Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Tampa Bay is a popular tourist destination, and with good reason. It has a rich history and offers access to pristine beaches, cool theme parks, multicultural experiences, museums, and the list goes on.
Tampa Bay is also blessed with beautiful weather and unspoiled nature. As a native, Christy is delighted to share her top 5 outdoor activities to enjoy while you’re in the area.
1. Try paddle boarding at the Tampa Riverwalk
If you paddle along Tampa’s Riverwalk, you’ll be in good company. Paddle boarders, kayakers, rowers, and water bikers are all over the Hillsborough River in the area right before it opens into Tampa Bay.
The University of Tampa crew practices here. Paddlers from the local dragon boat club are often out training for their next competition. The Pirate Water Taxi, which makes stops up and down Riverwalk, may putter by you.
This section of the Hillsborough River runs through downtown Tampa where you can find a slew of local attractions, including Curtis Hixon Park, several museums, the University of Tampa, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and loads of unique restaurants and bars.
We like Ulele for higher-end, interesting cuisine and its gorgeous outdoor seating area, and Sail Pavilion, a casual venue overlooking Tampa Bay.
If you decide to paddle board off Tampa’s Riverwalk, boards can be rented in downtown Tampa from the Tampa Bay Water Bike Company.
Paddle boarding can seem intimidating, but it’s much easier than it looks. Check out this how-to guide and see for yourself!
2. Kayak at Weedon Island
Weedon Island is a nature preserve located between Tampa and St Pete, and a favourite of local paddlers. The area is a virtual maze of canals that run through a series of mangrove islands.
The shallow waters around Weedon are quite clear, allowing you to peer down at sea urchins, skates, starfish, and other marine life from atop your kayak. We enjoy paddling slowly by the mangrove roots where you can see shy fish peeking out. It’s also not uncommon to spot pods of dolphins swimming by in the nearby channels!
No kayak? No worries. Sweetwater Kayaks rents kayaks on-site. It’s best to make reservations ahead of time.
3. Bike the Pinellas Trail
Tampa Bay biking enthusiasts can choose from a variety of riding trails, many of which were converted from defunct railroad corridors.
Some are located in open urban areas, while others are situated in more rural locations, running alongside meadows and under the shady canopies of trees.
One trail that includes a little of both is the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. This trail runs for 49 miles from North St Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. You can pick the trail up at any point along the way.
There are two noteworthy areas that we would recommend seeing if you decide to bike on the Pinellas: Tarpon Springs and Dunedin.
Tarpon Springs is famous for its sponge docks and Greek heritage. Its main street boasts myriad authentic Greek eateries. Dunedin is a quaint town with an artsy downtown area. Whenever we bike through Dunedin, we treat ourselves to a brew and a bite to eat at the Dunedin Brewery.
Rental bikes are available at Dunedin Cyclery.
Photo credit: Pinellas County
4. Go canoeing on the Manatee River
The Manatee River is located southeast of Tampa, in Bradenton, FL. It includes a designated paddling trail that runs for nine miles.
The Manatee provides access to the pure solitude of Florida’s wilderness. The river varies in depth throughout, with plenty of sandbars – perfect for setting up a picnic or just wading in the water.
Navigating the Manatee comes with its challenges – in a good way! We enjoy manoeuvring our canoe around the felled tree trunks and branches that lay right below the water’s surface in some areas.
The soft, gentle push of the Manatee means you can either take a leisurely trip downstream while taking in the peaceful environment, or paddle hard for a good workout. The choice is yours.
If you need to rent a canoe, you’ll also need a way to get back to your car. Ray’s Canoe Hideaway offers canoe rentals as well as transportation back to the launch.
Photo credit: Ray’s Canoe Hideaway
5. Hike at Hillsborough River State Park
Hillsborough River State Park is probably my favourite area park because of its untamed beauty. It’s well known for hiking, camping, and biking.
The park boasts two hiking trails. Both run alongside river bluffs and through heavily wooded areas. One leads you past river rapids to a bridge that’s suspended high above the river. Crossing the bridge takes you to a small island that’s fun to explore.
Hillsborough River is a great place to observe Florida’s abundant and native foliage. Herons, egrets, fish, and turtles also abound, and we often see alligators sunning themselves on the river’s shore.
The beautiful thing about hiking in Tampa Bay is that there’s no need to rent special equipment. Just bring your two feet (and maybe a picnic!)
Dogs are allowed, but your furry friend must be kept on a leash.
Photo credit: Rain0975
Tampa Bay, with its year-round sunshine and warm weather, is the perfect place for visitors who love the outdoors. While we’ve shared some of our favourite local spots, keep in mind that there are countless other fun places to explore!