Hillsborough River Camping Trip

Camping review of our two day trip to Hillsborough River State Campground near Tampa.

We are camping for two nights at the Hillsborough River Campground in Thonotosassa, Florida. My son is going to a concert in Tampa which is about thirty minutes away.

Because it’s July and the weather is hot, I did not plan to do much outside during this trip. I work online and hoped to get a lot of work done, but internet was not great here.

The Campsite

Our site was number 56 on Loop 3 and it was nice. The site was big, with nothing but nature behind us. When booking a campsite, it’s tough to figure which site to choose because not a lot of info is given. Loop 3 seems to have a lot of very nice, shady sites. I did not closely check out either of the other loops, but did walk through one where the permanent tents were set up.

  • Campsite
  • grilling food at campsite
  • wooded campsite
  • Campsite Imagine trailer
  • back window camper view of green woods

The Campground

On Saturday morning I took a walk. It was hot and I barely made it back (LOL) but I got some photos of what is offered at this state park. It seems that mostly there are a playground, picnic tables and little pavilion, kayak and canoe rentals, fishing, and trails to explore. This is what I found on my quick walk.

The pool is closed, and I bet that was once a huge draw. The grounds are kept nice with tables near a playground in that area. It’s nice and shady. I’m not sure how long this pool has been closed. It seems that this area has not recovered from the hurricane. There is a Fort somewhere, but it is closed also.

  • closed pool
  • playground and tables
  • canoe and kayak area
  • gift shop store at pool

The River Trails

The walk took me to the kayak and canoe launch area. I suppose they need to be rented, probably from the store across the street. It was way too hot for me to consider kayaking, and I’m not a fan of fresh water in Florida. Alligators can move very fast when they want to, and I’m sure this area has plenty of them.

One bridge was closed and had been since Hurricane Irma-2017. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been fixed by now, or taken down. The other bridge was open and it took me over the water to some trails. I did not get much further because of the heat and mosquitoes. Hiking in Florida is not my thing either, but they have lots of trails for those who like it. I have no idea what condition the trails are in.

  • wild florida path
  • footbridge across the river
  • closed bridge
  • brown river water
  • brown river water
  • Long steps near the river
  • Florida river

Hillsborough River Campground

Overall Observations

I would not make it a point to go here to camp, but for anything having to do with Tampa, this place is close, and affordable, for campers. This is why we were here. We did not have noisy, obnoxious neighbors (like our last trip) and enjoyed our two days.

I will say that navigating this campground can be a bit confusing at first. I took the map with me when I went walking. On the drive in, you follow a long one-way road around to the area with three camping loops. Each loop is marked with campsite numbers, so just pay attention.

Bring a bike. Saw some people on electric bikes – and my son brought his and rode all over, but I would bring my normal bike – if it was a cooler time of year.

  • campground road
  • campground road

On this trip our camper awning quit working. It was out and then wouldn’t go back in! The site was pretty well shaded, thankfully and with a push we got the awning retracted.

I have to say that I am not extremely impressed with this camper. We’ve had it for a year and have had to fix the outside door, the bathroom sliding doors, the window shades, and now the awning. It did not rain, other than a few sprinkles, so the awning would have been nice to use.

Our next planned camping trip will be in September with some friends. We are returning to Salt Springs, where the water is clear and cool! Can’t wait.

More to read…

Camping at O’Leno State Park

Camping at the O’Leno State Park in High Springs, Florida. A wonderful place to enjoy time in nature with walking and biking trails, and the Santa Fe River.

We took a quick two day camping trip to O’Leno state park the end of October to enjoy some Florida nature. This place has plenty of it.

The drive for us took nearly three hours. This part of Florida has hills, unlike the area where I live and I enjoyed the ride. The park is located in the northern part of Florida in High Springs – close to Ichetucknee (good to know). Rain came shortly after we had backed the RV into the site, but didn’t last long and we were out and about on our bikes.

We camped on the Magnolia Loop which is one of two camping loops in the park. The Dogwood Loop is near the entrance, but the Mag Loop is down near the Santa Fe River.

The Campsites

The photos here are typical of the sites to rent around the Mag(nolia) Loop. Site #6 had a trail that led down into the woods behind the fence. Another site had 2 picnic tables. These sites can easily hold a camper, vehicle (two are allowed) and tent or screen house.

Hookups are electric and water but no sewer. There is a place to empty sewer in the campground, which we did on our way out.

The loop road is very bumpy sand and each site is sand, but very level. I think large RVs would have some trouble with close trees along the roads and backing into the sites. We saw deer behind our camper in the morning. The woods are full of big old trees.

We camped during the week and left on a Friday. After the first night, both sites on either side of us were empty! Animals are allowed in this campground, and we did hear some dogs barking during the day.

The Santa Fe River

At the entrance of the O’Leno Campground follow the road back to the river area. A large parking area and picnic tables are provided along with a large roped off swimming area. The public can visit during the day.

One of the main draws to this place seems to be the suspension bridge over the river. It was closed at the time we visited, due to damage from a fallen tree (the website did announce this). This bridge is also part of the trail that leads to the River “sink” and usually makes a loop. With the bridge out, the loop can’t be completed but can still be walked.


Part of the river is roped off for swimming. Due to the abundance of cypress trees, the water is very dark. I do not go in Florida fresh water, unless it’s a spring (Salt Springs camping). For this reason, and the fact that there are so many wonderful trails, I would not camp here during the hot months.

River swimming and suspension bridge
Swimming area in the river

Walking Trail to the River Sink

Another feature in this rural location is the Santa Fe River “sink” and “rise”. The sink is the area where the river water goes underground. The place it emerges again (the rise) is about three miles away.

I was looking forward to biking to see the river “rise” but the trails were too full of roots and soft sand to make biking manageable for me. As far as I know, you must walk or bike to see the rise.

From the trailhead by the swimming area, we followed the trail to the river sink (we biked part way, then had to walk). This is where the Santa Fe goes underground. An amazing 900 million gallons of water flow underground here each day! On the surface, nothing is moving and green stuff makes the water seem stagnant. There is an alligator warning sign. Gators can literally be anywhere but we didn’t see any.

We drove to the Limestone Trail and took a short walk up the left side of the trail to see the old quarry. It was a hole in the ground with some protruding rocks.


This place is a historical location of the old town of Leno – O’Leno is short for “Old Leno”. The campground / park has lots of information about the history with parts of the old grist mills (there were two) under a pavilion – photo below.

We missed out on visiting the little museum, but the town of Leno disappeared after the railroad was built and passed it by. The deserted town became a work camp during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corp built up the area in the 1930’s and 40’s into the campground and park it is today.

Remains of buildings and the dam can still be seen.

More Info

Here are some things I’d have liked to know before booking my stay.

Wood can be purchased for $7.00 – exact change! It says nothing about bringing in your own wood, so I’m not sure if that is allowed.

There are many trails throughout the area. Some are for walking and biking and some are walking only (also equestrian). A trail map is provided at check-in (like the one linked above). The map shows the location of the “sink” and “rise”. Eventually, I figured out what that meant!

See the park map here.

Bring bikes if you have them. The bike trails were too bumpy for me, but there are other places to ride. I rode along the main roadway and never saw a car! I’m sure there are busy times, but this was not one of them.

We took a drive to see the Dogwood Loop camping area and were glad we didn’t stay there. Those sites were on the inside of the loop, whereas campsites are on the outside at the Mag Loop. Some of the sites were pretty close and looked tough to maneuver because of trees. But, if you want to be away from everything (the playground, day visitors, and swimming) and you have a smallish camper or tent, Dogwood might be your thing.

The Mag Loop has a playground area and a bathroom in the center of the loop. Although we didn’t use the bathrooms, I went into the women’s side to get photos for campers who may need to use the facilities. The bathroom is located closer to the entrance / beginning of the loop, with the playground further toward the top of the loop.

Just for Fun… What’s For Dinner?

Camping food is kept simple. Grilled chicken with veggies in foil. With wine of course!

Have you ever camped at O’Leno? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Camping With Cats: Getting Started

Camping with cats presents a slew of problems to overcome and requires some planning ahead. Here are some things to consider when traveling with a furbaby or two.

This will be the first of many posts that cover the subject of camping with cats. We have two older cats and they will be going camping with us most of the time. Right now I am in the planning stages and waiting for our travel trailer to arrive.

Any cat owner knows that cats have minds all their own. They are quirky, individualists and most of all non-conformists! I believe that all cats are much smarter than we give them credit for, but they don’t really care what we think!

Cats Hate Riding in Vehicles

A short ride to the vet causes my Fontana to emit noises I never otherwise hear. Her meowing is deep and loud as if she is yelling at me to stop the car! Skittle on the other hand is completely silent. But, she tends to get car sick on longer rides.

When I moved from New Hampshire back to Florida a few years ago, I had to drive my Subaru with both cats in the back of my car! It took three long days, but the cats did pretty well. I wrote about the experience on this Wizzley page.

black cats, riding in car, traveling with cats
Both cats in the back of my car

We still have the two cages which will be used on the back seat of our truck while traveling. The cages can be carried into the camper for rest stops and to let the cats move around, eat and use the litter box. Or, at least that is the hope.

Skittle’s cage has an upper level (made from wood) to be sure she can see out the window. She can only lie down but it was great for her. This apparently helps with her car sickness, as she was not sick any of the three travel days during the move.

So Tip #1 is to find a good way to transport the cats. The cages I used are called Small Dog Crates and were purchased on Amazon – this is an Affiliate link.

Personally, I believe the cat should be able to have a view while traveling. It’s why I chose the open type dog crate and chose not to coop them up in a regular carrier, like the one I use for the vet visits.

Even though they both had food, water and a small litter box, they didn’t use any of that much while we were riding.

cats, cages, moving, travel, riding
Traveling kitties

Cats Outside at Campsites

The fact that both my cats go outside in my yard leads me to believe that they may appreciate being outside while we camp. However, I’m not sure I like that idea at all. If I decide to let them out, they will need a fenced area, just like dogs have.

Here are the pros and cons (mostly cons) of putting cats outside at a campsite. First of all, will it be worth it? My cats like to room the yard at home, and they do stay in the yard. Will they be happy inside a fence in a strange place, or will they just be scared?

White cat behind wire fencing
Photo credit: Sontung57 at Pixabay

Lots of people camp with dogs. What if a dog is loose, or gets loose. Will stray dogs charge the fence and scare the cats? I mean, how sturdy can a fence be?

We will have to make room to take a fence with us and take the time to set it up and take it down.

The only pro would be if the cats truly enjoy their time outside. And we won’t know unless we spend the money and try it. Also, once they get used to going out while we camp, they will expect to do it all the time. Starting this habit may be a big mistake.

Even though they are indoor / outdoor cats, they will have the entire camper to roam. Fontana mostly sleeps inside all day long anyway. Skittle is the one who would appreciate being outside the most.

Pop Up Screen House

Then again, what about a pop-up screen enclosure? This is something that may come in very useful, not only for bringing the cats outside, but for keeping our food and ourselves bug-free.

Cat Freedom, Is It Necessary?

Whenever I think about taking my cats camping, I realize it may be a bit stressful for all of us. But if I kennel the cats, they will be stuck inside a small cage for the time I am gone – not to mention how expensive this will be! So having a big camping trailer to traverse day and night is not at all bad. This is why I think I want them to stay inside the trailer where it’s safe. Also, they will be with us, and not strangers.

Every now and then I toy with the idea of trying a harness so they could take a walk outside.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Cat harnesses don’t work. If you need proof of that, just go read reviews at Amazon. In fact, if you need a good laugh, read the reviews and watch the videos! Sometimes it’s not funny though when people believe that their cat’s harness is truly escape-proof. Cats are escape artists. Cats get lost this way.

When we first moved into this house, I tried to keep Skittle on a harness so she could get used to the yard and know where our place was. A motorcycle went by and she was out of that harness in an instant! Fortunately, she was in the yard and didn’t go far. If she had gotten out at a strange location, who knows where she would have gone.

Know your cat. Some cats probably do well on a harness in certain settings. But most cats will be scared of loud noises or dogs rushing at them!

The Dreaded Litter Box

The worst thing about having cats it the need for a litter box. We don’t have our camper yet, but I’m trying to find information about how cat campers deal with it. Some people cut a little “door” in the cabinet under the table bench and hide the box inside. Some people leave it in the shower area. I’m not at all sure where we will put ours.

I’m also looking into getting a better litter box system so litter won’t be tracked everywhere.

I’ll be writing more as we actually do travel and live with the cats in the camper. For now, I am simply planning ahead.

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