Paddling the Upper Hillsborough River

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While just the thought of falling into the Hillsborough River near downtown can spark a panic attack — dry off and immediately start a course of antibiotics — the longer ribbon north of the dam that’s near Busch Gardens is a gorgeous getaway. The upper Hillsborough, especially above and around Fletcher Avenue, rolls through some of the most unspoiled land in the Bay area. Traffic noise is nil, thanks to a cypress swamp on both sides; alligators, birds and other wildlife hang out with hardly a care (you feel like you’re on their turf). The water is the color of iced tea. You might want to think twice before swimming, but a paddle is the perfect escape from urban hubbub. The Hillsborough has a 34-mile canoe trail and nine parks for launching boats. Canoe Escape provides paddling excursions on the river. The company’s president, Joe Faulk, says of the upper Hillsborough: “It is, without a doubt, the best wildlife-viewing river in Florida.” Canoe Escape, 9335 E. Fowler Ave., Thonotosassa, 813-986-2067,

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