The Hillsborough River

The Hillsborough River
The Hillsborough is one of Florida’s major rivers. It originates in the Green Swamp of the central peninsula, near the junction of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk Counties, and flows for 59 miles to empty into Tampa Bay estuary.

The river gets its name from the Earl of Hillsborough, British Secretary of State for the Colonies, even though indigenous people had been living along the river for thousands of years and undoubtedly had their own name for the stream.

The Hillsborough starts out as a blackwater river, but is also spring-fed along its path. Crystal Springs, a second-magnitude spring system that discharges 30 million gallons of water daily, feeds into the river. Small creeks, including Cypress, Blackwater, Flint, and Trout Creeks, also drain into the river. Along most of its length it is canopied by cypress, live oak, red maple, and sweet gum trees, making for pleasant paddling. Except for the rapids in Hillsborough River State Park, where portaging is recommended, and a section of the river known as Seventeen Runs, it provides a relatively easy downstream paddle. Seventeen Runs lies between Dead River Recreation Area and Sargents Park, a 4.2 mile stretch.

The state of Florida has designated a 34.5-mile canoe trail along the river, beginning at Hillsborough River State Park and ending at Rowlett Park in Tampa. The most popular section of the Hillsborough for paddlers lies between Sargents Park and Trout Creek Park. This is a very scenic part of the river with lots of wildlife-viewing opportunities. If you were to put your boat in the water at Sargents Park in the morning and paddle 4.5 miles downstream to Morris Bridge Park, you should arrive there in time for a picnic lunch. You will find restrooms and picnic tables at this county park. From Morris Bridge, it’s another 4 miles downstream to Trout Creek Park. In this area, the river begins to widen and become more open. You will pass by Nature’s Classroom, part of the Hillsborough County School System, where sixth-grade students participate in nature study. You may even pass by a boatload of these students, who always seem to be having a good time.

Downstream of Trout Creek Park, the river begins to transition from a rural to a suburban, then to an urban stream as it approaches downtown Tampa. A dam, located at Rowlett Park, creates a 1300-acre reservoir that supplies water to the city of Tampa. In downtown Tampa the river has been canalized. If you paddle this section, you may see graffiti along the canal walls painted by crew teams from northern schools who visit the area during spring break.

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Hillsborough River State Park

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