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Canoeing the Hillsborough River – coming up short on Big Moe

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Canoeing the Hillsborough
River – Entrance to the park

Canoeing the Hillsborough River was the goal for today. This beautiful state park is located about an hour from the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

It was a cool brisk day in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was staying with my good friend and college roommate Kerry O’Reilly. He mentioned the coolness of the weather, but I was thinking 50 or 60 degrees. I headed out in shorts because, hey, I was in the Sunshine State.

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

At least someone had the sense to bring warm clothes when Canoeing the Hillsborough River although I have a fanny pack

I was greeted with the first rays of sunshine on my trip, although when I pulled out of the driveway I was startled to the see the temperature gauge at 43 not 63 or 83 like it should have been. I guess the great weatherman in the sky did not get the memo I would be wearing shorts while on my outdoor adventure travel trip today.

We pulled into the state park an hour later and we were greeted with  trees hanging with Spanish moss. Florida state parks are such an oasis of natural beauty. You can be driving through miles and miles of orange groves, retirement homes, and just plain ugly scrub, and then pull into a state park and be greeted with scenic splendor. I guess that is why the state parks slogan is the “the real Florida.”

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

We paid our $6.00 entry fee and we were informed we needed to head to parking lot #4 for the concession to rent canoes. We were greeted by an exceedingly friendly staff at the canoe concession. They even gave us little tasters of their biscuits and gravy while we waited. They did make fun of the fact I was wearing shorts. At least they did not make fun of the fanny pack.

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Amazing vegetation found along the Hillsborough River

We opted for two hours of canoeing since it was sub 50 degree temperature. They informed us to paddle to a sign noting that we were leaving Hillsborough State Park and turn around. This would be the 3 mile mark. They also told us to look out for Big Moe. Big Moe was a near 15 foot behemoth alligator that was usually spotted across from a white walled embankment that is on the left as you paddle downstream. The alligator, we were told, likes to hang out on the right shore.

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

We did not see Moe, but I think we saw one of his scions as a tiny set of eyes peered out from the shoreline. We did see 6 miles of a gorgeous river. Every turn in the river produced a similar beautiful serene scene of the real Florida.

Beautiful reflection of the trees while Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Beautiful reflection of the trees while Canoeing the Hillsborough River

At one point we turned into a little bayou. Perhaps Big Moe went to warm up in here we thought. When you are told a 15 foot alligator lives on the river, you like to know where he is. A movement in the water to our left turned out to be about a 5 foot alligator. He disappeared into the dark waters. We did see an alligator and a great blue heron, but Moe turned out to be elusive.

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

Searching for Big Moe in a bayou while canoeing the Hillsborough River

Great blue heron Hillsborough River

No Moe, but we did see this great blue heron

Although it was cold, I enjoyed the beautiful day canoeing with my college roommate. We reminisced about past glories in order to keep our minds off of the fact it was freezing, and I was wearing shorts. I would love to come back here in warmer times. Although you cannot swim in the river of course with 15 foot Moes lurking about, they do have a beautiful pool at the concession. It is closed during the winter until the water temperature warms to 70 degrees.

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

To me, photos like this capture the “real Florida”

Canoeing the Hillsborough River

The shoreline, even without Big Moe, was green and colorful

Florida rapids Hillsborough State Park

An extra bonus was the 1/4 mile hike to see a rare Florida river rapids

After calling it a day on the river, we drove back around to one of the state park’s hiking trails and took a look at one of the few rapids you will find in Florida. After that, it was back to St. Pete. I definitely will return to Hillsborough. Perhaps next time I will see Big Moe and the Sunshine State will provide real short wearing weather in the real Florida.


The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then enter your email in the box to get email notifications for each new entry. Daily travel photos are excluded from your email in order to not flood you with posts. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).

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26 Responses to Canoeing the Hillsborough River – coming up short on Big Moe

  1. Mary Anne January 7, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    Your photos are beautiful. I did a canoeing trip down the Colorado River once with my husband (when he was my boyfriend). We had a great time.

    • Ted Nelson January 10, 2014 at 1:36 am #

      Canoeing can be a great place to bond, but also a place to fight if you are a couple. Glad you made it through and continued your relationship.

  2. Raul (@ilivetotravel) January 8, 2014 at 1:25 am #

    Funny my picture of the “real Florida” is a plate of Cuban pork, rice, black beans and plantains! 🙂
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted..A Short Stop in a Fine Town: Limoges, France

    • Ted Nelson January 10, 2014 at 1:40 am #

      I enjoy food, but I would rather have a great adventure canoeing and eat granola bars than eat well.

  3. @mrsoaroundworld January 8, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Love the photos as always. And do not agree with Raul at all – although I enjoyed getting to know his ‘part’ of Florida!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..5 things I hate about travel

    • Ted Nelson January 10, 2014 at 1:41 am #

      Florida is an incredibly diverse state. There is so much it has to offer. I prefer the canoeing, swamps, and birds, but I understand there is so much more that other people like.

  4. Leigh January 9, 2014 at 3:16 am #

    I love canoeing rivers like this and often if your core is warm I find shorts are still a go. And at least you got out and by the looks of things had the place to yourself. What a pretty area and I think I’d be just as happy that Big Moe didn’t show up.
    Leigh recently posted..Hiking Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona

    • Ted Nelson January 10, 2014 at 1:45 am #

      It is so true Leigh that if your body is warm, your legs are inconsequential. I wish we would have seen Moe not only to view the huge gator, but it is comforting to know where 15 foot alligators are. They say keep your friends close and your enemies closer, well I would rather know where a 15 foot behemoth is than have him surprise.

  5. Trips By Lance January 9, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    All the times I’ve been to Florida I’ve never canoed. There seems to be some good rivers in the Panhandle, but I end up never venturing from the beach. And that is a shame.

    • Ted Nelson January 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

      I hope this inspires you for your next trip. There are some amazing rivers all through Florida and it seems that each one has a nice state park and a canoe and kayak rental, so it rather easy to do.

  6. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) January 9, 2014 at 9:51 pm #


    I love paddling but I wouldn’t go anywhere near that river, knowing a 15-foot gator was lurking about. I do appreciate the “real” Florida, though, and those rare rapids are kinda cool.
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..Hyde Park walking tour with Vimbly and Joyce Walks Chicago

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:18 am #

      Oh well, more space on the river for me and Big Moe 🙂

  7. Leah January 10, 2014 at 1:36 am #

    I love the rivers of Florida and this one does not disappoint. I’ve never explored one by kayak though. The gators are just too damn scary to me.
    Leah recently posted..New Zealand: My First Travel Love

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:37 am #

      I prefer a canoe over a kayak. They are more stable and a little higher from the water. Either way though, I would not fear exploring the beautiful Florida rivers from either vessel.

  8. Kerry January 10, 2014 at 3:20 am #

    I had heard they gave out tasters of the biscuits and gravy which is really why I wanted to go. River and conversation weren’t bad either!
    Kerry (the college roommate)

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:38 am #

      Thanks Kerry for taking me. The Hillsborough was a great paddle even though we did not see Big Moe.

  9. Adrian Tanase January 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    Be carefully, a snake will fall down on your head, from those trees. 😀

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:39 am #

      It was way too cold on this day for any snakes to be out.

  10. the lazy travelers January 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    i looove the picture from inside the canoe, right above the one of the blue heron!
    the lazy travelers recently hOtel: the @mrsoaroundworld abode

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:39 am #

      Thanks, we paddled up a little slough to see if we could see Big Moe. We did see an alligator but no giants.

  11. D.J. - The World of Deej January 12, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Great stuff Ted. Sorry you didn’t encounter Big Moe, but it sounds like you had a remarkable day in my home state. I play golf at a course that has a similar monster that lurks in a swamp. He’s called Big Al and has been there for as long as I can remember..
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..New Year’s Eve at Epcot

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:40 am #

      It is always nice to see big alligators. I would rather know where they are than to be surprised.

  12. Lola January 12, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

    I wanna go on a kayaking adventure with you!!!
    Lola recently posted..9 Dirty Travel Confessions

    • Ted Nelson January 13, 2014 at 1:41 am #

      That would be nice Lola. Maybe if we are sober enough at the next TBEX we can find a river.

  13. Kieu January 14, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    Why anyone would intentionally LOOK for a 15ft gator is beyond me, Ted. I’ll canoe in the opposite direction. Haha… then again I’m a chicken. Sorry you missed Moe. At least you left with your limbs in tack and beautiful pictures!
    Kieu recently posted..New year, new look

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