Hillsborough River State Park is close. Take I75 north to Fowler, Fowler east to the end, and then US 301 north.
My daughter Gretchen and her husband Tony Covine are park people. They camp, canoe, picnic, visit, and make great use of many of the great Florida State Parks. When another daughter Mary and her family were here for Thanksgiving, everyone was ready to go canoeing. For 3-year-old Mikey Covine, it was to be his first canoe trip.
Grandpa David offered to watch younger son Davey for a few hours and assured me he could do it himself. I could go canoeing. I had never been in Florida.
Gretchen arrived at 9 am and hurried us along in case the canoes might all be gone. We piled into two vehicles and headed for the park.
This Hillsborough River State Park is perhaps half an hour from our house in north Brandon. We rented four canoes for four hours at $20 each. "No more than three to a canoe," we were told. "Everyone must have a life jacket." Those came with the canoe, though the Covines had a special one that they knew would fit Mikey.
Mikey Covine is still talking about his first canoe trip. His parents are old hands
"Head away from the rapids," was the next rule and I was glad of that. Mary had a waterproof camera, so I left my digital on land. When we were young, a good friend lived on the Little Miami in Ohio, and every time we visited there, someone's canoe sunk, so I wasn't about to risk my camera. I even took an extra set of clothes, just in case, but didn't need them.
My strong nearly grown grandchildren, Ethan and Elizabeth Mann, put me in the center of their canoe sitting on a cooler. I did paddle some, but they did most of the work. It takes concentration to go around all the bends and fallen tree trunks. Young eyes also are a help in spotting alligators, orchids, and such.
We had five different alligator sightings, including one in the water, but none that were at all threatening. Turtles were out in mass. On one log there were five lined up fromm platter- to saucer-size, another little one on up the log, and a seventh head was peeking out of the water behind them. We saw quite a few shore birds and there were turkey vultures flying overhead.
Mostly it was a very peaceful morning with beautiful weather and scenery and the best company I know. I can't believe that opportunity has been there all this time and I've never done it before. Grandpa is going with me next time. He did very well with Davey, but he missed the river experience.
Hillsborough Rive State Park is open from 8 am until sunset every day of the year. There is a $4 per car admission fee. Fishing in the river for bass, bream and catfish requires a Florida freshwater fishing license. There are hiking and bike trails and bikes can be rented for $5 for four hours. A half acre swimming pool is presently under repair until January. The Outpost Concession beside the pool handles the rentals and includes a nature oriented gift shop, a restaurant and drinks and sandwiches to go.
The rapids can be seen just down the trail from the Prayer. Canoes go in the opposite direction.
There are also campsites for tents or Rvs with water, electricity, a fire ring, and a picnic table at each site and laundry facilities, showers, restrooms and a dump station available. A recreation hall with kitchen facilities can be rented. Some families had reserved picnic pavilions that day.
"The river history dates back to the Native Americans who called it Lokcha Apopka, meaning 'acorn eating place.' In the 1500s, the river was a source of food and fresh water for Spanish explorers who navigated its waters in rowboats until they were 'stopped by rocks,' probably the outcropping of Suwannee limestone. The river obtained its current name in the late 1700s when British colonial Secretary, Lord Earl of Hillsborough, Will Hills, sent surveyors to report on the new colony.
"In the 1930s, the CCC established the area surrounding the river rapids as a public use area," according to the park flyer. Cypress swamps, pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks, and marshes make up much of the park.
"It's different every time you go," says Tony Covine. Other commonly seen animals include gopher tortoises, woodpeckers, owls, bobcats, and deer.
PRAYER OF THE WOODS
"I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights; the friendly shade
screening you from the summer sun, and my fruit, are refreshing draughts
quenching your thirst as you journey on. I am the beam that holds your
house; the board of your table; the bed on which you lie, and the timber
that builds your boat. I am the handle of your hoe; the door to your
homestead; the wood of your cradle, and the wood of your coffin. I am the
bread of your kindness, and the flower of beauty. Ye who pass by listen to
my prayer; harm me not."
For more information check Florida Online Park Guide or call 813-987-6771. This is a great place to take your winter visitors or let them take you.