With several different ecosystems represented within its boundaries, Little Manatee River State Park offers a number of equestrian and hiking trails allowing visitors to explore the natural environments. The park is located near Sun City Center, just a short drive from Interstate 75 and just off US 301 in Wimauma.
Little Manatee River actually splits the park into a north and south section. The south section contains the majority of improvements, including the ranger station, most of the trails, playground, restroom facilities, etc. The north side has more traditional hiking trails with an approximately 6.5 mile loop.
Many of the trails on the south side are designed for horseback riding. We chose to hike the Dude Lake Trail which in many spots had loosely packed sand down the middle. Some spots the entire trail width was sand, and it felt like walking across a narrow strip of beach. In other spots the Dude Lake Trail shared course with wider, flatter, grass covered trails. Much of the Dude Lake Trail is through brush and relatively open, so make sure to wear sunscreen as there isn’t much shade for most of the hike. Markers for the trail were abundant, and we had no problem navigating.
Along with passing Dude Lake, we also enjoyed the relatively flat terrain for the duration of the hike. We didn’t spot much wildlife – outside of a hawk flying overhead – but the variety of ecosystems we walked through were interesting, and we noted in many spots the effects of previous controlled burns, which are done in areas of the park to maintain the right balance of ecosystems.
The north side of Little Manatee River State Park is accessible at a trailhead located off US 301 near the intersection with Saffold Road. There is a box at the start of the trail to pay your entrance fee, or you can display your receipt from the ranger station if you’ve already paid there.
The north trail, also called the Florida Hiking Trail, is a 6.5 mile loop, with a short connector trail near the halfway point, allowing for a shorter 3 mile hike. The trail has some occasional elevation change, although nothing exceptionally steep or challenging. Several primitive wooden bridges and boardwalk sections cross over gullies and more uneven spots. Many sections of the trail are hard pack dirt or sand, although in many areas there are also tree roots across the path, so watch your footing. The southern side of the loop wanders along the river, although with the thick vegetation it’s not in view most of the time. Several spots afford nice views of the river, and a few short unofficial spur trails can be used to get down to river’s edge.
We spotted an armadillo, several butterflies, and a couple of snakes during our hike. While you don’t see the river the entire time along the trail, there were a few spots with very nice views and perfect for picture taking.
If You Go…
Little Manatee River State Park
215 Lightfoot Road
Wimauma, FL 33598
Open 8 a.m. – Dusk
Fee: $5 per vehicle
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