Hillsborough River State Park | Outdoorsy

Hillsborough River State Park
Guide

Introduction

Whether you’re a Florida native or an RV traveler looking for some fun in the sun, Hillsborough River State Park is a top destination for enjoying the great outdoors. Located less than a half-hour drive from Tampa, Hillsborough River State Park might just be the perfect place to stay if you want to discover Floridian nature without being too far from the city.

The history of the park dates back to before European settlement when the local Seminoles lived in the area. This area is most well-known for being the location of Fort Foster, which played a vital role in defending the bridge across the Hillsborough River for Europeans settlers during the Second Seminole War. A replica of Fort Foster is included as the historical site in the park, and its the only replica of a fort from the Second Seminole War in the whole country.

Along with being an important part of the local history, Hillsborough River State Park also has many opportunities for outdoor recreation that will excite first-time RV holidayers through to the experienced travelers. With a diverse ecosystem of pine flatwoods and floodplain swamps, this is a prime spot to check out native wildlife. Some of the most popular activities include hiking, swimming, canoeing, and fishing.

You can call the park home during your RV stay thanks to the pet-friendly campground that contains 112 sites, most of which come equipped with electric hookups. There are also plenty of primitive campsites (including some suitable for large groups,) so there is a camping experience for everyone. There’s so much to see and explore here at Hillsborough River State Park, and the best way to see it all is to bring your RV for a camping trip. Peak season at the park runs from April through to October.

RV Rentals in Hillsborough River State Park

Transportation

Driving

Hillsborough River State Park is a very short drive from Tampa and is located off of Highway 301, so it should be easy to get to the park no matter where you are traveling from. There are two entrances to the park, both of which lead to the State Park Access Road. When driving your RV into the campground, you will encounter a one-way loop to get there. This one-way road is paved so you shouldn’t have any issues driving your RV to your campsite. There are no other driving difficulties that you should come across during your visit to the park, but make sure your rig is 50 feet in length or under.

If you’re visiting with your RV just for the day, you can park at the main parking lot. You should have no trouble finding a spot to park since the lot is quite large. If you’re planning on staying overnight, you should set up at your campsite first, then head out with your smaller personal vehicle. The winter weather at Hillsborough River State Park is known to be quite mild, but if you are concerned about conditions you can call the park office for an update before you depart on your adventure.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Hillsborough River State Park

Campsites in Hillsborough River State Park

Reservations camping

Clearwater / Lake Tarpon KOA

Close to some of the best beaches in Florida, Clearwater/Lake Tarpon KOA is the perfect place to stay if you want to experience camping closer to the water. You will be able to get the full tropical experience with multiple beaches, state parks, and nature preserves in the area, along with over 100 sites that can accommodate rigs up to 65 feet in length.

There are plenty of great amenities within the campground, including a pool, sites that contain full hookups, a pool, mini-golf course, dog park, and WiFi. The campground is also renowned for having clean bathrooms, level sites, and very friendly sites. You should also be able to get satellite and phone reception no matter what site you choose. Clearwater / Lake Tarpon KOA is in Tampa and is open all year round.

Hillsborough State Park Campground

The campground at Hillsborough River State Park has everything you need for an amazing RV camping experience. Most of the sites at the Hillsborough State Park Campground feature plenty of shade, and they are made of a combination of gravel and sand. There are 112 total sites that accommodate tents and RVs up to 50 feet in length. Each one of these sites has a picnic table, fire ring, and water collection points available within a short walking distance. Most of the sites in the campground also offer electric hookups so you will be able to enjoy a little luxury during your stay.

Each loop in the campground features restrooms, hot showers, a laundry facility, and a central dump station that all campers can use. You'll also be close to the pool, pool side cafe, and a gift shop. If you'd like to set up a hammock outside when you go camping, there are also six sites that allow this. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance, and the campground is open all year round.

Group Camping

If you are thinking of visiting Hillsborough River State Park with a group, there are four different group camping areas that are waiting for you to enjoy. The group campsites are suitable for groups over 60 people and feature water collection points, picnic tables, a fire ring, grills, and restroom facilities. There are no electrical hookups in any of the primitive sites, so be prepared for some off-grid camping.

In order to use one of the group campsites, you will have to be part of a non-profit or community organization. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance, and you will have to pay a small deposit before your arrival.

First-come first-served

First-Come, First-Served

There are no RV-friendly first-come, first-served campgrounds at Hillsborough River State Park, but the sites that aren't reserved are usually offered on a first-come, first-served basis upon arrival.

Alternate camping

Primitive Camping

If you’re looking for something a little more rustic, you can stay at one of the many primitive camping sites within the Hillsborough River State Park. You’ll need to leave the RV and everything else behind and be prepared to hike over a mile before arriving at one of the primitive campsites since they are walk-in only. Before departing you’ll also need to check-in at the ranger station at least one hour before sundown to ensure that you’ll have enough daylight to hike all the way and set up at your campsite.

There are little to no amenities at the primitive campground so don't expect to find any hookups, water collection points, or restrooms. Sorry, no pets are allowed either. Water is crucial, so be sure to bring a gallon of water per person, per day in order to stay safe and hydrated in the Florida heat. Keep in mind also that these sites can flood at times, so check the weather conditions before heading out. This can be a great way to experience all that nature has to offer, but you definitely don’t want to do so without first being completely prepared.

Seasonal activities in Hillsborough River State Park

Off-Season

Playing at the Playground

If you are looking for something to keep your kids entertained during your visit to Hillsborough River State Park you can't go wrong with some fun at a playground. There are two playgrounds in the park - one near the pool picnic area and another one in the riverside picnic area. This means that you can combine a relaxing picnic with a playground visit so that your kids can be entertained.

Picnicking

There are so many great places to go picnicking that you are spoiled for choice. Various picnic tables are located throughout the park, along with two picnic areas at the pool and by the river. If you have a bigger group, you can also rent one of the seven picnic pavilions that are available via reservation all year round. An interesting fact about the pavilions is that they were built way back in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the original development of the park, how cool!

Geocaching

Geocaching, the modern-day version of a treasure hunt, is a great family-friendly activity for explorers of all ages. Geocaching requires that you use GPS coordinates to find the geocaches hidden all through the park. By participating in a geocache hunt you can sharpen your geography skills while discovering different trails and open areas. See just how many geocaches you can obtain, but remember to replace any treasure you find with some of your own so that visitors can continue to enjoy all of the fun.

Hiking

Visitors to Hillsborough River State Park who enjoy hiking will be pleased to know that there are four hiking trails that you can check out all year round. The seven miles of trails will give you the chance to see the beautiful forests, wetlands, and informative interpretive displays throughout the park. Due to flooding from the river in the spring and summer, these trails are best hiked during the off-season when the low laying areas won't be affected by the water.

Bicycling

The Wetlands Restoration Nature Trail, as well as the park loop, are perfect places to take your bike out for a fun ride. The first trail is just under two miles long, while the other is just over two miles long. Wearing a helmet is recommended for all bicyclists and required for anyone under 16. If you don't have your own bike you will be able to rent one from the park office, so everybody will get to enjoy the fun of bicycling.

In-Season

Paddling

During the summertime, a great way to experience some adventuring is to go paddling on the historic Hillsborough River. Getting out on the water will provide you with some gorgeous scenic views and you’ll also be getting a bit of an arm workout at the same time. If you’ve brought your own kayak or canoe, you can take it out on the water yourself, but there are also rentals available if you don't have your own.

Swimming

There’s no better way to spend a hot summer day at Hillsborough River State Park than by hanging out and going for a dip in the cool waters of the pool. There is a fee to use the pool, but the small expense is worth it to be able to kick back and relax in this ADA-accessible swimming area. Once you have finished swimming, you can also relax on the large grassy area and improve your tan. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Fishing

The Hillsborough River is a popular fishing spot, so feel free to bring your fishing supplies in your camper and settle in for a fun day of angling. Some of the most common species caught in the river include bream, bass, and catfish. Most anglers either fish from the shoreline of the river or from watercraft on the river, such as canoes. Be sure that you have your fishing license before you cast out a line since it is required.

Wildlife Viewing

The park is teeming with wildlife, and during your visit, you’ll be sure to see some unique animals in the swamps or forest. You can bring your binoculars to help you out and get a closer look without disturbing the animals. You can find even more information on identified species in the park at the Ranger Station where the friendly park staff will provide you with tips to help with your wildlife viewing adventures.

Fort Foster State Historic Site

The Fort Foster State Historic Site is one of the main attractions for visitors to the park due to its role in the history of the area. The Fort Foster State Historic Site is a replica of the original Second Seminole War Fort. The fort was used by Europeans in their battles with the Native American Seminole people from 1836 to 1838. It is the only one of these replicas in the United States, and there is lots of history that you can learn from visiting it. The park offers one-and-a-half-hour long tours of Fort Foster on every third Saturday during the summer months and every Thursday the rest of the year. You can also check out more exhibits and artifacts at the park's Interpretive Center.

Find the perfect campsite.