Bike & Hike / Central Florida

West Orange Trail: A top Florida bike trail crosses historic Central Florida

Smooth, wide and shaded: The West Orange Trail at its best

Smooth, wide and shaded: The West Orange Trail at its best.

Bike trails like this should be everywhere in Florida.

Until they are, however, the West Orange Trail stands out as a particularly appealing bike trail. We drove three hours from Fort Lauderdale to make a weekend out of trying out the West Orange Trail and exploring historic Winter Garden . Our conclusion?  Worth the drive.

A scenic stop along the West Orange Trail near Oakland.

A scenic stop along the West Orange Trail near Oakland.

Several sections of the trail pass through a tree canopy.

Several sections of the trail pass through a tree canopy.

The old rails parallel the rail-trail, but it's clear they haven't been used in awhile.

The old rails parallel the rail-trail, but it’s clear they haven’t been used in awhile.

At Oakland Nature Preserve, a boardwalk leads to Lake Apopka. It's a good chance to stretch your legs.

At Oakland Nature Preserve, a boardwalk leads to Lake Apopka. It’s a good chance to stretch your legs.

A pavilion overlooking Lake Apopka in the Oakland Nature Preserve.

A pavilion overlooking Lake Apopka in the Oakland Nature Preserve.

West-Orange-Trail.Oakland

Historic Oakland is a few miles south of Winter Garden.

At the west end of the trail, you can continue on along the the South Lake and Lake Minneola Scenic Trail.

At the west end of the trail, you can continue on along the the South Lake and Lake Minneola Scenic Trail.

The West Orange Trail, completed in 1999, is a 22-mile-long paved rail-trail about 15 miles west of Orlando.  Its northern end is Apopka and it wanders through rural and suburban landscape near Lake Apopka, though Winter Garden and then continues five miles west.

It’s smooth, wide (14 feet) and well-marked. The prettiest sections go through historic towns (Oakland and Winter Garden) or under a beautiful canopy of trees. In between, there are stretches of suburbia. But just when you tire of a stretch of scenery that isn’t very special, you go through a section that is.

The amenities along this trail contribute to the good experience. Every several miles, there are stations or outposts with restrooms, water, parking, benches and sometimes more.

The Chapin Station, for example, two miles north of Winter Garden, has a pretty garden with a koi pond and a recreation area featuring a large playground and picnic tables.

The West Orange Trail southwest from Winter Garden

The best base for exploring the West Orange Trail is Winter Garden, a historic town whose downtown has been transformed by the presence of the trail passing through the middle of its attractive downtown. Here’s more about visiting Winter Garden and staying in the Historic Edgewater Hotel, which caters to bicyclists.

If you head southwest from Winter Garden, you traverse the most scenic section of the trail. Three miles down the path, you go through Oakland, a small town shaded by towering oaks that has preserved several historic buildings along the trail. Alongside the trail, look closely for a section of the original railroad rails that parallel the  trail – with large trees growing between the rails.

A great stop along this stretch is the Oakland Nature Preserve, which has an entrance right off the West Orange Trail.

I’d recommend locking your bike and stretching your legs on its trails, which take you through woods and over a boardwalk to a pavilion overlooking Lake Apopka, where good signage explains the story of this lake. (It went from a premiere fishing destination to which tourists flocked to being Florida’s most polluted. Now it has been cleaned up and is recovering.) The education center here has exhibits and a big porch filled with rocking chairs.

Back on the West Orange Trail, when you reach the end at Killarney Station, 5.2 miles from Winter Garden, you have the option of extending your ride by continuing on the South Lake Trail, which connects to the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail. Together, these two trails can give you an additional 9.5 miles of excellent trail, including a section along Lake Minneola with a great views.

These trails, also wide and paved, are known for being more strenuous. They have the highest elevation of any bike trails in Florida. The South Lake section, which starts where the West Orange Trail ends, is popular with triathletes for training.

(Here’s the brochure about the South Lake/Lake Minneola Scenic Trail.)

The West Orange Trail northeast of Winter Garden

When you head northeast from Winter Garden, there are fewer historic features, but there are also fewer road crossings to slow you down. You go through sections of suburban developments and along main roads, but then the trail will redeem itself and pass through a forested section or along a golf course.

We bicycled just beyond  the Apopka-Vineland Outpost, about 11.5 miles north of Winter Garden. It’s a shady little park with picnic tables where a plucky free-range rooster kept us company.

Beyond the Apopka-Vineland Outpost, there is a pretty stretch of trail for a mile or so but the trail then gives way to section that parallels a road. This section is not known for its scenery.

Planning your visit to the West Orange Trail

There is parking at each stations and outpost along the trail, so you can start at any end or in the middle. Most people advise, however, to start in the scenic southwestern section of the trail around Winter Garden. Here’s a PDF of the trail brochure with a detailed map.

A big plus in our experience was staying at the Edgewater Hotel in charming Winter Garden.  We recommend it.

If you want to rent bicycles, there are several options:

 

Yelp reviews of the trail.

Traillink reviews of the trail.

 

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