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Updated: 02/17/2013

Alafia River... Draped in Spanish Moss

The Alafia River starts out on the North Prong (at Mulberry) and South Prong (at Bradley) which converge at Alderman's Ford, and then flows into Hillsborough Bay. The 10-mile Designated Paddling Trail runs between Alderman's Ford Park and Lithia Springs Park in Hillsborough County. The upper river is narrow and difficult to navigate, approaching the bay the lower river gets wider but also has more motor boat traffic. (Detailed map, photos and more description below.)



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Distance: 10 mile Designated Paddling trail between Lithia Springs Park and Alderman's Ford Park, 45 miles total
Location: Hillsborough County (south of Brandon)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: No
Launch points: Lithia Springs Park (CR 60 to Lithia Springs Road, fee), Alderman's Ford Park (SR 39 north of Thompson Road, fee) (See map, left)
Kayak/Canoe Rentals: On the river at Valrico, FL (link, above right); at Alderman's Ford Park and at Lithia Springs Park
Nearby points of interest: Alafia River State Park

Paddling at normal water levels is generally an easy ride, though shoals present a few obstacles (and fun). The water was low when we visited and there were a couple of places at shoals where we dragged our kayaks through the shallow water. At high water, the swifter current can be a challenge to novice paddlers. Due to the limestone rock bottom, aluminum boats are not recommended.

Cypress, sabal palm, oak and elm line the paddling trail providing a green canopy; a notable feature was the Spanish moss draping the trees - a scenic ride on the twisty river. The paddling trail runs through a mostly isolated area, only a few homes are visible near the CR 640 bridge. Much of the surrounding land is private property and the steep river bank offered few stopping places (we saw mention of marked sites for stopping, but we did not see signs). The canoe/kayak outfitter offers a shuttle, with drop-off at Alderman's Ford. Paddling on the spring run at Lithia Springs is prohibited.

Alafia is pronounced AL-uh-fi, an Indian word for "river of fire" from the flashes of light that could be seen in the water at night. These were caused by phosphorus in the water. Phosphate mining grew and now defines this part of Florida (which produces 30% of the world's phosphate).

The Alafia River has an unfortunate pollution history, and swimming is not recommended except at Lithia Springs. Phosphate mining and agriculture have contributed, but the major damage occurred during a rainstorm in 1998 when a dam broke at the Mulberry Phosphates fertilizer plant dumping 56 million gallons of acidic wastewater and killing everything from the North Prong of the river to the US 41 bridge. While restoration and protection have been put in place, and other sites mention assorted birds and other animals, the lack of wildlife along the river on our trip was striking.

Paddling at Alafia River
(hover over photo for larger view)
Alderman's Ford Park
The canoe/kayak launch area is to the west on SR 39 and the park main entrance a little further up the road (north of the bridge over the river). The launch is on a channel that leads to the main river - bring wheels, the launch is accessed down a ramp to the dock. Alafia River, kayak, canoeAlafia River, kayak, canoe
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To loading/unloading area Ramp to launch Channel to the river Back up the ramp
In addition to river access, Alderman's Ford Regional Park has a visitor center, parking, restrooms, picnicking, hiking, camping, fishing. The two sections of the park are connected by a scenic 2-mile pedestrian/bike trail including a boardwalk and views of the river.
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Alderman's Ford Park in the launch area On the pedestrian/biking trail; boardwalk Bridge on the trail over the Alafia River
Upstream from Lithia Springs Park
We paddled upstream about 3 miles. The Spanish moss canopy made it a relaxing and scenic ride. The water levels were relatively low and we ran into shoals in several places, requiring us to drag our kayaks through the shallow water a couple of times. It's about 150 feet from the unloading area to the launch, not a long drag or carry but we used wheels. The launch is on a steep grade, hold onto your kayak or canoe! Alafia River, kayak, canoeAlafia River, kayak, canoe
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From unloading area to launch at Lithia Springs Park. Launch area Leaving the launch, the bridge carries a  pipeline.
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Homes along the river Outfitter
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CR 640  bridge Shoal Shoal
In addition to the launch, Lithia Springs Regional Park has parking, restrooms, camping, playground, picnic, hiking, and swimming at the spring (swimming in the river is not recommended). The park can be very busy in the spring and summer. Boats are not allowed on the spring run, so if you want to swim moor outside the markers.
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Walking trail past the launch area

More information on paddling at Alafia River (opens in a new window):

- Florida Office of Greenways and Trails - Alafia River Paddling Trail (pdf)
- Florida State Parks - Alafia River State Park

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