Protecting over 2000 acres of land along and near Old Tampa Bay, this park is an important preserve of one of the few natural habitats along Tampa Bay, where most of the shoreline is now developed and the native ecosystems are gone. The park has three trails that explore different ecosystems near the bay. The Otter Trail is the park's longest trail - it explores upland forest near an estuarine creek known as Double Branch Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 28th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Otter Trail clockwise. This was the third and final trail in the park that I hiked on this day.
R/T Length of Trail: 0.8 Miles
Duration of Hike: 0:20
Type of Hike: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 10
Points of Interest: Some views of Double Branch Creek
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Year-round
Beginning Point: Upper Tampa Bay County Park Nature Center
Directions: From Oldsmar, FL: From where FL State Route 580 and FL State Route 584 join together, follow FL 580 (Tampa Road) East for 1.6 miles. Then, turn right onto Double Branch Road and continue on it for 0.4 miles. Near the end of the road, you will see the entrance to Upper Tampa Bay County Park to your right. Enter the park, pay your $2 fee, and continue on the park road for 0.8 miles to a small one-way loop at the end of the road. There is a parking area here, and the nature center is located next to the road.
A map and some other information regarding this hike can be viewed here.
When one looks at the Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Metro Area, it is hard to imagine there is an undeveloped or preserved section of shoreline in an area with a population of over 4 million people. In the southeastern corner of Tampa Bay, there is a relatively new state park known as Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve, but it's not really open to public yet - and there's no hiking trails. However, there is another location, known as Upper Tampa Bay County Park, and this is one of the few locations with hiking trails along and near Tampa Bay. While these hiking trails are nothing much more than a few 20-minute nature walks, it's still nice to know that a preserve such as this one exists in the densely populated Tampa Bay Area.
After completing two short nature trails in the park, I was ready to tackle the third and final nature trail in the park. The first two trails had great views of the salt marshes near Old Tampa Bay. This third trail had some different sights, as I hiked through dry upland forest near Double Branch Creek. It is harder to locate the beginning of this trail than the other two trails. The trail shares parking with the Bobcat Trail and the Nature Center parking. The trail starts as a concrete path near shelters 3-6. The path is labeled as "Nature Trail". The concrete shortly turns to a boardwalk across a salt marsh. There is a sign for the Otter Trail here. Beyond the boardwalk, the Otter Trail is a grassy double-track pathway. You're likely to experience more solitude on this trail than on the other two trails in the park, and if you're lucky, you may spot some wildlife as well - I happened to stray upon an armadillo searching for food by the side of the trail. The trail draws closer to Double Branch Creek, but the forest stays mostly dry upland forest with palms and oaks aplenty. The trail reaches Double Branch Creek, and there is a good view of the creek at 0.2 miles. After this, the rail leaves the creek for good. As the trail progresses through dry forest, there are some interpretive signs. At 0.65 miles, the Otter Trail ends in a field near the playground. Shortly afterwards, turn left onto a concrete pathway. Reach the parking area/trailhead at 0.8 miles, concluding the hike.
The Eagle Trail and Bobcat Trail in Upper Tampa Bay County Park
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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