Want to stand in one spot and check out the skyline view of downtown St. Petersburg, Tropicana Field and downtown Tampa? Climb the observation tower at Weedon Island Preserve. It is one of 12 observation towers at parks in the Tampa Bay area.
At Weedon Island, after a short hike along a boardwalk, climb up three flights of stairs to reach the observation platform. At the top, check out a different view of the 3,190-acre preserve and beyond. Watch people fish on the pier down below or as they paddle kayaks or paddle-boards, or watch motor boats cruise through the area between Riviera Bay and Old Tampa Bay.
Take a further look and you will see the white dome of Tropicana Field and to the left the skyline of downtown St. Petersburg. Turn around and find the skyline of downtown Tampa. Watch airplanes come and go from the nearby Tampa International Airport and the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.
Back in the preserve, watch other objects of flight, the various birds who make Weedon Island Preserve their home.
A variety of birds can be observed from the observation towers in the Tampa Bay area. Many of these parks are part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's "Great Florida Birding Trail." At Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg, you'll see nests on both sides of the observation tower. At Boca Ciega Millennium Park in Seminole, watch pelicans take flight from the water. At Lettuce Lake Regional Park in Tampa, along the elevated boardwalk on the way to the tower, you'll see wading birds underneath plucking their lunch from the water.
Other wildlife can sometimes be spotted from the towers and, in some parks, this includes the reptilian creatures often found in many Florida lakes and rivers — alligators. At Lettuce Lake, which has a 3,500-foot boardwalk, much of it elevated above the water, there is a good chance you will see an alligator swimming or soaking in the sunshine while resting on the shore. Sawgrass Lake Park, a 400-acre park, is another good spot to find gators.
At Withlacoochee River Park, keep an eye out for sandhill cranes or for a gopher tortoise around the parking lot or the trail as you hike towards the 40-foot observation tower, overlooking the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve.
Some parks offer a view of the Gulf of Mexico. In Pasco County, at Key Vista Nature Park, take a short hike along a partially shaded trail to the tower, which sits on the coast. Climb four flights of stairs to the top, sit on the bench and enjoy the view of the Gulf of Mexico. In Hernando County, climb the 40-foot observation tower at Linda Pedersen Park in Spring Hill, which sits next to Jenkins Creek. Enjoy a view of the marsh and the Gulf in the distance.
Most of the parks are open from sunrise to sunset. (You will need to leave the park before sunset.) Many are closed on Christmas Day and the day after Thanksgiving so it is always best to check the website of a park for holiday hours. Some parks have free admission while others charge $2 or $3 per car. In some cases, no change is available so you will need the exact amount.
The next time you are looking for an adventure, check out a park with an observation tower. Take in a different view of the area.
Contact Carolyn Edds at [email protected] Follow @carolyn_edds