FL - Hillsborough River - 2003/01/25 - 19.5 Miles

Kayaking Inspired Gifts - Sales Help Support This Site

Hillsborough River flows through the heart of Tampa. Outside of the city, the river runs southwest through preserved swamp area, a chain of parks and the challenge of the "Seventeen Runs".

I started this day trip from Hillsborough River State Park with an anticipated end point of Rotary Park just off Fowler Avenue - one mile from Interstate 75.

This day seemed to be doomed from the start. I left Camp Lester on Lake Kissimmee early in the morning, and somewhere on the way out to the main road, I missed a turn. Fortunately, the roads here are in a checkerboard pattern, so I was able to recover to the main road by zigzagging to maintain the correct general direction referenced from the sun. Then on the way north of Tampa on I-75, I did not find the intersection with US 301 which on the map looked as if it intersected directly with I-75 which it does not, by a quarter mile. I should have suspected that this day was going to continue to be a problem.

I got to Hillsborough River Sate Park at 10:30, about 1 hour 45 minutes later than planned. The local canoe concessioner did not have a map of the river, so I had to proceed with the map from my CD program. The main canoe launch area had a long carry to the river, so I decided that I would launch from the area near my campsite. I had reserved the site over the internet some 3 weeks earlier. Sites 31 and 33 are the closes to the launch. I had site 37.

There were very few sites available to drop-ins so I would recommend reservations. The state reservation internet site does not explain many of the policies and fees very well and those policies are interpreted differently at different parks around the state. One issue that seems confusing is the internet site has an option for senior citizen fees, without explaining that this reduced fee applies only to senior citizens who are residents of Florida. All other senior citizens pay full fare. All this confusion made check in take at least 20 minutes.

I pulled into the site and got the kayak off the roof and packed for the day. My father would drive my car to Rotary Park and pick me up at 6:00 PM. With an 11:05 start, I would have plenty of time to make the 18 miles for the pickup.

The first 5 miles or so of the paddle was a quiet trip down the small river lined with palmetto palms and sable palms, draped in moss, with the look typical of central Florida fresh water rivers. The wisps of fog in the cool air over the warm river water, along with the dark muddy banks and the trees leaning out over the water lent a spooky feeling to the river.

Then came the area known as the "Seventeen Runs". I had read the warning regarding the area (see information below from Florida park website) that warned of "the confusing nature of the riverine swamp and the number of pullovers. " Even though I had not been on this river before and I was paddling by myself, I was not very worried about the navigation issue as I am skilled at route finding. However, I did not understand what they meant by pullovers. I was to soon find out.
I came to the beginning of the seventeen runs and was immediately presented with a choice. The river split into two parts. At the junction the fork was a sign that stated that this area was kept in a "natural" state by the park crews. It also stated that it was illegal to cut or otherwise remove the vegetation in the park. All that seemed innocuous enough. Other than this sign there was no other posting or signage. I had read that there was suppose to be signage that directed on through the run. Here I was at the first decision point and no indication of which way to go. So I decided to take the fork that had more water and current in it. Besides it seemed that the foliage removal warning signed was turned a little more toward one channel than the other.

Several 100 yards after the decision point, I came to a very large tree that had fallen completely across the river. There was less the 6 inches of space underneath the trunk. so there was no going under it. The water in the river was quite high, within about 6 inches of the tops of the highest bank and in some area it run over the bank and flooded the swamp. I pulled over to the bank and tested the water depth. It was 3 feet deep right up against the bank, which was more like a dock as far as getting out onto it. I carefully exited the kayak. The massive base of the tree had torn up a big piece of the swamp, leaving a crater of water and hyacinths where it had once been rooted. The other bank was impassable for a good 30 to forty feet in from the bank due to the branches of the downed tree.

I lifted the kayak to my shoulder and walked through the muddy ooze and plants around the end of the upturned tree, trying to miss as much vegetation as possible. There was no discernible path here which seem strange. Either this was a recent blow down and I was one of the first to go around or, more disconcertingly, I was on the wrong branch of the river.

I placed my kayak back into the 1 knot current on the other side of the tree and carefully regained the cockpit of my kayak and started down the river once more. Within a few turns of the river, i encountered yet another "pullover". Again I went through the same procedure of pulling to the bank, getting out, hauling the kayak several hundred feet around the obstruction and getting back in.

And so it went until I had gone around 4 of these obstructions. Now I was really beginning to wonder if I had made the wrong choice at the fork, and whether I should abandon my planned trip and return to the State Park. But that would mean I would have to go around the 4 obstructions had I already passed. How many more of them could there be?

Not only were the obstructions tiring me out as I got out, hauled the boat around and got back in, but it was taking a lot of time. In addition to this frustration, the river kept dividing and dividing as I came upon more and more forks. I kept deciding on which turn to make based on flow volume. Finally I came to one fork where there was just no deciding as to which way was better. As I sat in my kayak, looking very carefully at all the details of each choice, I was about to make a choice when I noticed a fist sized sign nailed high in a tree, almost the color of the tree itself. It was a canoe shaped with a directional arrow pointing in the direction I had chosen. At last I had located the trail signage that I had read was here. Now that I knew what to look for, i was able to find other signs at particularly troublesome decision points. They reassured me when I began to doubt that I was still on the right track.

And how many more pullovers could there be? The answer was 7 making a total of 11 before I finally reached a point where the remaining obstructions were being cut and removed by park maintenance. In addition to the obstructions that required exiting the kayak, I also was able to pull or hand walk my kayak over 10 other submerged logs. I had run off two alligators on the banks where I was doing the portages. It had taken 3 hours to go less than 2 miles. Now I was really going to have to paddle hard to make my meeting time for my pickup.

I did not take time to take any pictures and just paddled hard to make my 6:00 PM pickup with 10 minutes to spare. I had averaged over 4 knots for the last 11 miles of the trip. Most of the distance had been in undeveloped area, but as I neared the outskirts of Tampa, development was unavoidable. The ramp at Rotary park had a dock and a large grass/mud area where I climbed wearily from my kayak. There were twigs, leaves, brambles and seeds all over the deck and inside the cockpit from where I had hauled and pulled my boat over the logs and through the swamp. I had mud up to my thighs where I had sunk into a couple of soft areas getting around the trees. I was tired and both I and my boat had a few scratches to remember this trip by.

If you are contemplating a trip on the Hillsborough River and wish to avoid the Seventeen Runs, there is a launch area just below the runs where you can still paddle most of the river without the agony of the "pullovers". (See site 3 on the map below.) The river there is pretty and there are lots of water birds in that section. You can also paddle upstream until you meet with the first of the obstructions.

As for my trip, "Was mich nicht verstoren, macht mir starker."

from Kayak Florida website
Hillsborough River Canoe Trail
The Hillsborough River Canoe Trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. The river begins in southwest Pasco County in the Green Swamp. From the Green Swamp, the River begins as an overflow from the Withlacoochee River, north of US Highway 98. Its headwaters begin as a slow moving sheet flow that percolates through a heavily vegetated riverine forest that has no discernable channel. Approximately a quarter of a mile south of its beginning point, a channel emerges and becomes more defined as a channelized riverine system. The Hillsborough River continues its 54-mile journey in a southwesterly direction through Pasco and Hillsborough Counties to Tampa Bay. The 34.5 mile designated canoe trail begins at Crystal Springs in Pasco County and terminates in Hillsborough County at the City of Tampa’s Rowlett Park."

Major Activities

Counties: Hillsborough

Mileage: 34.5

Skill Level: Beginner sections are between Access Points 1 and 2 and all sections from access point 3 through 9. Intermediate sections are from Crystal Springs to the Hillsborough River State Park (upstream from Access Point 1) due to the rapids, and the “Seventeen Runs” between Access Points 2 and 3 due to the confusing nature of the riverine swamp and the number of pullovers.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Usual Current: Slow (.5 to 1.5 mph)

Notes and Precautions
Be aware that there are rapids in the upper sections. Also, be cautious around potentially dangerous wildlife. Be prepared for encounters with motorcraft in the suburban area. Paddlers should pay close attention to the trail markers in the “Seventeen Runs” as those unfamiliar with the area could get lost.

    1. Hillsborough River State Park – 9 miles north of Fowler Avenue on US 301.
    2. Dead River Park – 7.5 miles north of Fowler Avenue on US 301.
    3. John B. Sargeant, Sr. Memorial Park – 3.5 miles north of Fowler Avenue on US 301.
    4. Morris Bridge Park – 5 miles east of I-75 (Exit 55, Fletcher Avenue) on Morris Bridge Road.
    5. Trout Creek Park – .05 (1/2) mile east of I-75 (Exit 55, Fletcher Avenue) on Morris Bridge Road.
    6. Rotary Park – 0.2 miles west of I-75 on Fowler Avenue.
    7. Riverhills Park – 1 mile east of 56th Street on Riverhills Drive in Temple Terrace.
    8. Temple Crest Park - Check.
    9. Rowlett Park – From I-275, take Busch Blvd (Exit 33) east to N 22nd Street. Take a right (south) and look for park.

There may be access points (both public and private) in addition to those listed here. Please remember that some sites may require a fee for launching and/or parking.

USGS Water Gauge ZephyrHills (up river from State Park)

USGS Water Gauge Thonotohassa

Local Outfitter(s):
Canoe Escape, Inc.
9335 E. Fowler Avenue
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
ph: 813-986-2067




SeaKayak Chesapeake bay makes no representations and extends no warranties of any type as to the accuracy or completeness of any information or content on this website.This website is for informational purposes only. All of the information provided on this website is provided "AS-IS" and with NO WARRANTIES. No express or implied warranties of any type, including for example implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose, are made with respect to the information, or any use of the information, on this site.

Maps and map related products available on this website, including but not limited to imagery, data, and data sources are hereby specifically identified as being unsuitable for use in navigation. By using any of these products or services, you have agreed to these terms, whether or not the map or any other use is labeled “Not for Navigation”.

Copyright on original material by Sea Kayak Chesapeake Bay TM 2001 through 2021. All rights reserved.