Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lettuce Lake

Lettuce Lake Park is one of those places that everybody knows about but nobody thinks of as a hiking destination.

One reason for that might be the kneejerk tendency of some hikers to think that walking in the outdoors only counts as hiking when it is done in obscure places devoid of fellow humans. Another might be that some people have a kind of “wilderness snobbery” that looks down on places whose only walkways are a 0.7-mile boardwalk and 1.1-mile fitness trail. But look at what they would be missing by skipping such walkways!

Yet another reason for the mental disconnect might be that some people assume a park can’t be very wild when it is close to office buildings and apartment complexes. However, I take the opposite view: What could better prove Nature’s power and omnipresence than the fact that a place this lush sits so close, and so seamlessly, next to civilization?

Lettuce Lake Park is a Hillsborough County Park, so be prepared to pay the $2 entry fee when you arrive. Then prepare to not be disappointed. The boardwalk wends through a hardwood swamp along the side of Lettuce Lake -- which is not really a lake, but an offshoot of the Hillsborough River that hooks east then north from the river itself. Along the boardwalk is a five-level observation tower providing this bird’s eye view:

If you enjoy looking for wildlife, you may find Lettuce Lake Park to be a kind of gold mine. Every time I come here I see multiple turtles basking on logs, and it seems like there are wading birds hanging out everywhere there is water. Some of them are easy to spot, like this white ibis:

Others require you to walk more slowly and be more observant. What might at first appear to be nothing more than a piece of wood, might upon closer inspection prove to be a black-crowned night heron:

And if you are partial to mammals, don’t worry. There are plenty of them here, including this squirrel who was more than happy to entertain me when I visited the park during my lunch hour this afternoon:

In addition to the boardwalk and fitness trail, Lettuce Lake Park has a playground, picnic tables, and several shelters that make for great places to host a kid’s birthday party. It also has an educational center.

Plus, it has a canoe launch in case you wish to experience the “lake” and river closer than you can from the boardwalk. You may bring your own boat, or rent one at a rate of $25 for every four hours. If you paddle south out of the park you will head toward the city of Tampa. If you paddle north, the river will turn east and lead you to its intricate passage through Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve.

The entrance to Lettuce Lake Park is on the north side of Fletcher Avenue, about one mile west of I-75. Trust me, this is a park you do not want to miss. Happy Trails!


  1. This looks like a lovely, easy to reach place that would be accessible to all. Urban areas need more of these trails.

  2. I used to live in Houston and loved Memorial Park, which was in the midst of it all. You could go there and see some beautiful nature though! What a treasure to have parks in the middle of cities :-)

  3. Hi there - interesting point about 'wilderness snobbery'. I used to work in a series of urban fringe parks in the NE of England. Old Railway lines, revegetated industrial plant and lakes caused by the collapse of old coal mines - that kind of place. They had wildlife in abundance. Just like your place.

    And you’re correct - I still do get a blast out of 30 year old images!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Australia