If you love the great outdoors, the Tampa Bay metro area has plenty of fresh air activities to keep you active for days on end. Thanks to its pleasant weather, including summers with mild Gulf breezes, Tampa is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who come to central Florida to enjoy its many parks, lakes and rivers, and, of course, the Gulf of Mexico.
If you want to do more than just lie on Tampa's beaches, you'll find that you're not alone. Each year, thousands of visitors to the area climb aboard bikes, strap on their backpacks, or clean up their fishing gear in hopes of taking advantage of Tampa Bay's vast outdoor resources.
You're never far from some sort of body of water when you're in the Tampa area. Aside from the vast Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, there are myriad rivers, lakes, and streams that beckon visitors to come and enjoy all sorts of different water-related activities.
If snorkeling is your thing, you'll find that you can snorkel from just about any beach on the Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. If you're inexperienced, many of the hotels on the water offer snorkeling instruction or you can join a group snorkel excursion with a guide. If you don't have your own gear, it's not expensive to buy or you may rent it at your hotel or from a local outfitter. You'll probably see more sea life in the Gulf than on the Bay, as the waters of Tampa Bay are often churned up and cloudy due to excessive boat traffic. You might also want to consider a manatee snorkel or dive trip in the Crystal River, though it's a bit of a drive from Tampa (about 65 miles away).
For those who prefer to be aboard a boat, consider west central Florida's excellent kayaking and canoeing opportunities. As a matter of fact, the nearby Hillsborough River is one of the Tampa area's most popular kayaking and canoeing spots. This river is beautiful and wild, playing home to a variety of wildlife including a plethora of bird species and – of course – a few Florida gators. If this is your first time on the Hillsborough River, a guided interpretive trip is a good idea and can be enjoyed via either canoe or kayak. Experienced paddlers may prefer a self-guided tour. Rental gear is available at area outfitters. Visitors might also enjoy canoeing or kayaking on the Myakka River near Sarasota or the Homosassa River, located north of Tampa.
Sea kayakers can paddle near the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and take in the view from the water. Launch sites are plentiful up and down the coast and local guides can help you find the best spot for kayaking during a particular time of year.
Is canoeing too slow for you? If you prefer to go water skiing or wave running, there are several spots in the Tampa Bay metro area where you can enjoy those two water pursuits. Many hotels and resorts along both the Bay and the Gulf of Mexico offer both water skiing and jet skiing opportunities, usually at an affordable rate for their guests. Visitors can also locate an outfitter in the area that rents jet skis or offers water skiing excursions.
Fishing can be enjoyed in the Tampa Bay or Gulf of Mexico, and freshwater anglers can head to any of west central Florida's many lakes and rivers to catch a variety of species. Check out local fishing reports before you arrive to determine where the best catches might be for the time of year you'll be visiting.
When you're ready to replant your feet on solid ground, take advantage of the Tampa Bay area's many land-based pursuits. Not all the fun is on the water! There's also plenty to do inside the region's parks and other natural areas.
Hiking trails are plentiful in the Tampa area. You just need to know where to look. The state parks and nature preserves are a great place to start. Many of them offer excellent nature trails that aren't too long but provide a close up look at the region's diverse flora and fauna. Consider the Alafia River Corridor Nature Preserve, located in Lithia – a suburb of Tampa – and offering various trails suitable for a variety of ages. Some take a few hours to traverse; others much less. Many of these parks offer excellent picnicking with scenic surroundings.
Also check out the Caladesi State Park Loop and, for a longer hike, the 8.5 mile main trail at Fort DeSoto State Park. Some of the trails through the parks also welcome cyclists and roller bladers, but be sure to check the rules before you arrive with your wheels.
Trails that do indeed welcome biking include the 37-mile asphalt Pinellas Trail, which travels from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. Popular with cyclists of all ages, there are plenty of places to stop along this trail for food and water. The 41-mile Suncoast Trail, from Tampa to Brooksville, is also heavily traveled and does not permit motorized vehicles of any sort.