Information on:

Little Manatee River State Park

Little Manatee River State Park
215 Lightfoot Road

The river has been designated an Outstanding Florida Water and is part of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the rare ecosystems found within the park, including sand pine and oak scrub and oxbow wetlands, which can be explored by hiking, canoeing, horseback riding or camping.

The Little Manatee River flows for 4.5 miles, through eleven unique natural communities within the park.  The park boasts one of the premier hiking trails of Southwest Florida, a 6.5 mile stacked loop located in the wilderness area in north half of the park.  The Oxbow Nature Trail, accessible from the main picnic area in the south half of the park, makes a one mile loop along scrub ridges that skirt the main river and an oxbow wetland.  In addition, over 15 miles of equestrian and multi-use trails meander through the southern half of the park.

Come picnic in one of the riverside pavilions or stay for the night in the full facility campground.  Little Manatee River State Park is one of the best kept secrets of Hillsborough County with a little something for everyone.


The Sand Pine Trail is a multi-use trail system for hiking and biking. The trail is a stacked loop system, covers approximately three miles and provides access to the main day use areas and facilities in the park.  In addition, the main park drive is a paved three-mile road where bicycles are permitted. The Ranger Station has bicycles for rent by two hour intervals or by the day (all rentals must be returned by 5 p.m. when the office closes).  Helmets are highly recommended for all cyclists and Florida law requires helmets for cyclists age 16 and under.

The campground loop contains 30 sites for tent or RV camping.  Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, water and electrical pedestal with 20, 30, and 50 amp connections.  A bathhouse with hot water showers is located the center of the camping loop.  A laundry room beside the bathhouse has coin operated washers and dryers.  A dump station is available at the main entrance to the campground.  Site numbers 2, 3, and 5 are wheelchair accessible, with a sidewalk at each site providing direct access to the campground bathhouse.  Vegetation buffers between campsites provide privacy for each site.

Each site is permitted a maximum of 8 people, 2 vehicles, and one of the following combinations of camping units:  2 tents, or 1 RV (motorhome, fifth wheel, pop-up or camper equipped with electricity), or 1 RV and 1 tent.
Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287.

Camping Equestrian
Equestrians can enjoy riding more than 15 miles of equestrian trails, followed by an overnight stay in one of four sites in the equestrian campground. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, water hook-up, and electrical hook-up with 20 and 30 amp connections. Each site has use of two stalls in the horse stable, directly behind the campsites. A full-facility bathhouse with hot water showers is located in the main campground, approximately one-third mile from the equestrian campground. A composting toilet is located behind the equestrian sites for convenience. A dump station is available at the main entrance to the campground.

Each site is permitted a maximum of 8 people, 2 horses, 2 vehicles, and one of the following combinations of camping units:  2 tents, or 1 horse trailer, pop-up, or motorhome (30 amp maximum hook-up), or 1 tent and 1 horse trailer, pop-up or motorhome (30 amp maximum).
Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287.

Camping Primitive
The Primitive Campsite is a backpacking site for tent or hammock campers, located 2.5 miles down the primitive Florida Hiking Trail.  The site is equipped with a picnic table and a fire ring.  The site has no electricity and no potable water.  All supplies must be packed in and packed out.  Pets are not permitted in the primitive camping areas.  Individuals or small groups up to 8 people may reserve the site up to 2 months in advance.  Reservations for primitive camping can be made by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005.

Primitive campers with reservations must check-in at the Ranger Station at least 2 hours before sunset to allow enough time to reach the campsite before dark, and before 5 p.m. when the Ranger Station closes.

Camping, Primitive Group
The primitive camp is located along a channel of the Little Manatee River. The group/youth camp accommodates organized groups of tent campers, up to 20 people. The primitive camp does not have electricity or potable water on site. Primitive group campers may use the bathroom and shower facilities in the main campground, approximately a .75-mile drive down a dirt service road from the primitive youth campsite. Vehicle access and parking is available at the site. Pets are not permitted in primitive camping areas. Collection of firewood is prohibited.

The primary representative of the group is responsible for the group adhering to park policies. Reservations for the group youth camp can be made up to two months in advance by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005. The primitive camping fee for adults is $5 (plus tax) per night, and youth under 18 years old are $1 (plus tax) per night. Tax exempt organizations must provide a copy of the tax exempt certificate and make payment in the form of an organization check or credit card. The group representative must check-in at the Ranger Station before 5 p.m., or notify the Ranger Station if arrival time will be later than 5 p.m.

LITTLE MANATEE RIVER:  Canoeing and kayaking are two popular activities in the park.  The Little Manatee River is designated an "Outstanding Florida Water", deemed worthy of special protection due to it's natural features and water quality.  Approximately 6 miles of the river wind through the park, making up a large stretch of the "Designated paddling trail" *.  The freshwater river makes many twists and turns through a shaded hammock of oaks, bays, ash, and hickory in the narrow upstream portion, where it enters the park near US 301 S.  Heading downstream, the river becomes more brackish, and the main channel is wide, open and sunny, before leaving the park to complete it's journey through Cockroach Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  The river is tidally influenced, and constantly changing.  For current river conditions, please call the Ranger Station prior to planning your trip.

* CANOE LAUNCH CLOSURES: The primary launch at the River Steps and secondary launch at the Primitive Group Camp are both TEMPORARILY CLOSED.  An alternate launch is available at Pavilion 1, approximately 900 feet from the parking lot in the main picnic area.  Two canoe dollies are available to assist with hand-portage to this location.  The key to unlock the dollies is available at the Ranger Station.  Plans for safe and accessible improvements to both launches are underway at this time.  For updates on the canoe launch upgrades, river access, or current river conditions, please contact the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005.

PADDLING TRAIL: The picnic area pavilions and nearby restrooms are approximately half-way between the east and west park boundaries (landmarks are US 301 S and 24th St., Ruskin).  The park's Primitive Group Camp and Fish camp offer other pull-outs with picnic tables but no bathroom facilities.  These pull-outs are not accessible by vehicle, and can not be used for launching vessels at this time.*

CANOE RENTALS:  Canoe and kayak rentals are available from the Ranger Station from 8am-1pm on a first-come, first-served basis.  All rental equipment must be returned by 5pm.  Visitors launch from the river access at Pavilion 1 and return vessels to the rack in same location.  Each vessel is $15.00 for a half-day (up to 4 hrs), or $30 for a full day (up to 8 hrs).  The park maintains a small fleet of canoes (3 seats), tandem kayaks (2 seats), and single kayaks (1 seat).  Each vessel must have an adult over 18 years of age.

The 6 mile portion of the Little Manatee River that flows through the park is a rain-fed freshwater river that is tidally influenced, providing fishing opportunities for both fresh and brackish water fish species.  The best fishing access is by canoe or kayak on the river.  While bank fishing is permitted within the park, vehicle access to the best fishing locations is limited.  The best bank fishing location known as "the point" is accessible by foot or bicycle only, and is approximately 3/4 mile from the nearest parking area.  Fishing in Dude Lake is not recommended, as fish size is limited by the altered conditions of the manmade lake.

Anglers must possess both freshwater and saltwater fishing licenses, as the fresh and salt water boundary converges within park boundaries, and a mix of both species are present.  Anglers should be familiar with all applicable freshwater and salt water fishing regulations as defined by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC).  Fishing licenses can be purchased by phone 1-888-486-8356, online through FFWCC, or at any outdoor recreation store.

A 6.5 mile hiking trail is located in the north wilderness area in the park.  This stacked loop trail is accessible from US 301 N from the trailhead entrance on the north side of the Little Manatee River.  This rustic trail takes hikers through many of the unique natural communities in the park, including riverine hammock and floodplains, scrubby flatwoods, mature sand pine forests, and remnant sandhills.  The trail crosses Cypress Creek, a major tributary of the Little Manatee River, and the scenic point where the creek feeds into the river.  There are several points where the tall bluffs of the river bank offer picturesque overlooks along the Little Manatee River.  A primitive campsite is located 2.5 miles from the trailhead for hikers looking for a backpack hiking and overnight camping experience.  The primitive backpacking site can be reserved by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005.

A 0.8 mile Oxbow Nature Trail is accessible from the main picnic areas within the park.  This trail is the perfect length for a short stroll through the sand pine scrub.  The trail provides a great contrast between both upland and wetland communities, as the trail makes a ring around the outer ridge of an oxbow wetland and the scrubby upland river bluffs along the river.  Visit the trail in February to see the spectacular display of Fringe trees, one of the first trees to flower in early spring.

The Sandpine Trail is a network of trails that connect the main use areas of the park.  Comprised of 3 stacked loops and additional side trails, this trail has a total distance of over 2 miles.  The trail leads through a mix of sandpine and oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods.  Several old snags along these trails may offer a glimpse of one of the cavity nesters that live here, including a variety of woodpeckers, or possibly a screech owl.

Over 15 miles of multi-use hiking and equestrian trails offer many more hiking opportunities at the park.  A huge network of narrow loop trails, and wide firebreaks crisscross the southern half of the park.  The primary trails within this multi-trail complex are:  the Dude Lake Trail, the Mustang Trail, the Blue Trail, and the Yellow Trail.  Firebreaks connect many of these primary trails to each other, and can provide alternate routes for hiking and exploration.  Ask for a map of the equestrian trails at the Ranger Station.

Picnics are a popular pastime at Little Manatee River State Park!  Picnic tables and upright grills are scattered through the scrub, mostly shaded by mature sand pines.   Follow the picnic area walkway down to the river, where three picnic pavilions sit on the banks of the river.  Pavilions can be reserved for large groups by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005.

A playground is located in the main picnic area adjacent to the picnic area parking lot.  After your picnic, you can take a short stroll on the 0.8 mile Oxbow Nature Trail, adjacent to the main picnic area.  Wheelchair accessible restroom facilities are available, located along the picnic area walkway, approximately 400 feet from the picnic area parking lot.  A wheelchair accessible picnic table, grill and slab, is located directly adjacent to the picnic area parking lot.

The park is a great location for walking at any pace.  For a brisk walk or jog, visitors may want to use the main park drive, a paved road approximately 2.5 miles long one-way.  For a more natural setting at a slightly slower pace, the park is full of nature, hiking, and shared-use trails, all open to visitors on foot.  Visitors wishing to explore some of the scenic locations in the park might choose a walk to Dude Lake on the shared-use equestrian trails, or a walk to "the Point" on the River using the Youth Camp Service Road or shared-use equestrian trail system.  


The Sandpine Trail is a shared-use hiking and biking trail that connects all the main visitor use areas together, from the River Steps Overlook to the Picnic Area, and the Picnic Area to the Campground, accessible from any of these visitor use areas.  The Oxbow Nature Trail is a short 0.8 mile loop trail, accessible from the main picnic area.  An additional 15 miles of shared-use equestrian and hiking trails criss-cross throughout the south side of the park, accessible from the equestrian parking lot, and a 6.5 mile Florida Hiking Trail is located in the wilderness area on the north side of the park, accessible from US 301 S.

Additional information on the trail systems in the park can be found under HIKING NATURE TRAILand HORSE EQUESTRIAN TRAIL.  Request a "Trails Map" at the Ranger Station or view the trail maps here:  TRAILS MAP-North Side  or TRAILS MAP-South Side.

Wildlife Viewing
Wildlife viewing is one of the most popular pastimes in the park.  The park protects over 2,400 acres of habitat for hundreds of common Florida species and dozens of rare and listed species.  All wildlife in the park is protected, under the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) 62-D.  All wildlife should be viewed from a distance, and it is illegal to feed, harass, molest, trap or hunt animals in the park.  Some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing are at sunrise and sunset.  Don't forget to bring a pair of binoculars, a camera, and a trail map along for your next wildlife viewing adventure!

Wildlife on the River

The Little Manatee River is home to many freshwater and brackish water species.  Frequent river sightings include turtles, alligators, and fish, with occasional sightings of otters and seasonal wildlife like the manatees.  Freshwater turtles include the Florida ******, snapping turtles, alligator snappers, chicken turtles, and the Florida softshell.  Fresh and brackish water fish include the Florida gar, bluegill, warmouth, and many sunfish species, largemouth bass, catfish, snook, and mullet, and little minnows like the mosquitofish, shiners and killifish.  

Many people visit the park for a chance to see the manatees in their natural environment.  The Manatees use the river in the park in late spring and summer, then congregate in the Gulf during the cold winter season.  Like all wildlife, manatees are always on the move and rarely stay in the same place for very long.  They cover a large territory as they swim and graze the banks of the river and the many oxbows along it, so the best opportunity to see them is by canoe or kayak.  Manatees are not typically seen in the park during the winter months, as they congregate in the Gulf of Mexico, taking advantage of the warm water emitted by the power plant at Apollo Beach.

Wildlife in the Flatwoods, Scrub and other Uplands

Hundreds of animals live in the pine and scrubby flatwoods of the park including the white-tail deer, rabbit, red fox, grey fox, bobcat, eastern-spotted skunk, raccoon, and opossum.  Gopher tortoise are often seen grazing along the road shoulders and the edges of the campsites in the park.  Butterflies and insects can be readily found in every inch of the park, making for interesting wildlife observations at every turn!  

The park is a designated locations along the "Florida Scenic Birding Trail", making it an ideal place for birdwatching.  Species like the cardinal, blue-jay, sparrow, wrens, pileated woodpecker, and red bellied woodpecker live in the park year-round.  Birds of prey like the great horned owl, screech owl, several species of hawks, and the kestrel also utilize the park year-round.  Species of wading birds like Ibis, Herons, Egrets, Wood Storks and Roseatte spoonbills can be seen feeding in the marshes and wetlands.  Sandhill Cranes can be observed nesting and raising their young here.   The park has been home to a small family of scrub jays, whose population is sadly bordering on extirpation.  We hope the population can be stabilized in the future, as we begin to take more intervention measures aimed at preventing the extinction of this unique species.  For visitors interested in bird-watching in the park, ask for a complete bird list and guide at the Ranger Station.

Snakes like the black racer, yellow rat snake, and corn snake (red rat snake), ring neck snake and the kingsnake are the most common snake species, with occasional sightings of the rough green snake and mud snake, and the rarely seen eastern indigo snake, a highly threatened species.  Venomous snakes occurring in the park include the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, water moccasin, and coral snake.

The Wetland/Upland Interface

Many species use both upland and wetland habitats, making the edges of depression marshes, baygalls, and oxbows a great place for viewing wildlife.  All wildlife needs water, so many species can be seen temporarily passing through wetland areas.  Other species make their home along these wetland edges.  Frogs like the pig frog, green tree frog, leopard frog, southern peeper, and the pinewoods tree frog, and toads like the spadefoot and oak toad among others, occur in the park.  Box turtles and mud turtles are also normally found on the fringes of wetlands.

For those interested in wildlife viewing in the park, ask for a complete "Animal species" list at the Ranger Station.


Horse Equestrian Trail
The park has an extensive network of equestrian trails, covering more than 15 miles throughout the southern half of the park. The equestrian trail system is comprised of four primary trails: the Dude Lake Trail, the Mustang Trail, the Blue Trail and the Yellow trail. In addition, many more miles of firebreaks are part of the trail system, and used to connect the primary trails to each other and provide alternate trail routes to explore by horseback. Equestrian trails are color-coded and numbered with posts at each trail intersection. Ask for an equestrian trails map at the Ranger Station. The equestrian parking lot provides ample parking for horse trailers, and is the starting point for equestrians to "hit the trails" by horseback.

The quaint and primitive park amphitheater is an inviting place for park visitors to enjoy evening programs in the park. The park program schedule is subject to change seasonally; call the Ranger Station for the current program schedule. When the amphitheater is not in use for park programs, the space is open to campers and the public.  Youth and scout groups may utilize the wooden stage for ceremonies and awards, and organizations and informal groups may use it as a gathering place for meetings or special programs. The amphitheater is located along the youth camp service access road, a quarter mile walk from the full facility and equestrian campsites, and approximately three quarters of a mile from the primitive youth camp. The amphitheater is a primitive use area; there are neither bathrooms nor water, vehicle access nor parking available for this location. If your group would like to use the amphitheater while you are camping with us, please notify park staff in advance. The amphitheater can not be reserved; as a public common area, it remains open to all park visitors.

Pets are permitted in the park in compliance with the Florida State Parks Pet Policy.  Service animals are permitted in all public areas of the park in compliance with the Florida State Parks Service Animal Policy.
Pets are permitted in all day use areas and the park campground.  Pets are not permitted inside state buildings, overnight in primitive camping areas (Youth Camp or Primitive Backpacking Sites), or in park canoes or kayaks. Pets should be well behaved and under the owner's control at all times.  Pets must be kept on a leash not to exceed 6 feet, for the safety of your pet, park wildlife, and other park visitors.  Pet owners must pick up after pets.  Dog waste pick-up bags are located in the pet walk area near the campground entrance for convenience.  Shovels and wheelbarrows are located by horse stalls for equestrian campers' convenience.  Registered campers may not leave any pet unattended for more than 30 minutes, during which time pet must be contained inside camping unit, crate, horse trailer or stall, or confined to 6' leash or lead.

Picnic Pavilion
The park has one large screened pavilion and two small open-air pavilions located in the main picnic area on the banks of the Little Manatee River.  Any of the three pavilions can be reserved for birthdays, family reunions, employee gatherings, school picnics, or other group activities, by calling the Ranger Station at 813-671-5005, Monday-Thursday between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Pavilion 1 is a large, screened-in space with 8 picnic tables, electrical outlets, lights and ceiling fans, and a water spigot.  A large covered barbeque pit is located adjacent to the pavilion, with an additional water spigot and electrical outlets.  Pavilion 1 will accommodate up to 80 people.  It sits on the bank of the Little Manatee River, with river access adjacent to pavilion.

Pavilion 2 is a small, open-air space with 4 picnic tables, electrical outlets, lights, and a water spigot.  One free standing grill is located adjacent to pavilion.  Pavilion 2 will accommodate up to 40 people.  Pavilion 2 sits on a high bluff of the Little Manatee River, offering a scenic river overlook adjacent to pavilion.

Pavilion 3 is a small open-air pavilion with 4 picnic tables and a water spigot.  One free standing grill is located adjacent to pavilion.  Pavilion 3 accommodates up to 40 people.  It sits on a tall bank bluff that overlooks the Little Manatee River.

Pavilions are located approximately 1/3 mile, or 900 feet, from the picnic area parking lot.  Restroom facilities are on the main path in the picnic area, located approximately half-way between the parking lot and the picnic pavilions, a distance of approximately 400 feet from the pavilions.  The main walkway is a sandy path that leads downhill from the parking lot to the pavilions.  The path is a mix of compact sand and crushed limestone, leading to a looser sand surface as you approach the pavilions.


Pavilion 1 (large pavilion, up to 80 people) - $40 (+tax).
Pavilion 2 (small pavilion, up to 40 people) - $20 (+tax).
Pavilion 3 (small pavilion, up to 40 people) - $20 (+tax).
Park entrance fees are not included in the cost of the pavilion rental.  Arrangements can be made with the Ranger Station in advance for parties who wish to cover the park entrance fees for their guests.

Visitors may carry in food and other items to pavilions using the main walkway in the picnic area.  Arrangements can be made to use an alternate service road for a single load drop-off at the reserved pavilion, dependent on service road conditions at the time of request.

The contact person making the reservation is responsible for guests adhering to park rules and regulations.  Pavilions must be cleaned before departure, and left in the same or better state as it was found.  Decorations or signs are permitted inside the pavilion only, and must be attached with tape or string.  Signs and decorations can not be hung from park vegetation, or attached to the pavilion with staples, nails or glue.  Confetti and water balloons are dangerous to wildlife, and are not permitted.

To make reservations, call the Ranger Station Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. (813) 671-5005.

The playground is located in the main picnic area, adjacent to the picnic area parking lot.  The playground has 2 swing sets with 2 swings each, one with strap style seats and one with basket style swings for babies or toddlers.  The playground has 4 slides, climbing enclosures and tunnels for free play.  A wheelchair ramp leads into the play area, which is defined by a short retaining enclosure filled with wood mulch.  Restrooms are approximately 300 feet from the playground.  Several picnic tables and grills are within 100 feet of playground.

Little Manatee River State Park is not affiliated with AmericanTowns Media