Tucked into a corner of remote Hillsborough County, Lithia Springs Park packs a lot of nature into a small preserve with a quiet campground on 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 some 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 additional 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.
Besides swimming and kayaking, the park has two playgrounds, one for children and one for adults.
One of the best campgrounds 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 traveling 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.
Kayaking at Lithia Spring Park
A state-designated paddle trail ends at the Lithia Springs Park canoe launch with easy access to the river. The put-in for the Alafia River Paddling Trail is 6.5 miles upstream at Alderman’s Ford County Park.
The paddle trail itself is about 11.5 miles and ends at Lithia Springs Park.
The current can be swift in sections and the trail features a few 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 description of the paddle trail, read Kayaking through tame rapids
Canoe and kayak rentals are not available at Lithia Springs Park, so you will either have to bring your own or rent them nearby for $25 a day from Alafia Canoe Rentals, (813) 689-8645.
Alafia Canoe Rentals no longer offers a shuttle service, says owner Sybil Cribbs, noting that her customers usually paddle upstream from her dock as far as they like, then turn around for a leisurely downstream paddle back to the dock.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, or have the ability to transport a rental, you cqn launch upriver at Alderman’s Ford County Park off County Road 39 and paddle downstream 11.5 miles to Lithia Springs Park.
The address for your GPS is Alderman’s Ford County Park, 100 Alderman’s Ford Park Dr, Plant City, FL 33567.
Lithia Springs Park, 3932 Lithia Springs Road, Lithia, FL 33547. (813) 744-5572. 45 campsites for RV, tents and trailers; All sites offer 30 amp service, 15 sites also offer 50 amp service. Sites range from 14 feet. in length to over 100 feet, with most sites between 40 – 80 feet. Dump station; Pets OK. Day use fee: $2 per vehicle. Swimming fee: $2 per person. Camping fee: $24/night. Adults 55-64, $18; County residents 65+, $12). Reservations: Sites are first-come, first served, but you can call ahead for availability. Download a campground map here.
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Notes from the editor:
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.