While driving your RV down the Florida gulf coast, you'll want to make a stop at the Little Manatee River State Park. Just south of Tampa and north of Bradenton, this nature preserve offers RV camping, paddling, hiking, and many chances to see wildlife up close.
There are four different campgrounds to accommodate RVs, equestrian campers, or primitive backpackers. The many hiking trails throughout the park provide ample opportunities to view deer, tortoises, and foxes in their natural habitat. The oxbow wetland habitat and Little Manatee River provide a chance to spot river otters, alligators, and even manatees in the right season. Many people rent a boat so they can paddle along this section of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve and see these interesting animals or to throw in a line to catch both fresh and brackish water fish.
Many different types of ecosystems are represented here in the park. Scrubby flatwood and sand pine trees are home to many different types of birds. This park protects all of the wildlife that live here, so there is plenty to see. There are trails for horses, bicycles, and foot traffic, so you can choose which way you want to get out of your RV and explore!
RV Rentals in Little Manatee River State Park
Transportation in Little Manatee River State Park
It will be easy to navigate your RV into this park located a half-mile off of Highway 301 or by driving 40 minutes south of Tampa and a half-hour north of Bradenton on I-75. It is located four miles south of Sun City and 15 miles north of Ellenton on Highway 301.
At Lightfoot Road, you’ll drive through the main park entrance. Drive along a paved road for three miles and reach the main campground loop for RVs with hookups. A smaller road to the right leads to the equestrian campground a quarter-mile away from the main loop. You should have no trouble navigating these roads in an RV or hauling a trailer.
You will find the back-in campsites long enough to park your rig and tow vehicle. There are no extra parking lots in the campground loop, but there is a parking lot next to the playground and the river. There is also a day use parking lot off of Highway 301.
Campgrounds and parking in Little Manatee River State Park
Campsites in Little Manatee River State Park
St. Petersburg / Madeira Beach KOA
Looking for a beach getaway with all the conveniences of a KOA campground? St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach KOA is just the place, offering secluded RV sites, both back-in and pull-through, just minutes from the famous white beaches of the Gulf Coast of Florida. Families love the summer outdoor movies, themed activities and fishing from the campground’s own private dock. Snowbirds visiting in the winter can stay active with classes like water aerobics, quilting, painting, yoga and crafts. Relax in one of two hot tubs, including a private area just for adults or take a dip in the outdoor pool. There’s even a pet-friendly play area. Wi-Fi is available, and bikes can be rented on-site.
There is one primitive group campsite located less than a mile away from the main campground. Campers may use the facilities in the main campground loop as there are no bathrooms, electricity, or water at the group site. There is vehicle access and parking at the group site. The campsite can accommodate up to 20 campers.
This is a backpacking campsite for tent or hammock campers, which you can reach after hiking two and a half miles on the primitive Florida Hiking Trail. There is no electricity and no drinking water. Everything packed in needs to be packed out, including trash. Pets are not permitted in the primitive campsite. You may reserve for up to eight people by calling the ranger station up to two months in advance.
If you want to camp with your horse you can at Little Manatee River State Park. There are four campsites that you can use in the equestrian campground. Each site has water hook-ups and 20 or 30 amp electric connections. There are two stalls in the stables designated for each campsite to use. There is a composting toilet at the equestrian sites, but the full-facility bathhouse is in the main campground, one-third mile away. Once you're all set at your campsite you can explore over 15 miles of trails on horseback. Reservations can be made from one day to 11 months ahead of time.
Little Manatee River Main Campground
The pet-friendly Little Manatee River State Park Campground offers 30 campsites for tents or RVs. All of the sites have 20, 30, or 50-amp electric hookups, as well as water hookups. There is a dump station near the main entrance to the campground. Generators can be used except during quiet hours. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring.
There are three ADA-accessible campsites that provide a sidewalk to the main bathhouse in the center of the main camping loop. There is also a coin-operated laundry room located beside the bathhouse. The campsites provide good privacy with plenty of shade. All are back-in sites with dirt, sand, or grass surfaces. The low-hanging branches might be a problem for rigs that need high clearance. Reservations can be made from one day to 11 months ahead of time. RVs up to 75 feet long are permitted.
The park ranger will assign any unreserved campsites to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. However, reservations are recommended.
Seasonal activities in Little Manatee River State Park
Little Manatee River flows for about six miles through the state park. The river is part of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve and is a Florida Designated Paddling Trail due to its unique natural features. The river conditions change according to the tide, so contact the park ranger ahead of time to plan for your trip. Kayaks and canoes are available for rent from the ranger station.
Over 15 miles of shared-use equestrian trails cover the southern half of the park. There are multiple trails that loop back around, including the Dude Lake Trail, the Mustang Trail, and the Blue Trail that connect back to each other. The ranger can provide you with an extensive map of the equestrian trails. There are four equestrian campsites that can accommodate two horses each.
At this state park, you’ll definitely want to leave your RV behind and get out on a trail. There are hiking options for all levels to enjoy.
The popular Florida Hiking Trail can be found in the northern section of the park and is a six and a half mile stacked loop. Be sure to bring your sunscreen, plenty of water, and bug spray on this moderately strenuous trail through bottomland forest, flatwoods, and sand hill ecosystems. There are many vista points along this trail overlooking the Little Manatee River. Primitive camping is located about two and a half miles from the trailhead.
In the southern half of the park, the Oxbow Nature Trail travels for a mile loop from the main picnic area along the main river and an oxbow wetland. The Sand Pine Trail also has many loops and off-shoot trails that can cover up to two miles.
Sand Pine Trail is a stacked loop system used for biking and hiking covering three miles. In addition, the main road to the ranger station is three miles long and paved for bikers to enjoy. The ranger station offers bicycle rentals during the day. Florida law requires all cyclists under age 17 to wear helmets.
Be sure to bring along your binoculars in your camper so you can get a close view at all the different birds and butterflies that live here. Osprey and Red-shouldered Hawk can be seen, as well as Wild Turkey, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Sandhill Crane. Some rare Florida Scrub-Jays are also found on the north side of the park. Butterflies varieties here include Viceroy, Monarch, and Queen. A complete bird list and guide is available at the ranger station.
The diverse ecosystems that converge at Little Manatee State Park mean that you’ll find many different animals, fish, and birds here. In the water, freshwater turtles and alligators are frequently seen. Brackish water fish including bluegill, catfish, snook, and mullet make this area their home.
While hiking, you are sure to meet up with land animals as well. White-tailed deer frequent the forest, along with rabbits, foxes, and raccoons.
Manatees use this river in the late spring and summer, then swim to the Gulf of Mexico during the colder, winter months. Because they are always on the move, the best way to see one is to rent a boat and paddle along the banks of the river.
All wildlife is protected in this state park and should be enjoyed from a distance.