If you want to see Florida like you have never seen before, away from the roller coasters and theme parks, then grab a canoe or your feet and go to John B. Sargeant Park between Tampa and Lakeland, Florida! There are no whipper snapper drivers or hyperactive kids running around and definitely no costumed shenanigans whimpering in your personal space.
John B. Sargeant Park is moderately filled with locals and some off-the-beaten path travelers. You probably won’t be alone and will feel relatively safe (actually it is safer than some of the tourist places, i.e, no one ripping you off, lower rate of people breaking into your cars, few to no car accidents, etc…)
At the canoe launch, you will be welcomed by humongous baseball-sized Apple snails. Yep, that’s pretty crazy to imagine, but like totally – these snails are real. Sometimes you will see a lot of empty shells scattered around from where the birds have pecked through them. Feel free to take a few souvenirs home with you!
When you glide through the mangroves, you will enter the jungle – the real jungle. When you paddle through the calm waters where the Flint and Hillsborough Rivers meet, you will hear a myriad of bird calls. There will be birds sounds of fighting, mating, playing, talking, and laughing. It is like fireworks going off, echoing off and between the lake and canyon of “Spanish” moss-covered oak trees.
Every way you turn your head, you will see a new species of birds, small and large, fancy and feathered, slick and fat, and all colors of the rainbow. It is wild. Duh, watch out for a bird pooping on your head, rare – but it can happen.
If you go during mid-December, every tree is filled with at least 100 large ravens.
Quick TIP: A good time to go is in mid-December because the alligators are “sleeping” and you will feel safe in your boat floating in the still water.
You will also see amphibians and reptiles jump and slither off the banks and poke their little heads on the surface of the water, turtles, salamanders, frogs, newts, lizards… You will see them hiding in the myriad of tropical plants like palms, cypress, ferns, mosses, and bamboo, and under rocks, stumps and vines of all kinds! If YOU DO see an alligator, 99.9999% of the time, it will not come and eat you. Use common sense, DO NOT, i repeat, DO NOT go up to it or antagonize it.
If you enjoy this park by means of a boat, you will feel solitude and a sense of being in a world you never knew existed. There is a good chance you will have a part of the river to yourself, so enjoy the peace.
When you are here, it will be hard to believe that Disney, Legoland and Busch Gardens are less than 1 hour away and there is NO sign of tourist trap mayhem. And guess what, you don’t have to pay for admission, AKA, FREE.
Location: Near Lakeland and Tampa, Florida. 12702 US 301, Thonotosassa, FL 33592
Name of Park and Website: John B. Sargeant Park