Located just 22 miles northeast of downtown Tampa, Hillsborough State Park camping may just be some of the best in the Florida state park system. Learn why, find out what there is to do in the park, and how to make your camping experience a memorable one. Here’s our Hillsborough River State Park Campground Review.
Everything about Hillsborough River State Park seemed easy. It was easy to get to from our home in Largo. Once onto the 275 and over the Howard Franklin Bridge, it was just a few miles on I-4 toward Orlando. Then exit 7 to Highway 301 north about 10 miles to the campground.
The way in which the state park and campground are set up is easy too. The main road is one big loop out and back from the Ranger Station. Located on this road is the main part of the park (the Hillsborough River and the 3 main hiking trails). The 3 campground loops are located just a little further along the main road.
Hillsborough River State Park Camp Sites
There are 3 campsite loops. As you turn into the campground area from the main road, Loop 1 will be an immediate left. Loop 1 consists of campsites 82 through 114. Loop 2 and 3 will be an immediate right and consist of campsites 1 through 78.
The Difference Between Loop 1 and Loops 2 and 3
Although you may need not see a difference between the 2 areas immediately, the sites in Loop 1 were a bit closer together simply because the loop is smaller. We had a few of our camping neighbors who are veterans of camping at Hillsborough State Park, comment that they like Loop 2 the best.
The sites in Loop 2 are wider and give you a more open feeling. Even though our neighbors used their air conditioners and played music, we didn’t notice it until we walked to the edge of our campsite.
The road into the campgrounds and around the loops needs some repair. So, as you pull into the campground area, slow it down to keep everything intact in your RV.
The campground map designates sites as either 30-amp and 50-amp electrical hookups. Our site, #8, had both. However, if you don’t have a converter, make sure the site you choose has the correct amperage for your RV to be sure you don’t have a problem. Call the park at 813-987-6771 or visit the Hillsborough River State Park website.
Shady Campsites at Hillsborough
As we always do, we rode our bikes around both loops scouting out campsites for the next time we come. Nearly every site has ample shade. This is a mature campground, and trees surround each campsite. Our site, #8, had a perfect canopy of trees above us keeping us cool for our entire stay.
The bathrooms, although perhaps in need of some modernization were clean as Florida State Park bathrooms usually are.
A unique Canoe/Kayak/Boat Launch
There is a canoe/kayak launch into the Hillsborough River in the main part of the park. There is also one in Loop 2 in between sites #31 and #32. Because the river is far below the campsite there is a wooden chute to help get your canoe, kayak, or small boat from the unloading area down into the river.
What About Bugs?
Of the campgrounds we have visited so far in Florida, Hillsborough State Park Campground has the least number of bugs. We used our typical spray, REPEL, which is awesome by the way. We had no problems with the bugs even on a 4.6-mile hike through dense vegetation.
In Loop 1, campsites #111, #113, #114 back up to a swampy area. Although pretty to look at you may experience more bugs in these sites.
The Friendliest Campers Award
If we gave out an award for ‘The Friendliest Campers’, Hillsborough River State Park Campground would win. Many of the people we met had camped there many times. Some had driven across the state from the east coast to camp at Hillsborough. Some had been camping there for a week or more and switched campsites to be able to stay there longer. A couple that camped behind us come here every year.
People went out of their way to greet and talk to you. Some came to our site to introduce themselves and say hello. When we walked around, we stopped and talked to people about the campers. We even got some tours of the inside of their RV.
It was late October 2020 when we visited Hillsborough so there were a lot of Halloween decorations at various campsites. But no one outdid our neighbor across the street. He had a large spider, witches hanging far above his awning, tombstones, and more. What really got your attention was a 20-foot blown up and lit up skeleton at the edge of his campsite. This got a lot of campers to stop and talk.
What to Do at Hillsborough State Park
The 2 main activities at Hillsborough State Park are hiking and paddling. There are over 7 miles of hiking trails in the park although it seems like more.
Main Hiking Trails Along Hillsborough River
There are 3 main hiking trails off the main parking lot (Parking Lot 3). After you walk through a huge picnic area you’ll come to the trail along the river. If you head east, you’ll run into the Rapids Trail. This is a 1.2-mile loop where you can observe the Class II rapids from above the Hillsborough River. We’ve done this hike twice and both times saw sizable alligators along the opposite riverbank.
All 3 of the main trails will lead to the suspension bridge across the Hillsborough River. There is one older bridge that was damaged during Hurricane Irma that is closed. As you cross the river, you’ll encounter the entrance to the 1.1-mile Baynard Trail. This is an easy hike along the riverbank and back. You’ll also see the entrance to the 3.2-mile Seminole Trail (Florida Trail, Blazed Orange on the map). This trail is a bit more strenuous. We did this hike and thought it would be a breeze as we do 3-mile walks a few times a week. But the terrain makes it harder and slower going. Stumps, brush, fallen trees, curves, loops, and more will wear out the causal hiker. Bring some bug spray, some water, and perhaps a snack. We were shocked not to encounter any snakes in the thick brush.
There are 2 other trails in the park. Off the main road at parking lot #5 is the entrance to the Wetlands Trail. This is a much wider trail than the others described above and very flat, so we rode our bikes the 1.6 miles to the entrance to the 6.7-mile Kings Trail. This Kings Trail is described as difficult and we had our fill of hiking the previous day so we turned around after a few miles.
Paddling the Hillsborough River
Because Shirley is still recovering from a hand injury and because she isn’t keen about paddling black water, we did not kayak. Kayak and canoe rentals are closed perhaps due to Covid-19. So, we only saw a couple of people kayaking the river and one couple in a canoe fishing. But if you have kayaks and don’t mind black water and a few gators along the way, it’s a beautiful river to experience. If you don’t want to manage the rapids you can launch further down the river.
Biking Around the Main Road
We biked the campground and the main road a couple of times. Because the traffic is light the ride is very enjoyable. Although we didn’t see any deer, there were some deer sightings by other campers. However, we did encounter a whole committee of Black Vultures. These are sizable birds with large wingspans that rest in trees. One landed in the road right in front of us on the bike path and waddled along for a bit before flying back into the trees. We also encountered a few when walking along Loop 2 in the campground.
As mentioned above, the main loop at parking lot 5 is the entrance to the Wetlands Trail. You can ride your bikes quite a long way on this trail.
The campground store and massive pool are closed due to Covid-19. Otherwise there may have been more traffic along the main road. But it was a very relaxing ride through the park for sure.
Hillsborough River State Park Campground Review
Campers from all over Florida as well as those that live close by come back to Hillsborough River State park camping again and again. We can see why, and we’ll be booking our next trip there very soon. Hillsborough River State Park Campground gets 5 stars!
The Best Camping Experience to Date
We really enjoyed our time camping at Hillsborough State Park and were disappointed to have to leave. Looking back, it was for 2 main reasons. The campground itself, and the campers. We hope you enjoyed and got value for our Hillsborough River State Park campground review!