From the pine flatwoods of Lake Rogers Park to the oyster bars of Upper Tampa Bay Park, Hillsborough County parks offer plenty of options for outdoor lovers this summer.
The best part about these staycations is the cost.
An annual entrance pass for all county parks can be purchased online.
The passes give residents access to 10 regional parks with more than 727 miles of hiking trails as well as opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, picnicking, horseback riding, camping, bicycling, canoeing and bird watching.
An individual entrance pass is $50 for the year, starting on the date of purchase. A family entrance pass is $100 and a boat launch pass, to be used at all Hillsborough County boat ramps, is $100.
Discounted passes are available for members of the military and first responders and can be purchased at the Branchton Regional Parks Office, 15502 Morris Bridge Rd., Thonotosassa, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
A free lifetime family entrance pass is available for all honorably discharged veterans with service-connected disabilities, the surviving spouse or parents of deceased members of the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard or Reserves and the surviving dependents of deceased first responders killed in the line of duty.
A 25 percent annual discount is offered to active-duty members and honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard or Reserves who live in Hillsborough County, active-duty members or first responders who live or work in Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County employees.
Those applying for the free or discounted passes must provide proper documentation. The passes do not include the boat-launching pass.
With your annual pass in hand, check out these regional parks located throughout the county:
Eureka Springs Park, 6400 Eureka Springs Rd., Tampa -- This site was developed into a botanical garden of rare and unusual plants as a result of many years of work by Albert Greensburg, who donated the site to Hillsborough County in 1967. The 31-acre park, the only botanical garden in the park system, features a greenhouse, trellised walks, interpretive trails, boardwalks and a picnic area.
Aldermans Ford Park, 100 Aldermans Ford Drive, Lithia -- History abounds at this park. It was one of the first fording spots on the Alafia River and, for many years, a popular place for political campaigning in Hillsborough County. This scenic park includes the area where the Alafia River branches into its north and south prongs. The Alafia is one of the most popular canoe spots in the state, and the park includes a modern, erosion-free canoe launch. Several picnic areas are connected by a pedestrian/bicycle loop path, and a first-hand view of the abundant plant life is available on a self-guiding nature study via accompanying boardwalk and foot bridges.
Lithia Springs Park, 3932 Lithia Springs Rd., Lithia -- The 160-acre park, located on the Alafia River, offers varied plant communities, river cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks and high sand hills that provide terrain not often seen in Hillsborough County. The park’s major attraction is the natural spring that provides an excellent swimming experience since the water temperature remains at 72 degrees year around. In addition to swimming, there is a bath house, playground and picnic facilities. Lithia Springs is also a popular camping spot with 40 sites and two shower houses.
Edward Medard Park, 6140 Turkey Creek Rd., Plant City -- Edward Medard Park extends along 1,284 acres owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, where a water control structure and reservoir offer flood protection along the Alafia River. In 1972, under an agreement with the district, Hillsborough County developed this site as one of its largest and most popular regional parks. The park's main attraction is a 700-acre reservoir open for canoeing, boating and catch-and-release fishing.
Located on what was once a phosphate mining site, the park offers unique topography with elevation changes that have become very popular for children’s play. A 3-mile trail that is accessible (dry) most of the year offers equestrians and hikers a pleasant trip through pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks.
For overnight stays, the park has 40 campsites to accommodate both RV and primitive camping, including two group sites. All campsites are full service, each providing a picnic table, electricity, a fire ring and water. Public restrooms with showers and an RV dump station are also available.
Edward Medard Park also offers picnic shelters, a boardwalk, a playground, a beach volleyball court and an observation platform overlooking the reservoir.
Unique to Edward Medard Park is a new disc golf course. Although the course has not yet been dedicated, and staff are adding finishing touches, the course is now open to the public. Disc golf is similar in objective to traditional golf. The goal is to complete each hole with the fewest attempts. In this game, however, players throw specially made plastic flying discs at above-ground targets instead of using clubs to direct balls to holes in the ground.
Lake Park, 17302 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Lutz -- This 589-acre park is a sanctuary for birds and wildlife, and features five lakes, cypress swamps, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks.
Lake Park is also home to an archery range, a BMX bicycle track, two equestrian arenas and a radio-controlled car track, making it one of Hillsborough County’s most unique regional parks. These facilities are open to the public except during races, events and tournaments.
Cooperative partnerships with local organizations, such as the Gasparilla Bowmen Archery Club, Tampa BMX Raceway, Inc. and the Hurricane R/C Club, allow Hillsborough County to provide these high-quality facilities at Lake Park.
Wildlife viewing can be enjoyed on the exercise trail or the two-mile scenic hiking trails. Lake Park also offers jogging paths, picnic pavilions with furnished grills, picnic tables, playgrounds and primitive camping.
Lake Rogers Park, 9010 N. Mobley Rd., Odessa -- The 272-acre park is a joint venture between Hillsborough County and the City of St. Petersburg. Natural features within the park include two fresh water lakes, pine flatwoods and oak hammocks. Facilities at Lake Rogers Park include picnic shelters, picnic tables, nature trails, barbecue grills, fishing, canoeing and group camping.
Lettuce Lake Park, 6920 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa -- Lettuce Lake opened in 1982, and quickly became a hub of activities. The 240-acre site offers wooded picnic areas and a playground. A bicycle path/jogging trail, complete with a fitness course, meanders through the park. Lettuce Lake is also a haven for nature study. An interpretive center, featuring exhibits, leads to a 3,500-foot boardwalk and an observation tower where visitors can view an extensive variety of wildlife.
One of the newest features to Lettuce Lake park is a canoe/kayak launch area where visitors can rent a canoe/kayak and experience a whole new side of the park.
John B. Sargeant Sr. Boat Ramp, 12856 U.S. 301, Thonotosassa -- These sites, developed in cooperation with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Tampa, provide access to 17,000 acres. Activities include canoeing, fishing, off-road bike trails, picnicking, a boardwalk and nature trails. The sites include Dead River, Flatwoods, John B. Sargeant Sr., Morris Bridge and Trout Creek parks.
Upper Tampa Bay Park, 8001 Double Branch Rd., Tampa -- A 2,144-acre park and preserve, this site has a variety of land features including fresh-water ponds, pine flatwoods, salt marshes, oyster bars, salt barrens, oak hammocks and mangrove forest. A major environmental study center is operated jointly with Hillsborough Community College and is open to the public and special-interest groups. Various views of the bay and its habitat may be seen while hiking on the boardwalk. While most of the park has been preserved, facilities for picnicking are available.
E.G. Simmons Park, 2401 19th Ave., N.W., Ruskin -- E.G. Simmons Park, located three miles north of Ruskin, has been a popular area for outdoor enthusiasts since the mid-1960s. The park was developed from 258 acres of native mangroves and open land areas, intertwined with waterways. An additional 200 acres of mangrove swamp has been preserved as a bird and wildlife sanctuary.
The most popular features of the park are the picnic areas and campground, which boast beautiful waterfront views. E.G. Simmons Park has 87 individual camp sites and one group site. Bird watching in the shallow waters and surrounding mangroves also are a popular pastime of park visitors.
A public beach provides visitors with sunbathing and swimming, while a boat launch provides access for saltwater fishing and boating. The park also offers fishing piers and areas for bank fishing.