Weekend Backpacker: Tampa
Ahoy, Buccaneers! Don't let that sweep of bay or that sparkle on the water tempt you to spend another weekend in the city. There's gold to be found out there, away from the busy beaches, the city traffic, the crowds. Set your sights on the roads less traveled, and take an hour or two to drive to one of west Florida's wilderness regions for a step back away from civilization, a step back in time.
Point the compass in any directionyou've got your pick of wild experiences to tap, steering clear of the urban sprawl along the Gulf Coast. Towering cathedrals of pine, rolling hills, and quiet meadows fill the bill at Withlacoochee State Forest, densely jungled paths await in Myakka State Park, and a panorama from paradise beckons at Cayo Costa. Dare to plunge into the tropical forests of Collier-Seminole State Park, with its wild strangler figs and royal palms, or stroll through history, up and over the country's first land bridge and into the eerie artificial dunes of the long-forgotten Cross-Florida Barge Canal.
There are adventures out there, but are you prepared? For hiking gear in the Tampa Bay area, check out Bill Jackson's, sitting up off of U.S. Highway 19 in Pinellas Park (look for the big sign; it's at 9501 U.S. Highway 19 North, between St. Pete and Clearwater). And if you need a hiking partner, just look to your local clubs. The Tampa Chapter of the Sierra Club meets monthly, on the second Wednesday, at Chamberlin High School, Busch & North Boulevards, at 7:30 P.M. The Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association meets every other month at various parks along Florida's west coast; for details, check the website. Both groups run organized day hikes and backpacking trips on a regular basis.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication