So you want to see some gators in the greater Tampa area but don’t know where to go. Luckily, there are a number of places you can hang out with crocodilians without having to travel too far.
Circle B Bar Reserve
If you’ve seen the viral photos of a seriously giant gator crossing a trail or the one of an enormous alligator with a smaller alligator in its mouth, then you might already be familiar with Circle B Bar Reserve. This property is hands down one of the best places to spot gators, eagles, and countless other animals in this part of the state.
If people told me that they only have a single afternoon to spend at a park, and they really want to see an alligator, I would send them to Circle B Bar Reserve. Hikers can walk the Alligator Alley Trail. This is a narrow trail between Lake Hancock and a cypress swamp, which means there are countless alligators on both sides of the trail. The population of gators at this park is very, very healthy, and these crocodilians do hang out close to the trails, so pets are not allowed at this reserve. In addition to hiking Alligator Alley, I also recommend exploring the Marsh Rabbit trail.
Myakka River State Park
I’ve visited Myakka River State Park countless times throughout all seasons, and I think there has only been one experience where I wasn’t able to spot a gator. Truthfully, I’m sure they were there — I just wasn’t patient enough to see them.
Your best shot of seeing a gator, especially a large one, is at a bridge you’ll cross after entering the park. You can’t miss it, and there’s plenty of parking on both sides of it, making it easy to quickly stop and check out the alligators.
This park is my number one recommendation for those who have limited mobility or are in a wheelchair or stroller, as you don’t have to hike down a trail to see an alligator.
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve
Another great park to see some gators at is Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg. Similar to my experiences at Myakka State Park, I’ve rarely left this location without spotting an alligator or two. I’ve often seen both large gators and tiny baby alligators at this park. If you come across any baby gators, make sure to give them plenty of space and respect the fact that their Mama – who is surely nearby, even if you can’t see her – doesn’t want you getting too close to them.
Sawgrass Lake Park
The pretty Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg is home to many gators of all sizes. I’ve spotted large gators as well as tiny ones throughout my numerous visits. The bigger gators are often seen near the observation tower along the boardwalk.
Lettuce Lake Park
I’ve seen plenty of juvenile and adult gators at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa. Oftentimes, alligators are near the boardwalk, hanging out on logs in the water.
Hillsborough River State Park
The Rapids Trail at Hillsborough River State Park in Tampa is one of my all-time favorite trails in the area. It’s common to see an adult gator in the water, on a log, or on the bank across the river. As I mentioned, I love this trail, but it’s not the BEST place to see a gator up close. It’s a great choice for those who are okay seeing an alligator from a distance.
When around alligators – and really any other wild animals – remember to always respect their space. Alligators aren’t typically aggressive towards humans unless they are accustomed to being fed by people or are protecting their territories/babies. Never feed alligators or try to pet/handle them. I actually saw a random visitor pick up a juvenile alligator at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve before, and I was livid. (Of course, I told the staff about him.) It’s never cool to harass wildlife. If you want up-close photos of these animals, it’s wise to invest in a tele lens for your camera. As the saying goes, “Give them room, use your zoom.”
Get in Touch
If you visit any of these parks, feel free to let me know how many gators you saw by commenting below! Or, you can email me at email@example.com. Also, feel free to check out my other alligator-related blog posts, such as: Amazing Wildlife Interactions You Can Observe in Florida — Alligators Courting & Mating.