Hidden Gem in Southeastern Hillsborough County

Chito Branch Reserve is located just two miles south of FishHawk and offers more than 5,000 acres of trails for hiking, biking, equestrian and birding.

Two miles south of the sprawling suburban development known as FishHawk is a rural reserve with spectacular trails available for hiking, biking and equestrian. The Chito Branch Reserve is a unique natural sanctuary situated in the heart of rapidly developing southeastern Hillsborough County.

Whether enjoyed on a winding foot path, a bike trail or bridle path, Chito Branch Reserve is a quiet oasis in a fast-paced world.

Within minutes, a slower pace of life is not only envisioned, but enabled as you take in the views of timbering slash pines and longleaf pines with pinecones resting at their feet, saw palmettos scattered throughout. Hoof prints can be seen in the sand and dirt paths, from wild hogs, deer and horses. Be still and quiet enough and you just may spy a gopher tortoise, blue jay, wren, woodpecker or scrub jay. Take a peek at your feet and you will see some of Florida’s natural wildflowers, including sunflowers, sabatia, nuttall’s meadow beauty and more.

My husband and I have had the pleasure of discovering this piece of fading Florida nature hiking the trails for hours on a Sunday with our two dogs on their 20-foot leashes sniffing the scents as if smelling some things for the very first time, relishing in their freedom and getting back to their roots as wild animals, tracking whatever animal conquered this trail before us.

We have encountered just a few others who seem to have been let in on the secret place. It’s almost like a secret society.  A few horseback riders, along with their dogs, families and couples with their children and dogs, all venture out here to escape. Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Escape the sounds of everyday life. Cell phones ringing. Televisions mumbling in the background.

Instead, if they stand beneath the canopy, they can hear the sounds of nature. The wind blowing through the trees. The sound of leaves and acorns and pinecones falling to the ground. The sound of peace.

The district purchased the 5,515-acre reserve in 2001, in cooperation with Tampa Bay Water, for the primary purpose of building the 15-billion-gallon C.W. “Bill” Young Regional Reservoir to collect and store drinking water. The reservoir is built on 1,100 acres.

It is located at 11254 Browning Rd. in Lithia and is open from sunrise to sunset.

For more information, please visit www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/chito_branch_reserve.html or contact the Land Resources Department of the Southwest Florida Water Management District at 1-800-423-1476 or (352) 796-7211, ext. 4470.