Traveling With Your Dog to State Parks

We are kicking off a series of blogs entitled, “Traveling With Your Dog to…” to spotlight dog-friendly destinations around the Tampa Bay area. In this first installment, we will be traveling to Hillsborough River State Park to let you in on what you can expect when you go exploring the great outdoors with your dog. We chose Hillsborough River State Park due to its close proximity to St. Petersburg. After about a 45 minute drive from St. Pete, we were greeted by a very friendly ranger at the entrance gate. We paid our $6 vehicle fee (a bargain considering we had 7 people and 3 dogs in the car!) and were handed a map and dog biscuits. That was our first taste of just how dog-friendly they were! In fact, we spoke with Victoria Wilson, an Interpretive Services Communications Assistant with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of Recreation and Parks who said that according to one park ranger, about half the guests that come visit have a pet with them.

With our three dogs in tow, we chose the River Rapids Nature Trail to start our trek. To see river rapids in Florida was a rare treat, and as the dogs had played beforehand, they were ready for a water break. We had made sure to bring plenty of fresh drinking water and a travel bowl for the pooches.

Along the way we passed signs to caution us to the presence of poison ivy and alligators. Even though dogs don’t suffer from allergic reactions to poison ivy or oak like humans do, they can transmit the oil from these plants from their fur to your skin. That means if your dog has come in contact with poison ivy and you then pet them, you could wind up with an unpleasant case of poison ivy. Best to not let them stray off the path. In fact, pets must always be kept on a leash that is 6 feet or shorter.

When we came across a sign to indentify the American alligator, as if right on cue, we spotted an alligator sunning itself on the bank. As tempting as it is to go down to the shoreline of the river, we definitely recommend not letting your dog anywhere near the water.

We did indeed meet a lot of other guests with dogs, and everyone did a great job of picking up after their pets. There are some suspension bridges and stairs that some dogs may have trouble with. The trails can also be narrow in some areas, so bear that in mind if your dog doesn’t like getting up close and personal with their species. Victoria reminded us to consider how your dog will react to seeing wildlife. While they may be used to seeing squirrels and birds in your backyard, consider what their reaction might be if they see a turtle, raccoon, etc.

Here are some other things we were told we should keep in mind when visiting a state part with our dog:

  • Pets are not allowed in buildings, cabins, playgrounds, or bathing areas.
  • Please be sure to groom and clean your pet after your trip to make sure that you’re not taking some of our insect friends home with you.
  • Make sure that you are not leaving your pet tied up somewhere in the park. Pets must always be with their owners.
  • Consider the weather. Make sure you bring plenty of water for the hot days. For cooler weather make sure that your pet is comfortable being outside.

It’s also important to remember to ensure you’ve given your dog their monthly heartworm/flea/tick preventative. One member of our party forgot and their dog did come home with ticks. Dogs are allowed in some of the camping areas, but not the primitive camping sites. When we inquired as to why, we were told that close by is farmland with various grazing animals. The concern is that someone’s dog could get loose and harass or harm the farm animals. So to avoid that risk, dogs are not allowed. Additionally, in order to reach the primitive camping area, guests must trek through a fairly marshy area, which can have snakes and alligators roaming about.

All in all, a good time was had by all and after a quick goodbye, all three dogs were sound asleep for the way home –and for many hours afterwards. Not a bad way to get out pent up energy!

There are 85 state parks in Florida that allow pets, and we were told specifically that Honeymoon Island State Park should be our next destination due to their dog beach. A dog beach blog is definitely on our list!