Top 10... Withlacoochee State Trail
The longest paved rail trail in Florida, the Withlacoochee State Trail goes through small towns, the Withlacoochee State Forest and other natural areas, offering a variety of recreational opportunities, parks, river, and lake views. Uses include walking, in-line skating, cycling, fishing, and horseback riding. Food and drink is available in the small towns along the trail. For a taste of "old Florida," stop at the Istachatta General Store, south of Floral City. More photos and map below.)
THE BEST TRAIL SECTIONS TO RIDE... and additional comments by MUDFISH
The entire 46 miles is paved and in very good shape. Typical of rail-trails, there are not a lot of road crossings or driveways, so most of the Withlacoochee State Trail is ideal for all types of biking. Recumbent cycles are especially popular here. If you have never tried one and would like to take a test ride, bicycle shops in Floral City and Inverness have recumbent bikes for rent.
I recommend two trail sections of about 10 miles each. These connect at the Floral City Trailhead, close to the exact center of the 46 mile trail. Although adjacent, these two sections are very different in character. From Floral City south is mostly quiet, rural and forested, taking you through a portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest. North of Floral City is more urban, featuring the scenic lakes and parks of Inverness, FL.
To ride either recommended section, you can park at the Floral City trailhead at the intersection of Hwy 41 and Hwy 48. The local garden club has made this a very attractive trailhead, with a gazebo and flower garden. Hampton's Edge Trailside Bicycle Shop is just across the street, specializing in the sales, service and rentals of recumbent bicycles and trikes. If you have ever wanted to try one out, this is the perfect bike shop and bike trail to do so!
To ride all or part of my recommended northern 10 mile section, you can also park at the Inverness Trailhead near mile marker 30 N, 16 S (look for the red caboose), 7.2 miles north of Floral City. This is across the road from the old Inverness train depot (now a restaurant) and just north of Liberty and Wallace Brooks City Parks on the scenic Tsala Apopka chain of lakes.
Riding north from the Inverness trailhead, you cross a canal joining two lakes. About 1 mile north of the trailhead, you leave Inverness and pass under Hwy 41. Here begins 1.5 miles of pleasant tree canopy before emerging next to Hwy 41, just before Arlington Street. If you ride another 1/2 mile to Independence Hwy, you can gaze upon the only pink elephant on the trail. (OK, see for yourself.) Northward, the last 13 miles of the trail run mostly next to, or near the highway, passing through light industrial areas, suburbia and small patches of woods.
Riding 2 miles south from the Inverness Trailhead takes you past the two lakeside parks noted above, plus another large lake. I very much enjoy this 4 to 5 miles through Inverness.
From outside Inverness south to Floral City, the trail passes Fort Cooper State Park. While mostly shaded and away from the road, some portions run next to Hwy 41. However, there is enough space to allow for a line of tall shade trees between the trail and the road. This provides a shadier, more pleasant close-to-road experience than most other roadside trails.
To ride all or part of my recommended southern 10 mile section, I like to park at Lake Townsen Regional Park (shown as "Withlacoochee Riverside Community Park" on Google Earth), just south of Istachatta near the intersection of CR 439 and CR 476, west of Nobleton. While not an "official" trailhead, there are full facilities here and the trail runs through the Park. Here, you are in the Withlacoochee State Forest. Just south of the Park (before CR 476), there is a short unpaved path to a fishing pier on the Withlacoochee River.
Riding north from Lake Townsen Regional Park, it's slightly over 1/2 mile to the Istachatta General Store. Then it's another 7 miles of rural, sometimes tree-lined cycling to Floral City.
Riding south from Lake Townsen Regional Park, you quickly pass behind the old timber town of Nobleton. From the Park, ride about 2.9 miles through the State Forest and look for another, less obvious path to a narrow and picturesque portion of the Withlacoochee River.
If you like totally rural, the entire southern section of the trail from Lake Townsen Regional Park is rural. The only town is tiny Trilby, about a mile north of the trail's southern terminus at Hwy 301, about 5 miles north north of Dade City.
Riding south, the first 5 miles from Lake Townsen Regional Park are well shaded and within the State Forest. After this, there is less shade. One interesting feature is the FL Hwy 50 trail bridge, just past the Ridge Manor Trailhead. This trailhead offers the only full facilities along this south section of the trail. The southern terminus at Owensboro has parking and picnicking, but no other facilities.
In summary, this is a world-class rail-trail offering a wide variety of features, including quaint towns, lakes, parks, a river, and a State Forest.
BOBCAT'S PHOTO GALLERY along the Withlacoochee State Trail (hover over photo for larger view)
More information on the Withlacoochee State Trail (links open in a new window):
Withlacoochee State Trail - a Top Florida Bike Trail, Longest Paved Rail-Trial in Florida.
Our Top 10 FL Biking
Hampton's Edge Trailside Bicycle Shop
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