Bike & Hike / Central Florida

Withlacoochee Trail: This might be Florida’s best bike trail

Cypress forest along Withlacoochee State Trail in the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest.

Cypress forest along Withlacoochee Trail in the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest.

Some cyclists like to pedal fast and far.  Some (me) like to use a bicycle to explore and enjoy the outdoors with lots of stops along the way.

Whichever you prefer, the Withlacoochee State Trail, 46 paved miles through beautiful rural landscape, is about as good as bike trails get.

A stop along the Withlacoochee State Trail: The 1865 Duval House in Floral City.

A stop along the Withlacoochee Trail: The 1865 Duval House in Floral City.

The Withlacoochee is a rail trail located in central Florida, beginning about an hour west of Orlando near the tiny town of Trilby and extending north almost to Dunnellon.

A scene along the Withlacoochee State Trail near Floral City.

A scene along the Withlacoochee Trail near Floral City.

The beautiful Withlacoochee River runs parallel to the bike trail along the southern section.

The beautiful Withlacoochee River runs parallel to the bike trail along the southern section.

Like all rail trails, the inclines and curves are gradual and the route goes through what was considered the backyards of homes or businesses along the way. The pavement is smooth and road crossings are few.

Every mile is marked by these cement poles from the railroad era. They mark the miles to Richmond, the railroad's hometown.

Every mile is marked by these cement poles from the railroad era. They mark the miles to Richmond, the railroad’s hometown.

The Withlacoochee Trail is blessed with more than a high quality bike-riding experience, though. It has better scenery than most Florida rail trails we’ve ridden, with several opportunities to explore.

Fort Cooper State Park is an interesting place to explore along the Withlacoochee State Trail.

Fort Cooper State Park is a place to explore along the Withlacoochee Trail.

Little Floral City oozes Old Florida ambiance. It's midway on the Withlacoochee State Trail.

Little Floral City oozes Old Florida ambiance. It’s midway on the Withlacoochee State Trail.

We experienced the central and southern portion of the trail, from Inverness south through the Withlacoochee State Forest. For us, the highlights were the tiny Old Florida town of Floral City and the stretch of the path that is closest to the Withlacoochee River inside Withlacoochee State Forest.

In Floral City, we left the trail to ride through the town a bit. Excellent signage at the trail head tells the history of the town and how the pioneers in the 1880s planted live oaks along what is now SR48. We pedaled to the east end of town to see the road, now known as the Avenue of Oaks because of the 135-year-old live oak trees that majestically line it.

A park in Inverness along the Withlacoochee State Trail.

A park in Inverness along the Withlacoochee Trail.

Not far from the Withlacoochee State Trail, the Avenue of Oaks in Floral City.

Not far from the Withlacoochee Trail, the Avenue of Oaks in Floral City.

Old cemetery along Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness.

Old cemetery along Withlacoochee Trail in Inverness.

We also admired the oldest house in the area – the 1865 Duval House – and rode through some of the residential streets leading down to the Withlacoochee River. Floral City has a café and pub as well as covered picnic tables, restrooms and a bike shop.

Our second highlight, the path through Withlacoochee State Forest, passes through a section of the forest called the Croom Tract. Here the trail passes through scenery I am more used to seeing from a kayak – an exquisite cypress swamp. On both sides of the bike path, cypress trees filled with air plants are reflected in the still water. Through the trees you can just make out the Withlacoochee River nearby. A short walking trail in this section takes you riverside, and it is well worth stopping and admiring its beauty.

Other things we loved along the Withlacoochee Trail:

  • Remnants of the railroad history. Every mile along the trail, a cement pole displays the miles to Richmond, the railroad’s hometown. There are also “whistle markers,” cement poles with bars marked to indicate an upcoming intersection that the engineer needs to warn of his approach. Also, in Inverness, the 1892 rail depot still stands.
  • Beautiful trees and flowers. In spring, dogwoods bloom along the trail and azaleas flower in a historic and picturesque cemetery trailside near Inverness.
  • Birds and animals along the trail. We saw gopher tortoises, snakes and a variety of birds. We also enjoyed the occasional horse (and horse-drawn wagon!) using the adjoining equestrian trail.
  • Several parks worth exploring. Near Inverness, you can ride through Fort Cooper State Park, which has a special bike and pedestrian entrance off the bike trail. It’s worth riding through the quiet forest here (we saw two deer) and reading about the Seminole War history the site commemorates. In Inverness, a city park across from the trailhead has a boardwalk along the cypress-lined shore of a lake.
  • Good trail amenities. The trail has six trailheads with parking and facilities as well as picnic tables and benches positioned periodically along the trail.

The only problem I have with the Withlacoochee Trail is that it is too far from my home.  It’s a great resource, worth biking more than once and worth driving several hours to experience.

 

Planning a ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail

Things to do near the Withlacoochee State Trail

The region around the trail abounds with rivers for paddling and trails for hiking. It would be easy to spend several days in this area, hiking, biking, paddling and exploring.

Here are places in the region Florida Rambler has written about:

 

Places to stay near Withlacoochee Trail

Hotels.com: Hotels in Brooksville

There are a few inexpensive mom-and-pop motels in Brooksville, but there are several modern moderate-priced hotels are at the I-75 intersection about five miles away.

Campsites are available in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The forest’s 131 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served bases. See posted information about camping fees. The rate is $20 per night from April through October for sites with electric hookups. Sites in Crooked River, with water only, are $15. Fees are collected on the honor system at the campground entrances.

  • Buttgenbach Mine Campground in the Croom Motorcycle Area: 51 sites with electricity, water, picnic tables and fire rings. Dump station in campground. Warning: It can get noisy here, especially on weekends, because of the motorcycles and off-road vehicles.
  • Silver Lake Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 23 sites with electric, water, picnic tables and fire ring. Dump station in campground.
  • Cypress Glen Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 34 campsites with electric, water, picnic table and fire ring. Also features kayak launch, nature trail and boardwalk.
  • Crooked River Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 26 primitive sites (tents only) with water, picnic table and fire ring. restrooms and showers.
  • For more information on Withlacoochee State Forest Camping, contact the Florida Forest Service office in Brooksville at 352-754-6896.

These campgrounds are in the forest, accessible only on dirt roads, and most are shaded well by the forest canopy. If it weren’t for the electric and water hookups, you would think they were primitive. Well worth camping here for an authentic Florida experience, especially if you are in a tent.

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Ridge Manor Trailhead
Floral City trailhead
Inverness trailhead
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  1. Pingback: Pinellas Trail: Treasured bike trail from St. Pete north | Florida Rambler

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