Summer Guide 2016: Gator? I barely knew her!

Gators and kayaks go hand in hand in Florida.

True Floridians know if you want to see a “real” gator (read: longer than 12 feet) you need to head to the Hillsborough River. The Hillsborough evokes a distinctly primeval feel: blackwater paddling, stately cabbage palms and majestic cypress trees. Combine that with not-so-modern-day dragons and you have the perfect Jurassic Park, Florida-style. Few people realize Hillsborough County offers guided paddling tours of the Hillsborough as well as other rivers of the Green Swamp, which is the source of our drinking water (and lots of the bottled stuff we suck down) and some of the most pristine areas of the county. Hillsborough County’s Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department maintains over 75,000 acres of nature preserves and parks, including many excellent paddling destinations on the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers and Tampa Bay. You can rent a canoe or kayak at six Hillsborough parks (see Paddling, p. 41, for info), or arrange for a guided excursion. They won’t guarantee gators, of course, but I can. My favorite? John B. Sargent Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask them to shoot Seventeen Runs, but only after we’ve had a lot of rain. Arrange guided canoe trips at 813-672-7876. Other Hillsborough parks with put-ins include Alderman’s Ford, E.G. Simmons, Edward Medard, Lettuce Lake, Little Manatee and Upper Tampa Bay.