Shortly upon entering Hillsborough River State Park, you'll find yourself traveling down a long, one-way circular road that winds through the 5.2-square-mile park. Near the beginning of the loop, you reach Parking Lot No. 2, and a place called Rapids Trail. You might wonder why, in arguably one of the flattest states in the country, there would be an area named Rapids Trail.
But the answer lies just ahead.
Walking the trail is quiet, and the thick tree canopy above provides a shady respite from the Florida sun. The path is well worn and weaves through a beautiful mix of trees and vegetation. As you continue down the path, you begin to hear a noise similar to the sound of traffic on a busy highway, which only seems to get louder as you proceed. As you come to a bend in the trail, your heart leaps as the source of the noise is instantly revealed. Before you is rushing water, crashing over rocks, forming beautifully stunning rapids.
At this location, the Hillsborough River drops in elevation, causing the water to increase in speed. The natural rock formations intrinsic to this area, coupled with the narrowing of the river, form this breathtaking display of water dynamics. Yes, right here in Central Florida, we have natural wonders that you can usually only find when you head to the mountains on vacation.
Hillsborough River State Park is an easy drive from Tampa and is one of the first state parks in Florida. It offers miles of hiking trails, camping, picnicking, biking, a seasonal ADA-accessible pool, a concession stand and a small store. The hidden gem would be the Class II rapids that bring joy to people of all ages. There are benches where you can rest and take in the sights and sounds of the rushing water, plus a trail that meanders alongside the Hillsborough River, protected from urbanization that might obscure its beauty.
Hillsborough River State Park is located at 15402 N U.S. 301 in Thonotosassa.
Hidden Gems is an occasional photo column that features outdoor places in Hillsborough County that are unknown to many or have features that are unique or hidden. If you have an idea for a Hidden Gem, contact Skip O'Rourke at email@example.com.