A slice of 'old Florida' can be found in Lettuce Lake Park

Tampa is known to be a bustling city, but, in the heart of it, you'll find a local gem with a slower pace -- 240 acres filled with wildlife and nature that is worth exploring.

Lettuce Lake Park is a peaceful and picture-perfect area if you're an amateur photographer, or if you want to take a hike on the boardwalk. There's also a paved loop for joggers and the Hillsborough River is where you can canoe or kayak.

All of that is an option, all while staying socially distant and getting some fresh air with that old school Florida feel.

"Thousands of people live within a mile of this place," explained Chris Kiddy, the environmental outreach coordinator, "and when you come in here, you'd have no idea you're in the middle of the city."

Lettuce Lake Park, operated by the Hillsborough County's Conservation and Environmental Lands Management Department, has been around since the early 1980s, but some of its plants and trees have been around for much longer.

While you take a stroll on the boardwalk, you'll come across a giant cypress tree, that is estimated to be between 500 and 800 years old, Kiddy explained. 

Back in the 1800s, when the area was logged, most of the big cypress tress were cut down, but one stood the test of time.

"Fortunately, this one, because it had a little cavity where it was hit by lightning or something it didn't have as much value to the loggers," Kiddy said. "So, they left it -- and to think this whole area might've been filled with giant cypress trees like that."

The cavity can still be seen today.

"This is one of my favorite parts of the park," he said. "It gives you a glimpse back in time of what this area might have looked like hundreds of years ago."

The park is open seven days a week. It's $2 per vehicle to enter, with only up to 8 people allowed in that vehicle. 

Canoes and kayaks can be rented for $25 for four hours. Nearby, you can launch from a ramp and onto the Hillsborough River. Just remember, Kiddy said, to stay away from alligators.

"If you keep your distance, they'll keep their distance," he said.

If you're not interested in paddling through the river, you can get a gorgeous view from the two-story observation tower. 

"This was the original tower built in the 1980s when the park was constructed," Kiddy said. "It was three stories at one time. It had a little too much sway in it, so they brought it down to two stories."

The visitor center completed its upgrades when the pandemic hit, so it has not officially opened to the public.

For more information on Lettuce Lake Park. click here.