Feb 23, 2022 - Things to Do

Hiking in the hydrological heart of Tampa Bay

Three teenage girls hiking through a swamp
Asher Montgomery, Gianna Settimi and Gabriella Sprague wade across the Withlacoochee River in the Green Swamp. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

I am downright ashamed that I've lived in Tampa since 2005 and, until last weekend, had never stepped foot in the magical Green Swamp.

  • A 560,000-acre world of wonder is right in our backyard. It's the beating hydrological heart of the Tampa Bay area, the serene birthplace of four of our rivers: Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Peace and Ocklawaha rivers.
  • And it's free to anyone willing to wander.

What happened: I took my daughter, Asher, and two of her friends for a 22-mile hike along the Florida Trail through the Western Tract of the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve.

  • We took our time over the long weekend and completed the segment in three days of walking and two nights camping.

If you go: Drive two cars and park one at the small wilderness preserve lot off Highway 471, just north of the Withlacoochee. Drive the other to the Richloam fire tower, near the very cool historic Richloam General Store on Clay Sink Road.

  • From there, follow the orange blazes south through a mosaic of astonishing protected wetlands environments.

Yes, but: Ben, what about the gators and snakes? This is a swamp and you're crazy.

  • I watched three 17-year-olds jump in the Withlacoochee off a rope swing, wade through a mucky river crossing and sleep two nights in a thin tent in the wild. You can do it.
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