Camping and Trail Review: Alafia River State Park
Alafia River State Park
14326 S CR39
Lithia, FL 33547
We headed here on an emergency reschedule of a camping trip due to weather. There was NO telling my boys that the trip was cancelled. So, we settled for a single night close by and Alafia had just 1 single site (#30) available for the one night. SCORE! As I pulled in, my heart kind of sank. This camping had very little ambiance and our trailer camper resembled someone brokedown on the side of the road. Three young oaks dotted our campsite. There was a lot of nothing :-( I said a tiny Thank God that it was only one night :-D The campsite is quite a distance from the Mountain Biking Trails they are known for... and the playground. The camping area offered nothing of interest and thankfully I had the jogging stroller to jog the 1.5 miles to the other side That's a guess; it felt like 10,000 miles with absolutely no tree cover and two kids in a single jogger. Once we got there, we found tons of signage for the mountain biking routes and set out into the woods excited for adventure! Every single trail was marked NO HIKING. The mountain bike trails are ONLY for mountain bikers. I made the executive decision to break the rules with two kids who were ready for a great hike (and it was 2 pm on a Thurs- not a high traffic time). The mountain bike trails are amazing. It's obvious why people love this place! WE hiked the black routes for 2 hours working our way back to the starting point. My boys were in heaven as they tackled the difficult terrain.
Back at the trail head, I happened to run into a friend from many moons ago. He gave me a stern warning about hiking the bike routes warning of professional level bikers who go at top speeds. Then, he took me to show me the hiking map.... except it was gone. Alafia had removed the old maps that show the hiking trails (maybe they aren't popular enough?) and we couldn't locate an online map though we searched. Finally, he gave me a verbal explanation of how to find them, assuring me they were just as rugged and exciting as the ones we had already conquered. Me and my boys, pooped and hot, loaded in the stroller for the trek back to the camping side. We sang to the clouds begging for cover, and they obliged.
With little tree cover and being late April, we rested a bit in the camper (Hello, air conditioning), ate some food and decided to try to find the hiking routes after dinner. These routes are easy to get to from the campground You can either start along the dirt road running beside the barn located at the entrance to the campsite, or enter the good area just past campsite 8. We headed to campsite 8 and discovered that the campsites on this loop were far superior to the one we were using. Campsites 3-11 will be my choice for future excursions! From here, the trip finally began to show promise. We entered excellent tree cover and almost immediately found what we were looking for off to the right. These trails are everything we wanted with tons of tree cover, difficult terrain, scrambles, climbing and amazing old trees! This is where you should go to hike. Park at the campground overflow parking and hit the trails from this direction. We hiked 2 one hour hikes that night and the next morning before we left. Be sure to bring mosquito spray and water. These trails tempt you to keep going more and more... and you forget you have to back track. Oops. I ended up carrying two boys who had already hiked a ton on that first excursion. I was so giddy with this gem of a forest that I didn't even notice. It was spectacular
* The bath houses were very clean and there was even a station for washing dishes, which I loved!
* If you go for the day, there is a $5 fee. Totally worth it!
* This place would be much better for camping in the cooler months but the tree cover will allow us to hike there all summer, I believe.
* The amazing terrain kept both my kids so interested in the hike and forced them to work as a team. I loved the opportunity for them to rely on each other!
* I recently purchased this very inexpensive fanny pack with water bottles and traded out the bottles with some stainless ones I already had at home. This worked GREAT! I've also recently purchased this Kids Camelbak that fits wonderfully on my 4 yr old and lets him help carry water!