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Gopher Tortoise emerging from its burrow at South Fork State Park

As one of the smaller state parks in Florida, South Fork State Park doesn’t get the plaudits that others do. However, those in the know will tell you that it is a terrific place to visit.

Situated in Manatee County, about a 30 minute drive from Tampa, this 1,124 acre public recreational space is managed by Lake Manatee State Park.

Falling under the umbrella of the Beker Properties, South Fork State Park is actually quite difficult to get to, as it can only be accessed by walking from Lake Manatee State Park.

However, once you reach it you will find two sections to explore. Both of which are divided by the South Fork which defines the Little Manatee River.

Formed by this division, the uplands comprise of scrubby flatwoods, mesic hammocks, scrub, small sandhills and mesic flatwoods. It also features mature rosemary scrub and sand pine that attracts the Native Plant Society on a yearly basis. Its bottomland. by contrast, is a picturesque floodplain of dense forest.

Despite the presence of the river, this section of park is only open currently for hiking, nature study, photography, birding and wildlife watching.

There is no camping available at this Florida state park, but what it does offer is peace and tranquility in abundance.


The main attraction of this park is that visitors can enjoy a range of outdoor recreational pursuits during their time there.

Outlined below is a small selection of some of the various activities you can do at South Fork State Park.

Hiking at South Fork State Park

Although South Fork State Park is one of the smaller parks in Florida it still provides you with plenty of chance to immerse yourself in nature.

The best way to do this is through its various natures trails which take you deep into the heart of its terrain.

Throughout the park sandy trails meander their way through several different ecosystems, each one of which showcases its fascinating flora and fauna.

Boasting a largely flat horizon that is unspoiled by urbanization, there are no buildings at all to spoil your view.

Instead you can soak in the tranquility and the unique sights and sounds of your surroundings in a way that will invigorate your soul.

Birding at South Fork State Park

Given how diverse the park’s landscape is birders come here in their droves for the chance to spot several different breeds.

Many of these breeds live in the park all year round, while others take the opportunity to rest within it during their annual migration.

Be sure to bring your binoculars with you to South Fork because depending on the time of year you visit, you might be able to see the likes of Florida scrub-jay, swallow-tailed kite, pileated woodpecker and Eastern towhee.

For a full list of the bird species you can spot at the park it is worth contacting the authorities at Lake Manatee State Park for a birding list.

Nature & Wildlife

The park is renowned for its pristine natural beauty, some of which is incredibly rare.

This includes a Rosemary scrub that is only found in Florida. It also includes the state’s only known population of the broadleaf nodding cap, a small but beautiful orchard.

Some of the other fascinating species of plants you can see within the park include the rare Britton’s beargrass, the Manasota pawpaw, needle palms, Florida milkvine, epiphytic and both the butterfly and green-fly orchids.

Make sure you bring your camera with you to photograph some of these fabulous species.

The park is also home to several breeds of wildlife. So during your time at South Fork keep an eye out for gopher tortoise, Eastern fence lizards, gray fox, white-tailed deer and snakes.

Pets at South Fork State Park

Pets are welcome to join you at the park although some restrictions apply.

For instance, dogs must be well behaved at all times and restrained on a handheld leash that is no more than six feet in length.

Dogs also need to be cleaned up after and they are not allowed in certain parts of the park. For a comprehensive overview of the park’s pet policy it is worth contacting the main office.

Camping at South Fork State Park

Unfortunately there are no camping facilities available at the park.

However, within an easy driving distance of it are several campgrounds you can choose to stay at. These include the Fort De Soto Park Campground, Canoe Outpost-Little Manatee River, Turtle Beach Campground and Alafia River State Park.

Between them they offer a wide range of accommodation options including cabins, full hookup sites for RVs and trailers, primitive tent sites and group and youth camps.

Depending on which one you stay at you amenities may include flush toilets and warm showers, a swimming pool, laundry, dump station, playground and camp store.

If you would prefer to stay somewhere a bit more upscale, there are plenty of very good hotels, motels and Vrbo options in nearby Tampa to stay at.

Park Location

South Fork State Park
Contact Lake Manatee State Park
Duette FL 33834
Phone: For access information, contact Lake Manatee State Park at 941.741.3028