Tucked away in an eastern corner of Hillsborough County there’s a quiet campground that packs a lot of nature into a small 160-acre preserve along the Alafia River.
The namesake spring is the big attraction here, and the park and campground are largely intended to serve the local population, although there is no price penalty for out-of-county campers as there are at many county parks in Florida.
The spring pumps 25 million gallons of 72-degree water daily into a very large swimming bowl. The bowl has a beach below a concrete and walkable earthen dike circles the spring.
The weekday morning I visited, there were only a couple of families and a small group of college students swimming in the spring, but you can expect big crowds on weekends seeking relief from the heat. For even more relief, there are dozens of picnic tables under a dense canopy of live oaks adjacent to the spring. I found a nice, comfortable bench adjacent to the spring under an oak tree that was a cool and relaxing place to sit and watch the swimmers.
The best camping near Tampa
The campground is on the other side of the park, and it is laid out in two loops with a bathhouse in each. Each site has water and electric, a picnic table and barbecue grill. Many of the sites are quite large, especially the four sites along the Alafia River, which is fed by the spring downstream.
The river sites — 33, 35, 37, 38 and 40 — are your best choices, if you can get them. These sites are extremely private in a heavily wooded riverside forest. Site #40 is closest to the canoe launch, and there is a path that connects them.
The launch is the takeout point for the state-designated Alafia River Paddling Trail. (Seem more on that below).
By travelling midweek, I had my pick of the sites and chose #40. It was huge and could easily accommodate a large RV plus a couple of tents. If I had been unable to get a riverfront site, I would have chosen Site #25, which also goes deep into the woods. The other sites vary in size, but I found that all of the sites would be comfortable and reasonably private.
The park road is shell rock, and all of the sites are shell-rock, so a self-supporting tent would be desirable on the hard surface, if you are tenting.
There is a modern, well-stocked SweetBay supermarket about two miles from the campground on County Road 640 at Fishhawk Blvd.
More things to do at Lithia Springs Park
There’s not much in the way of hiking and biking trails within Lithia Springs Park, but a mere 10 miles away is Alafia River State Park, which is well-known for its excellent off-road bicycling trails. The 22 miles of single-track trails at the state park are maintained by volunteers associated with the Southwest Association of Mountain Bike Pedalers. http://www.swampclub.org/
Kayak and canoe rentals can be arranged at the Lithia Springs entrance gate ($25 for up to 4 hours), and there is a state-designated paddle trail that ends at the canoe launch. The launch provides easy access to the river. I didn’t have my kayak, but other campers told me that there are obstacles in the river when the water is low. (Note: As of June 2015, kayak rentals are temporarily unavailable because of debris in the river.)
Besides swimming and kayaking, the park has two playgrounds, one for children and one for adults.
The put-in for the Alafia River Paddling Trail is 6.5 miles away at Alderman’s Ford County Park. The paddle trail is about 11,5 miles and ends at Lithia Springs Park. The current can be swift in sections and the trail features a series moderate Class I rapids, when the water level is just right. When levels are low, you will bump bottom. When too high, you will ride right over them.
For an excellent, detailed description of the paddle trail, visit ClubKayak.com.
Canoe and kayak rentals are also available from Alafia Canoe Rentals, at (813) 689-8645.
Lithia Springs Park
3932 Lithia Springs Road
Lithia, FL 33547
Scenic Rating: 8 out of 10
Family Rating: 8 out of 10
Sites: 40 for RV, tents and trailers
Hookups: Water and electric; Dump station
Price: $24 ($18 seniors)
Reservations: Sites are first-come, first served, but you can call ahead for availability. (813-744-5572)
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