Emerson Point Preserve: Portavant Mound Trail, South Restoration Trail, Terra Ceia Trail, Tower Trail, and North Restoration Trail, Palmetto, Florida
Emerson Point Preserve is one of several beautiful Manatee County coastline preserves. This preserve on Snead Island is rich with history, as there are several historic Indian mounds scattered throughout the park. The preserve's diverse trail system traverses both the Tampa Bay and Manatee River sides of the island, with several views of both, as well as an observation tower that provides a bird's-eye panorama of the preserve and Tampa Bay, with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. Also, the park's primary trail system provides access to the Portavant Temple Mound - the biggest mound of all in the preserve. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 26th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Portavant Mound Trail from the Ranger Station, making a side trip to the Manatee River view. Then, I would make a clockwise loop with the South Restoration Trail, Terra Ceia Trail, Tower Trail, and North Restoration Trail, making side trips to each of the three Tampa Bay views as well as the observation tower. I would conclude the hike by following a connector back to the Ranger Station.
R/T Length of Trail: 3.0 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:45
Type of Hike: Double Loop
Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: Minimal
Pros: The boardwalks and shell paths keep the preserve's trail system dry essentially all year; Many viewpoints of Manatee River and Tampa Bay
Points of Interest: View of Manatee River; Serpent Mound Compelex; Portavant Temple Mound; Three Views of Tampa Bay; Emerson Point Observation Tower; Several salt marshes and mangrove canals
Trail Blaze Colors: None, but all trail junctions are marked by "You Are Here" maps
Best Seasons to Hike: Year-round
Beginning Point: Emerson Point Ranger Station
Directions from Palmetto, FL: From the intersection of 10th Street and 8th Avenue (US 41 Business) in downtown Palmetto, follow 10th Street West - which turns into 13th Street West - for 2.5 miles. Then, turn right onto Tarpon Road. In another 0.2 miles, turn left onto 17th Street West. This road enters Emerson Point Preserve in 0.8 miles. Continue through and past the gate for another 0.1 miles, and then, stay left on the unpaved road to the ranger station and parking area, while the paved road curves right towards the preserve's beach area at its west end. Drive this unpaved road for 0.2 miles to its end at a small one-way loop with the parking area in front of the ranger station.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
Ever since I did an excellent hike at Robinson Preserve near Bradenton in 2015, the similarly-sounding Emerson Point Preserve has been on my list. I finally got to check it out on this late July 2017 visit and was not disappointed - the preserve is indeed as good as Robinson Preserve. I would say that Emerson Point Preserve trail system is actually more ecologically diverse than Robinson Preserve trail system, but there is one small drawback that the view from the observation tower at Emerson Point isn't quite as good as at Robinson due to the tower's lower height.
The most logical place to start the hike is the ranger station, as it's located at the head of the trail system. From the parking area, walk to the south side of the small one-way loop and look for the Temple Mound Trailhead on the right, marked with a "No Bikes" sign. At the first split, stay left on the narrow trail as it rises over a small mound that is part of the Serpent Mound Complex. As a pair of side trails leaves to the right, the main trail enters a large grassy clearing below the Portavant Temple Mound. While you'll go up the mound soon, it is best to first turn right onto the side path through the clearing and to an observation deck with views of the Manatee River estuary at 0.2 miles. The mouth of the Manatee River at Tampa Bay is only a short distance downstream to the right, and far in the distance, you can spot Anna Maria Island. From the observation deck, return to the clearing and walk up the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that leads to the top of the Portavant Temple Mound at 0.3 miles. Unlike many historic Indian mounds, this one is completely grown up now, with massive live oaks at the top. A few signs at the top of the mound provide historical information about this site. As a spur boardwalk to a small viewing area leaves left, stay right on the main trail that descends down the other side of mound via boardwalk. On the way down from the mound, there are some original chimney ruins from 1867 on the right and a 1894 rainwater cistern on the left. These two historic relics are interesting signs of life that once flourished on Snead Island.
At the base of the mound, continue straight as a path leaves left and right, circling the mound. The main trail shortly reaches a parking area at the trailhead for the mounds trail, which is signed as the Pioneer Trail. Stay left here, crossing the dirt road that you drove in on. On the other side of the road is the signed trailhead for South Restoration Trail at 0.4 miles. Begin following this multi-use trail as it winds through a mix of restored ecosystems. At 0.5 miles, a connector leaves left back to the parking. The trail rounds a wetland on the left at 0.75 miles and then begins circling a scenic pond on the right at 0.8 miles. The South Restoration Trail ends at the main park road (17th Street) at 1.0 miles near the northwest corner of the pond. Here, turn right on the paved bike path and follow it for about 250 feet along the road to the Terra Ceia Trailhead and parking area, passing the best view of the picturesque pond along the way. Turn left onto the Terra Ceia Trail at 1.05 miles, crossing the road. The Terra Ceia Trail is a hiking-only trail that access the north shore of Snead Island and provides several views of Tampa Bay.
The Terra Ceia Trail begins following an elevated shell path surrounded, with a mangrove swamp on the left and a canal on the right. The trail soon approaches the shoreline and makes an east turn near it. After a short fence along the trail, reach a boardwalk on the left leading out to an observation deck for Tampa Bay at 1.15 miles. This observation deck provides great views of the bay with the Sunshine Skwyay Bridge in the distance. Continuing on the main trail, it turns into a narrower path that can get slightly overgrown with grass in places. The second observation deck will be on the left at 1.5 miles. This observation deck has the poorest view of the three, because it's placed just before the shoreline and not built in the water. Thus, it only provides a narrow viewing window. After this deck, the trail crosses a bridge across a mangrove canal and reaches a junction with the Tower Trail on the right at 1.55 miles. For now, continue straight to the third observation deck, reaching the boardwalk to it on the left at 1.6 miles. This observation deck has views of Tampa Bay as expansive as from the first deck, but it is further east so the angle is slightly different. You'll likely spot mullet jumping out of the water as you observe the view. From the third deck, return to the Tower Trail junction and begin following it southward, crossing another mangrove canal via boardwalk.
At 1.75 miles, there is a junction with a short loop around a hill with the tower. To access the tower, turn right at the junction, and in a few feet, stay left on a spur trail to the observation tower, ascending the small hill. The trail reaches the observation tower at 1.8 miles. Climb up the broad steps to the top of the tower, where an octagon-shaped observation deck provides a sweeping panoramic view of Tampa Bay and the near parts of Snead Island. Straight ahead, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge dominates the scene. To the left, you can see how Tampa Bay merges into the Gulf of Mexico with water stretching to the very horizon. Looking back into the heart of Emerson Point Preserve, you may spot a sliver of the the twisting Tower Trail boardwalk to the south.
From the observation trail, return to the loop junction (that was at the 1.75-mile mark) and stay right to continue on the main trail as it bends around the hill. After the loop rejoins from the right, the Tower Trail reaches the beginning of a long broad boardwalk across a series of beautiful canals at 1.95 miles. The boardwalk ends at the Tower Trailhead and parking area at 2.05 miles. Continue past the parking area and onto a broad path on the same side of the road. This is the beginning of the North Restoration Trail. The trail briefly follows the road before plunging into a dry hammock with cabbage palms and live oaks. At 2.25 miles, a connector trail to the ranger station leaves right. While you will return to this spot, continue straight on the North Restoration Trail for now. The loop part of this trail begins at 2.3 miles. Stay left to hike the short loop clockwise.
A pond will be to the left of the trail soon after the loop junction. Near the junction with the other end of the Terra Ceia Trail at 2.45 miles, there is a beautiful sea of ferns alongside the trail. Then, as the trail curves back west, there is a side trail on the left to 17th Street. The trail passes a picturesque pond on the right at 2.6 miles near the preserve entrance - the most scenic spot on the North Restoration Trail. After concluding the loop, you'll return to the junction with the ranger station connector at 2.75 miles. Now, turn left onto the connector trail, shortly crossing the park road. After a brief immersion into the dense hammock, the connector trail ends at the trailheads for the Temple Mound Trail and South Restoration Trail at 2.85 miles. Remember this spot from earlier in the day? To get back to your car, simply turn left onto the unpaved access road that you drove earlier and follow it to the ranger station parking area, concluding the hike at your car at 3.0 miles.
0.0 - Emerson Point Ranger Station
0.2 - Manatee River View
0.3 - Portavant Temple Mound
0.4 - South Restoration Trailhead
1.0 - 17th Street; Scenic Pond
1.05 - Terra Ceia Trailhead
1.15 - Tampa Bay View 1
1.5 - Tampa Bay View 2
1.6 - Tampa Bay View 3
1.8 - Emerson Point Observation Tower
2.05 - Tower Trailhead
2.3 - North Restoration Loop
2.85 - South Restoration Trailhead
3.0 - Emerson Point Ranger Station
There are numerous ways to vary the configuration of a hike in Emerson Point Preserve thanks to its extensive trail system. Consult the Emerson Point Trail Map for possible variations.
There is a separate small trail system at the west end of Emerson Point Preserve. The Beach Walk Trail follows the west shore of Snead Island for 0.4 miles to the island's northwest tip, and the Point Replica Mound Trail at the island's southwest end is just a short walk up another historic Indian mound with a scenic view of Tampa Bay and the Manatee River estuary.
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