The 8-mile rail trail runs the length of the Cape Haze peninsula from western Port Charlotte to Placida and and the Boca Grande Causeway. Most of it follows the right of way of the former Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway. It's hard to call this a scenic ride since it mostly goes through scrub and can get a bit monotonous, but it's one of the busiest trails we've seen - a good alternative to busy SR 771. Wide, flat and nicely maintained, the downside is there's little shade. Five trailheads include restrooms or portalets, and benches are provided along the way. The first section was opened in 1999, making this one of Florida's first rail-trails. (Detailed map and photos below.)
Bike Map - Cape Haze Pioneer Trail
Location: Charlotte County
End Points: Cape Haze Peninsula - Port Charlotte to Placida
Mileage: 8 miles
Surface: Asphalt, 10'
Nearby points of interest: Gasparilla Island/Boca Grande
Bicycle Center of Port Charlotte
We biked from north to south. At the north, the trail begins at the Robert and Ann Mercer Trailhead
along SR 771 (Gasparilla Road) south of SR 776/McCall Road (parking*, restrooms,
picnic pavilion). Historic markers tell of the former Town of McCall
at this site (1909, established for railroad workers), and houses the Placida Bunk
House (1907, relocated here to protect it from demolition).
*Hint: If the parking spaces are filled up, park at the Publix shopping center at the SR771/776 intersection and bike on the sidewalk path to the trail.
Following the trail south along the railroad corridor, it crosses a few roads but they're not heavily traveled. Though it appears rural, this is a developed area (the brush mostly hides the surroundings). Passing the community of Rotonda (L. David Johnson Trailhead, parking, picnic table, portalet) you can spot homes through the brush, plus there are some pass-throughs to neighborhood streets. Another trailhead is at Harness Road (parking, picnic table, portalet), then you enter a conservation area. The bridge crossing Coral Creek East Branch offers a scenic overlook. The trail passes Coral Creek Airport, but we didn't see or hear any planes. After passing the golf course at Coral Creek Country Club it arrives at a trailhead at Clubhouse Drive (parking, restrooms).
Past Clubhouse Drive, the trail runs
into and then along SR 771 (Gasparilla Road), crossing the north side
of the bridge at the mouth of Coral Creek
- bike/pedestrian path separated from the road by a concrete
divider is a plus - and ending just north of the Boca Grande Causeway.*
Continuing straight past the Causeway, an unnamed bike path continues
another 5 miles along SR 775 (Placida Road).
*Note: It's possible to bike across the causeway - paying the bike toll - to Gasparilla Island and the Boca Grande Bike Path, be careful on the narrow shoulder.
We initially couldn't identify a trailhead at this end, so went down along the Causeway to Placida Park at the boat ramp (fee paid lot). However, 2/10 mile east of the Causeway at Fishery Road we spotted a parking area under the Coral Creek bridge. A sign here notes it's part of the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail, a path leads across the bridge on the south side. There are no crosswalks connecting the north and south paths and SR 771 is quite busy at this point, perhaps one day a better crossing arrangement will be made. The parking is free, there's a portalet and a short trail down to the Centennial Park Fishing Pier, a former rail bridge paralleling the Boca Grande Causeway at Gasparilla Sound.
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