Tuesday, December 6, 2011

LHW: Morris Bridge

The Hillsborough River forked, as it is wont to do downstream from the state park that bears its name. The wide branch went to the east while the skinny one went to the west:

Eventually those branches re-converge, but all that really mattered to me that morning was this: The parts of Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve that can be accessed from where I was standing, in Morris Bridge Park, are among the most interesting our area has to offer.

Morris Bridge Park is one of several separately named sections of the preserve. At 106 acres, it is far from the biggest and accounts for less than seven-tenths of one percent of the total acreage, but who cares? Those 106 acres are lovely, and the Main Trail, which passes through them, leads you out into the preserve’s wide “unincorporated” reaches.

To reach the park, drive 3.8 miles east of I-75 on Fletcher Avenue, which becomes Morris Bridge Road along the way. The sign for the park is on the left side of the road, but there are parking lots on both sides. It doesn’t matter which one you choose because they are linked by a boardwalk underneath Morris Bridge; however, you may want to know that the bathrooms are on the left.

From the left-side parking lot it is easy to spot the arching footbridge that marks one of two trailheads on that side of the road. It crosses the skinny branch of the river and deposits you on a boardwalk, over on the island which results from it forking. The boardwalk offers several good river views while taking you on a quarter-mile loop through the woods:

The other trail on this side is an earthen one called the Buteo Trail, which totals a half-mile and loops through the forest on the “mainland side” of the skinny branch. To reach it, walk along the entry road back toward the spot where you turned off of Morris Bridge Road. The trailhead is obvious and marked by the sign/map pictured below. The Buteo Trail is “self-guided” in that it has 19 numbered posts identifying various sights; you can find out what each post is about by taking a brochure from the dispenser at the trailhead.

As attractive as everything is on the left side of the road, the right side is where your thirst for exploring is most likely to be sated. Near the sheltered picnic tables on that side is the beginning of the Bald Cypress Trail: a 1½-mile lollipop loop that tracks along the river bank for part of the way and slips away from it, into the riverine forest, for the rest. I suspect you would find much of this trail to be under water if you visited during the rainy season:

When Sarah and I were here a few weeks ago, we did not complete the entirety of the Bald Cypress Trail because she started complaining of hunger and about mosquitoes, and I couldn’t deny that it was about time for her to eat. So we made our way back to those picnic tables and scarfed down some of the contents of my backpack.

Then she mentioned that she wanted to hike the other trail that departs from this side. The signs said it would lead to a river overlook after one mile. Being an outdoorsman at heart, I figured that when a seven-year-old identifies a part of the outdoors she wants to explore, you don’t discourage her, so off we went.

The trail in question was actually a segment of the Main Trail, which I mentioned above and in my previous post. On this day we followed it south from the parking lot and it soon turned east into a palmetto field. We had gone a little more than a half-mile when we reached an intersection from which the Main Trail turns south; the Heartbreak Ridge Trail goes east; and an unnamed side trail goes north to the overlook.

Obviously we turned north (left) and went along on our merry way. We were now out of the palmettos and into a forest where you could not look in any direction without seeing water. The trail was wide enough to drive a car on and perched just above its surroundings, almost like an abandoned railroad route, to keep it dry:

Sarah thoroughly enjoyed the overlook where it dead-ended:

On our way back to the car we encountered a box turtle crossing the path:

Sarah decided to “help” it cross, and after picking it up and turning it over she announced that she had never known what a turtle’s belly looks like. She asked me to take a picture of her holding it, with its belly on display, and I obliged:

We noticed something else interesting on our return -- topography! Glancing off at an angle, we saw the ground rise visibly in what resembled a small Indian mound, and we set off to climb it. It was no more than 10 feet from bottom to top, but in Florida you take what you can get:

I was surprised to find that this hill did not simply drop down on the other side. Instead it continued in an elongated, ridge-like manner, and Sarah skipped along it happy as a clam:

Morris Bridge Park is an entry point to a world you should be sure to see. Happy Trails!


  1. I think going out for a walk and having enough space just to let the small people explore is about as good as it gets. You may not get where you planned to go, but you probably find something better along the way.

    Stewart M - Australia

  2. Thank you, JDS, for stopping by Ocala Daily Photo. Much appreciated.

    I've checked out a couple of your blogs and find them most interesting. My wife and I have traveled various trails in Florida, but plan to check our more in the future. We usually bike, though.

    Best wishes to you! I'll be back.