All > Field Notes >

Terra Ceia Hightower Trail

Birding / Hiking / Adventuring Roadtrip Info

Andrew Thoreson
Jul 2017
 Typical view [?]
Photo Galleries
Typical View (9)
GRADES: Click each for info, * = Note
Revisit? F
Birding D *
Wildlife F *
Summer Heat F *
Terrain F *
Fun Hike F
Maintained F *
Mosquitos D
Biting Files A *
Ticks C *
NOTE: 1 species seen
NOTE: Should be racoons, bob cat, snakes, etc but zero sign of it.
NOTE: Zero cover.
NOTE: Tall grass, uneven jeep trails under that, lots of mud.
NOTE: Machete - not GPS so much.
NOTE: Guessing no flies to live on.
NOTE: Not sure if wildlife to sustain them but definitely tall grass to be dangerous
 LOCATION: Accuracy: Read me
Map On Big Map: Click map (or on google maps). Address: End of Hightower Rd, Terra Ceia, FL, Manatee, USA, 34250

1) What It's Like

[Warning - I'm biased on this one but I do think it sucks despite that. ]

It feels like a very long rural driveway. Not mowed for many months - very tall grass on trail. Only wildlife at all were some swallows on a pond. No birding to speak of. No cover from sun. The worst state park trail I've seen. I'm biased because before it was public lands it was exciting here but even still there is just nothing here and it seems like you're not wanted to stop.

2) Kinds of Birds

We saw swallows. Period. That is a lot of walking to see nothing.

3) Wildlife

Saw no evidence - tracks or scat. Be careful of snakes and ticks though with that tall grass!

4) Amenities

Spaces for two cars and a small trail head sign. A long trail to test your stamina and patience - a real character builder!

5) Directions

Arrive at the trailhead - get back in the car and go somewhere else. To arrive at the trailhead - hightower road goes under the interstate just past Amerson Nursery and it becomes an abandoned road (except it goes here now).

6) Dear Ranger

See "Experience" - I'd love to have someone explain how I'm wrong about everything here like "well the peruvian devil tortoise needs brown grass, no trees, and to be surrounded by ticks. It's an endangered and critically needs this habitat" - please make the world make sense again.

7) Time Requirements

We quit after an hour or two but I'd guess there are enough trails to spend half a day here - please don't but you could. There was no magic point of making it to the interesting part where you spend 20 minutes to get to that - that pond wasn't worth it.


What it is now - I have comments on what it WAS before it was state land below as well:

What it is NOW:

I'm doing this write up a year later so pardon me on some details but this is more or less correct. It's mostly overgrown jeep trail (wide and drivable if they let cars in). The parking area has room for like 2 or 3 cars. Weird to spend the money on extending the road and then only letting tiny number of cars in. There's a trail head sign there. It starts out that there are a few young trees here and there while you are walking through but no shade. On the trail itself, typical lawn and weed type grasses that are so tall it hasn't been mowed in *many* months. I was ill at east regarding ticks and snakes. As you go there are a couple ponds then one larger one. That's the one place we saw any birds or wildlife at all - swallows were there. Eventually it just turns into a mud and brown grass on the sides of the trail with some cabbage palms around. Definitely the worst state park trail I've ever been on in so many ways. Boring, doesn't feel like you're in nature, exposed and hot, just utterly pointless. If it was dull and hot but packed with birds and animal tracks I'd get it but not even close to the case here.

Now what it USED to be:

I mountain biked this in the mid to late 90s several times and it was pretty spectacular although with obvious problems. First problem - people used it for target practice sessions. They would take things like propane tanks out and there would be all kinds of junk around from that. Also they would prop things up deep in the forest off the trail so it looked like a humanoid shape was leering at you from behind a tree out of the corner of your eye - very creepy and just everywhere you looked! Aside from that the forests were Australian pine - an invasive species. Those are problems but regardless it just had good feng shui to make a stunning adventure that made you feel like you were deep into some diverse changing woods. It's pretty upsetting to see the contrast - the park now is dull, no wildlife, doesn't seem like you're out in the woods - more like just like the driveway to a rural person's house. Just an unpleasant place to be.

Past layout:

So the way it worked was this paved road went back under the interstate and it was abandoned. When you leave the pavement it is all jeep trail - after you pass the pile of junk people dumped here. It starts out with mostly cabbage palms, tall scrub, and some live oaks. There wasn't much Brazilian pepper relative to most abandoned wilderness around here at least not on the trail. There were several ponds and there were always wading birds in them. There were several patches of football length fields of what I called 'sawgrass' though I doubt that's the name of the species. Grass that's near human height that's somewhat like running through a corn field. If you had to be chased by velociraptors in a movie: this would be an excellent place. Those sawgrass patches would be connected at different angles so it was interesting to have medium term goals ahead from section to section while walking/biking. Then there were a couple patches of Australian pine forest. They were long and narrow. You would cross the narrow side so when you looked left and right it was unending dense forest - it got dark and enclosed for brief periods. Then eventually you got to one relatively big forest that had a good sized loop trail contained in it. It was kind of fascinating because you were surrounded on all sides with quiet and dark. Pine needles made things quiet to walk on but at the same time a bit of echo in the small space. It was dark enough because so packed with trees. Once in awhile you'd run into a raccoon and you'd scare each other. It was pretty incredible walking this at night. Going another way from that larger forest you'd start running into mangroves and run into what's in the middle of most mangrove islands: an inland beach. A football field sized patch of sand surrounded by mangroves. You'd see lots of animal tracks out here though I didn't know how to read them at that time. There was more to this place beyond what I'm describing but you get the general idea.

When I first heard this was being bought and turned into a state park / protected land I thought - good - it won't turn into condos - there isn't much land like this on Tampa Bay. However then I read an article in the paper interviewing some guy working bulldozers there he something to the gist of he was having fun making up new landscape for a future park. As in they were bulldozing the whole thing and starting over. That didn't sound good.

I do get how the first priority is to protect or rehabilitate habitat - that comes before everything else. But what bothers me is that there was just absolute ZERO interest or effort to take what was captivating here and recreate it, save it, or make something better as an after thought to #1 at least.

I keep meaning to read their original land management plan PDF closer but I'm pretty sure nobody who saw and could have appreciated what it was before had anything to do with deciding what to do with it. Stripping everything out, make a lot of straight lines, and starting over probably was the cheaper option. And with only two parking spots and not mowing it who's going to know better to complain.

Have More Info?
Tell Us We're Wrong!
Say Hello!
Suggest A Location!
Suggest A Topic!

All images and data © 2016-2023 Andrew Thoreson unless otherwise noted.