You can pick up a map of the park at the Ranger Station at the entrance ($6/vehicle). We made a right on the park road and parked at the P2 parking area where we found the 1.2 mile Rapids Trail that is an easy hike. This part of the trail is a live oak hammock that leads to the swift-flowing river. I loved this prayer posted at the beginning of the trail.
Bald cypress grow in abundance along the river and in swampy areas of the park.
There are boardwalks along the trail and observation decks overlooking the Hillsborough River. We saw these two blue heron from the deck.
Continuing to the playground and picnic areas near Parking Lot 3, we saw many families enjoying the beautiful (albeit it a chilly 50 degree) day. Pavilions and a recreation hall can be reserved with the state park service. Individual picnic tables are available as well throughout the park.
The Baynard Trail (1.1 mile loop) begins at the Suspension Bridge that was built by the CCC (Civilian Corps) in the 1930s. The administrative offices for the park and some other structures built at that time are still in use. The trail was named for the first superintendent of the park (1938-1945), Oscar E. Baynard.
Many epiphytes, also called air plants, can be seen on many trees here, including some mosses, ferns, lichen, bromeliads, etc. These plants absorb nutrients from organic matter blown around their roots and water from dew, rain, and fog.
Below is a southern magnolia tree, known for its fragrant blooms; and, a sweet gum, that provides ornamental shade, sap used as an antiseptic, and wood for furniture.
We continued on the Baynard Trail until it returned to the Stationary Bridge near the playground and picnic area.
From the bridge we saw lots of fish, including this large catfish, in the clear waters of the river. An amphitheater can also be seen from the bridge.
While bobcats, river otters, white-tailed deer, and alligators live in the park, we did not see any during our visit.
We returned to our car via the Rapids Trail and had our picnic lunch. We made a quick stop at the cafe and gift shop. Bikes, surreys, kayaks, and canoes can be rented here. The boat launch is a short distance from the cafe on the river. Also, there is a large swimming pool behind the cafe (closed during our visit).
A campground is located nearby that accommodates RVs and tent camping. The park is a popular weekend destination for the local population as it is not too far from Tampa.
Fort Foster State Historic Site is part of the Hillsborough River State Park. It is a reconstructed fort from the Second Seminole War. Ranger-led tours (on specific weekends) are the only way to see the fort. We will likely return to see the Fort and visit the Interpretive Center (where many artifacts are on display).
Since we purchased an annual pass to the FL state parks, we are having fun discovering each one. Because most are dog-friendly, we enjoy their hiking trails very much. The Hillsborough River has class II rapids in the park, one of only a few rivers in FL with such swift-running water.
For additional information about Hillsborough River State Park and/or Fort Foster State Historic site, check out www.floridastateparks.org/park/Hillsborough-River.