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Robinson Preserve in Bradenton: What to Do and See for Your Next Visit

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A serene view from the NEST and Canopy area at Robinson Preserve in Bradenton.

Nestled in a residential corner of Northwest Bradenton in Southwest Florida, just minutes from Anna Maria Island, you’ll find Robinson Preserve.

How do you boil down Robinson Preserve into a succinct description? It’s pretty hard. There are several nature trails for walking, running, and biking, and it’s also famous for a 40-foot observatory tower that offers cool breezes at the top and stunning views of Tampa Bay and Skyway Bridge.

However, Robinson Preserve is also filled with nooks and crannies, including a Little Free Library, a “Bee Motel” (literally a natural home to attract bees), and a historic home that was transported there “by land and sea.”

Here are some brief facts and history about Robinson Preserve before we fill you in on what to do and share a map and some tips for your next visit.

A windy trail at Robinson Preserve in Bradenton. Our pictures make the park look not busy, but it definitely attracts crowds.

Robinson Preserve: Just the Facts, Please

–Operated by Manatee County, Robinson Preserve is 682 acres.

–It’s home to coastal grasslands, saltern (an area of seawater left to evaporate and make salt), marsh, and mangrove habitat, according to the Manatee County website.

–Robinson Preserve is home to several lakes and ponds but is also surrounded by Palma Sola Bay, Perico Bayou, and Tampa Bay.

–Robinson Preserve recently expanded to add a special area for kids and more walking trails. The expansion led to the building of a second entrance to the park. You’ll learn more about the new areas below.

–Robinson Preserve is free, free, free.

–You’ll go through residential areas to get to this slice of Southwestern Florida paradise. Use your GPS for exact directions but basically, if you know 75th Street West and Manatee Avenue in Bradenton, you’ll continue on 75th Street for a few minutes before you make the left turns to get to Robinson Preserve.

Kayaks waiting to be taken out on the water at Robinson Preserve.

What’s There to Do at Robinson Preserve?

There’s so much to see and do at Robinson Preserve that we’ll outline below, but here’s our initial caveat. It can get pretty busy, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. Robinson also hosts a number of special events. If you don’t mind the crowds, great. If you do, try to go during the week if possible. If not, just know what to expect. That said, there are so many trails, you may not feel overwhelmed by people once you start walking around.

Here are just some of the things you can do at Robinson Preserve:

Walk, hike, or bike. The park is home to eight different trails, many of them connecting with each other. The shortest is the NEST Trail at just 0.2 miles, and the longest is the Spoonbill at 2.2 miles. Most trails are open for both walkers and bikers, but Eagle Loop and Tern Trail are for walkers only.

One of the boardwalk views at Robinson Preserve, this one in the NEST area.

Count how many animals you can see. In addition to many birds (including bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, and egrets), there’s a whole cavalcade of other animals you can see. They include rabbits, tiny crabs, squirrels, snakes, and of course fish. Are there alligators at Robinson Preserve? Well, we’ve never seen one after many visits through the years. However, you’re in Florida–so you never know.

Another part of the NEST and Canopy Zone, which can be rented out for parties.

Explore the Mosaic NEST and Canopy Zone. This recent new addition to Robinson Preserve features wooden trails that lead up to a two-story series of rope bridges, slides, and climbing nets. There also are some pretty cool views of the park when you’re there. The NEST and Canopy Zone attract kids of all ages, but we also noticed some adults just walking along the NEST trail as it’s shaded. Find on this website a helpful video that shows the NEST and Canopy Zone. You can also rent the NEST and Canopy Zone for parties. You can follow your kiddos through the slides and climbing nets but they may be uncomfortable if you’re taller. We heard one younger teen say, “I can’t fit here!” when he went to try the slide.

Go kayaking. There always seem to be a good number of kayakers at Robinson Preserve, perhaps because there is kayak storage onsite as well as several areas where you can launch kayaks. Here’s a map to see its kayak trails.

View of the observatory tower at Robinson Preserve.

Visit the 40-foot observatory tower. One of our favorite things to do at Robinson Preserve is to climb to the top of the observatory tower and take in the view. You get some exercise going up the stairs, and you can take a break at a few different levels before you reach the top. We even saw one woman go up and down the stairs several times, presumably for a workout. On your way to the observatory tower where the water begins, watch out for tiny, cute crabs in the sand that scurry around.

Do nothing except enjoy the view. Robinson Preserve has several “Shade Stations” where you can just sit and look around you. To some people, that may sound just as appealing as getting in a good workout.

Visit the historic Valentine House, originally built in the 1800s and now the preserve’s Visitor Center. The home, originally located in Palmetto, is named for the family that once lived in it. The home was brought to Robinson Preserve in 2009, when it was “lifted onto wheeled trailers and driven onto a barge,” according to historical information from Robinson Preserve. The home then floated through Tampa Bay before reaching the preserve, where it was driven to its current location. Inside the home, you’ll discover more about Manatee County’s farming roots and the preserve. Outside Valentine House, you’ll find a small garden area that is home to a gopher tortoise, flowers, and a “Bee Hotel,” which appears to be a set of logs where bees can make a home.

One place where you can take a break and just enjoy the view at Robinson Preserve.

Some Tips for Your Next Visit to Robinson Preserve

Use a map. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen paper copies of the map at the park, although they very well could still be there. However, it’s probably best to use the following online link to a map, use our map picture below (taken near the North Entrance), or take a picture of the map you’ll find at the park before you start to explore.

The Robinson Preserve Map.

Know which entrance you want. Unless you are just wandering, you’ll want to know that the North Entrance is best to use for the observatory tower and Valentine House, while the South Entrance is best to use for the NEST and Canopy Zone. Both provide access to great trails.

Pay attention to the trail length if you’re with kids. The trails can get hot and you’ll have some tired children if you’re going on and on without a sense of how long it will take.

Check the online schedule in advance if you want to visit the NEST and Canopy Zone. Because these popular areas are available for rental and have become host to the park’s many events, there are times when they are closed. You may be able to use other parts of the park when you visit, but your kiddos may be disappointed if their special area isn’t open. Plus, parking will be harder if there are special events going on.

Take advantage of other nearby attractions. If you’re coming to Robinson Preserve from out of town, some other places you may want to check out include Geraldson’s Farm (for fresh produce and located literally just a minute away), Palma Sola Botanical Park, De Soto National Memorial (another favorite of ours, with walking trails), and Anna Maria Island.

The Valentine House at Robinson Preserve.

Robinson Preserve: Answers to Your Burning Questions/FAQs

Which entrance to Robinson Preserve has the observatory tower?

Go to the North Entrance.

What entrance has the NEST And Canopy Zone?

Go to the South Entrance.

How long is the walk from the parking lot to the observatory tower?

It all depends on how fast you walk. At a moderate pace, it’s about 10 minutes.

Are there alligators at Robinson Preserve?

We’ve never seen them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there! In Fall 2022, we read reports on the NextDoor app of an alligator spotted in one of the ponds. Anywhere in Florida, proceed with caution around freshwater lakes, especially if you’re with pets.

What are the hours for Robinson Preserve?

It’s open 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. The Valentine House has limited hours, however. Find its calendar here.

Is Robinson Preserve shaded?

Some parts are under shade, but many are not. Plan accordingly. Always bring water, sunscreen, and think about how far you want to go if it’s a hot day.

Can you go fishing at Robinson Preserve?

Yes, in certain areas. The preserve has several small piers and bridges, and that’s where fishing is allowed.

Can you bring a picnic to Robinson Preserve?

Absolutely! There are several picnic pavilions.

What are the rules at Robinson Preserve?

Find them here in its brochure.

Robinson Preserve is also home to many types of flowers and trees.
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Written by floridaculture

March 13, 2022 at 3:53 pm

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