Sweaty and sunburned? Looking for ways to keep cool in the sweltering humidity or stay dry in a torrential rainstorm? Ahhh, the joys of a Florida summer. Before you retreat to the air conditioning, allow us to share some spots around east Hillsborough that might make the season bearable — maybe even fun.
Tucked away at 2401 19th Ave. NW in Ruskin, this spot offers a day at the beach without having to cross any bridges. Bring a picnic lunch and settle in the shade of a little lifeguard stand with views across the bay of downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa. On a recent afternoon, dolphins frolicked near the swim area and mangrove swamp. Also available: a campsite, boat launch and fishing piers. Park entry is $2 per vehicle and $1 extra per person over eight. Launching a boat costs $5.
The freshwater spring at 3932 Lithia Springs Road is a popular, albeit chilly, swimming hole on the Alafia River. Water temperature stays at 72 degrees all year. The 160-acre park also has camping sites, a playground and picnic spots between cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks and high sand hills. Park entry costs $2 per vehicle and $1 per person over eight.
If you have a horse, take him or her out for a trot. If you don't, take yourself out to trot. This 7.5-mile trail at 535 N Dover Road, east of Brandon, is nice and shady. There's plenty of room for hikers and bikers to share space with horseback riders.
These 8,000 acres in Ruskin, off Gulf City Road, include mangrove islands flush with fish, paddling trails, seagrass beds and oyster reefs. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, archaeological sites show evidence of pre-Columbian inhabitants. Go boating, fishing, bird-watching or just swing by for the beautiful view.
Included in the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, this river flows almost 40 miles from Fort Lonesome to Tampa Bay. Two local outfits offer canoe rentals and shuttle service to the river: the Canoe Outpost, on U.S. 301 S in Wimauma, (813) 634-2228; and Little Manatee Kayaking LLC, in Ruskin, (813) 777-0021. Call ahead for reservations and shuttle details.
In the mood for adventure? Take a trip to Seffner for lessons on waterskiing and wakeboarding. The park, at 2020 McCormick Lakes Way, includes cable-track obstacle courses for riders of all levels on a man-made lake. Summer camp is also offered Monday through Thursday. Visit skimccormick.com or call (813)681-4441.
Pick your own organic vegetables at this Plant City family farm, 7606 Kinard Road. Growers use no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. The farm recommends bringing a hat and coming in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat. But make sure to come before mid July for the best picking options — mostly tomatoes and okra, said owner Ken Der. Visit bigbearfarms.mysite.com or call (813) 986-1152.
The Alafia trails are at 14326 S County Road 39 in Lithia. Park admission is $3 per car and $4 for cars with two to eight passengers. The Balm-Boyette trails are part of almost 5,000 acres of protected Florida scrub preserve, just south of Brandon. Both are maintained by the local Swamp Mountain Bike Club. Visit swampclub.org for details.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.