Monday, January 2, 2012

Cypress Creek

Cypress Creek itself is one of the Hillsborough River’s major tributaries. Cypress Creek Preserve was established to protect its water quality by setting aside the wetlands that feed it, as well as the higher, drier woods around them:

The preserve encompasses 7,400 acres around the creek’s upper reaches in Pasco County, and ranks as one of my sentimental favorites because it is the first place I went hiking when I decided to start appreciating our area’s wild lands back in 2005. It is within 15 minutes of my home, so I visit quite often and have spent more time there than in any of the other places mentioned on this blog.

The preserve is elongated from north to south, with one trail network branching across its northern portion while another delves through the west-central portion. Today’s post covers the latter, which totals more than 12 miles and is accessed from an entry point on Parkway Boulevard. The trails are unpaved, but the phrase “Jeep roads” would be an accurate description for most of them:

To the delight of hikers, a cattle gate at the entry point keeps cars out. After entering through the fence’s walk-through opening, you will see the primary trail heading due east straight as an arrow. It eventually proves to be a 2.4-mile lollipop loop, and every other trail in the network branches off from it.

Much of the primary trail travels through fields instead of forests, though the forests are so close it feels like you could touch them. If you pay attention you will notice that the fields are home to a surprising variety of plant life in all shapes and sizes:

In the first half-mile you will encounter four junctions with other paths. Two are on the left-hand side, marked by signposts 2 and 5, and will be described later. The others are on the right-hand side, marked by posts 4 and 7, and are actually opposite ends of the same, relatively short side path.

Roughly six-tenths of a mile into the preserve, post 8 is the spot where the primary trail splits to begin its loop. The left fork has the same packed-earth surface on which you have been walking since the beginning, while the right one switches abruptly to a grassy surface. Along the loop you will encounter a three-way intersection, marked by post 10, that can be confusing if you don’t know where you are going -- so be sure to turn right at that intersection if you go clockwise or left if you go counter-clockwise.

The loop provides great birdwatching, as it is where I have seen coveys of quail and flocks of turkeys and some very big red-shouldered hawks. It is also where you will find both campsites: One labeled “primitive” on the inside of the loop, and the other as “equestrian/group” near the end of a signed side trail on the outside. Both are very spacious; both have multiple fire rings; both have sheltered picnic tables; and both have clean port-a-lets that are very well set-aside. These sites are among the best you will find despite not having any electricity or running water. This picture shows part of the one labeled “equestrian/group”:

About halfway through the loop is another obvious side trail on the outside. Although it is unsigned and does not appear on the trail map, there is no way anyone who is adventurous can pass by without exploring it. It goes east a short ways to a tree line, at which point it enters the shadows of a hardwood canopy, turns south, and narrows. Then it travels for a considerable distance along the spine of what passes for a ridge in Florida.

Of all the trailways mentioned in this post, the segment on the ridge -- elevated above terrain that is often wet -- is the only one narrow enough to avoid being called a Jeep road. During a dry spell last winter, Sarah and I ventured down off the ridge and were met by an armadillo:

But about those side trails I mentioned earlier, after entering Cypress Creek you come to the first one almost immediately at post 2. The one at post 5 is about two-tenths of a mile further in and leads to a pond where Sarah and I have clowned around (as you can tell from the next picture). It circles the pond, and a path branching off from the circling portion travels a short ways along a transitional zone between a forest and field.

Meanwhile, the first side trail is a lollipop loop of 4.3 miles, with its fork occurring at the 1.2-mile mark. It appears to be the least used trail in the entire network, which is a shame because I think it is the best:

It starts out travelling north, skirting around the edge of a low-lying wetland, then turns and charts more of a northeastward course. It goes through almost every kind of habitat associated with peninsular Florida, from swamps to upland woods to meadows of bluestem, and takes you up close to mysterious-looking cypress and ancient-looking oaks:

Cypress Creek Preserve is a splendid place to see animals. I already mentioned some of the bird species I have viewed here, but those are only the beginning; I have seen so many others that I consider it a grievous error that Cypress Creek was not included on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Plus, I have seen deer on every one of the trails mentioned in this post. And in addition to the creatures you see face to face, many others leave signs that they dwell here both above and below the earth:

To get here from the north, turn onto Parkway Boulevard from Ehren Cutoff and drive about 1¾ miles. From the south, drive to the end of Collier Parkway and turn right on Parkway Boulevard. Either way the trailhead is on the left.

Do not expect to see Cypress Creek itself on this trail network, however. For that, you will need to check out the one to the north. Happy Trails!


  1. I love the way you and cute Miss Sarah clowned around making silly faces at the camera.
    The foggy woods add a touch of mystery to your trek through the park.
    Wonderful captures, J.

    The birds in my post are female Common Grackles. They are found throughout Florida.

  2. Looks not unlike our Greenway trail here but it also reminds me of some places I've been in south Florida. I hope we never lose these wonderful spaces! Your photos are just excellent!

  3. Cypress Creek Preserve looks like a great place to hike--many interesting sights along the way. Mickie :)