’s a very nice break from the sun.

  13. Looks like such a great place to go to! I love places like that.

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