Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Trail offer a smooth ride for more than 20 miles
Sarasota County features a pair of paved and interconnected multi-use trails that allow a continuous 20-mile run, bike or walk from Palmer Ranches, east of Sarasota, south to Casperson Beach in Venice.
The Legacy Trail, which begins in Palm Ranches and ends at the historic Venice Train Depot in downtown Venice, is an 11-mile stretch of paved path built on an abandoned railroad bed.
The ride continues without interruption on the Venetian Waterway Trail along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway to either Casperson Beach Park (west side) or Shamrock Park and Nature Center (east side of the Intracoastal).
The Legacy Trail
Taking a breather along the Legacy Trail
We first explored these trails a few years ago while camping at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey, halfway between the Sarasota and Venice trailheads, making it a perfect jumping-off point for bike-riding campers.
Oscar Scherer State Park has its own off-road trail system of 15 miles, but much of it is soft sand. The access path to the Legacy Trail, however, is manageable for almost any type of bicycle, and it’s close enough that you could even walk that thin-tired racing bike.
What’s spectacular about the Legacy Trail is the change of scenery as it cuts through back yards of a suburbia, as well as forests, wetland prairies and pastures along its 10.7-mile journey through Sarasota County.
There are currently nine official trail access points with more to come as the trail is expanded and new parking areas areas are set aside for bicyclists. Not all of the trailheads are directly on the trail.
Some of the trailheads have restrooms and water fountains, although you would be advised to bring your own water for the trail.
Both the Legacy Trail and the Venetian Waterway Trail are multi-use trails shared by bicyclists, joggers, walkers and skaters.
Trailheads (listed north to south)
Culverhouse Nature Park Trailhead (Mile 10.4)
The Culverhouse Nature Park is the latest trailhead to be added at the north end of the Legacy Trail. The 82-acre park, 7301 McIntosh Road, features a community garden, picnic areas, open space, parking and bike racks
McIntosh Road Trailhead, Palmer Ranches (Mile 9.6)
The “green” parking lot has 43 spaces and is located at 7941 McIntosh Road, about a quarter-mile east and behind the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall. This is a new trailhead, and the parking is unpaved to protect nearby wetlands. There are no restroom facilities.
Potter Park Trailhead (Mile 8.7)
Although not directly on the trail, there is parking for the trail available at Potter Park, a 37-acre neighborhood park at 8587 Potter Park Drive, Sarasota. The trail is not far and can be accessed from the Stoneybrook Nature Trail, which runs along the south side of the Central Sarasota Parkway. See map.
Bay Street Park/Osprey Junction Trailhead (Mile 6.7)
The Bay Street Park is about a half-mile east of U.S. 41, near 939 East Bay Street, but you’ll have to ride about 1.4 miles further east on Bay Street to reach the trailhead at Osprey Junction. The park has rest rooms, a water fountain, picnic facilities and a playground.
Oscar Scherer State Park Trailhead (Mile 5.3)
There is a day-use entrance fee of $5 per vehicle, although that fee is waived if you have a campsite, which cost $26 per night. I recommend that you reserve your campsite in advance, especially on weekends and anytime during the winter season. The park, located at 1834 S. Tamiami Trail in Osprey, has 15 miles of off-road trials for biking and hiking and a kayak/canoe trail that takes you out to the Intracoastal Waterway. And for the pause that refreshes, try the park’s freshwater swimming lake, which has a beach and picnic facilities.
Laurel Park Trailhead (Mile 2.4)
Besides access to the Legacy Trail, Laurel Park offers a walking/fitness trail, tennis and basketball courts, playgrounds, rest rooms, a large picnic pavilion and several small picnic shelters and a community garden. The park is located at 509 Collins Road in Laurel.
Nokomis Park Trailhead (Mile 1.0)
This 17-acre park at 234 Nippino Trail East has rest rooms, a kayak launch, covered basketball courts, two volleyball courts, two tennis courts, a cricket field, a fishing pier, six covered picnic shelters and a covered children’s playground.
Patriots Park Trailhead (Mile .5)
Restrooms, picnic tables, benches and a courtyard dedicated to military veterans, first responders and the victims of 9/11.
Legacy Park/Venice Train Depot Trailhead (Mile 0)
Large parking areas that serve both the trail and a boat ramp. Rest rooms available in the train depot, which also houses a small museum.
New bridges ease the ride
Two trestles that span Roberts and Dona bays have been converted to a trail, and a new overpass has been built across busy U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail).
In the past, you had to ride around the bays and across busy streets. Now, you can zip right through.
Venetian Waterway Trail takes riders to the beach
Venetian Waterway Park lines both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the trail on the western side will take you all the way out to the Casperson Beach from downtown. There are two bridges that cross the waterway where you can hop across to either side.
The trail on the east side of the Intracoastal goes out to the Shamrock Park and Nature Center, an 80-acre oasis of natural lands with rest rooms, picnic tables, playground, basketball courts and tennis courts.
Casperson Beach is a public park, and there is another trail (sidewalk, really), that will take you north to Brohard Beach, where you can stop for lunch at Sharkey’s on the pier (just west of the airport and the municipal golf course).
This stretch of beach is famous for its shark’s teeth (Sharkey’s, get it?), and you’ll find dozens of beach-goers combing the surf with their sand sifters, looking for the little black teeth.
This is a regular circuit for us, about 10 miles. We do it every year, when we camp near Venice on the Myakka River for a week to 10 days in February.
After lunch at Sharkey’s, we continue our bike trip by exploring the quiet and historic side streets of Venice as we head back downtown to the Venice Train Depot.
Venice has a quaint downtown, around Centennial Park, where you can shop and dine.
Both the Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Trail are open from sunrise to sunset. There are frequent benches on both trails were you can rest, and restrooms can be found at trailheads.
Sarasota County has approved plans to extend the Legacy Trail another 7.5 miles from Palmer Ranches to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota, although funding continues to be an issue.
Friends of the Legacy Trail has taken the first step, raising more than $72,000 with county matching funds for engineering studies.
The most recent setback is a report that the state Department of Transportation has told county officials the state is no longer negotiating to acquire the needed rail corridor from the CSX Railroad, according to Friends of the Legacy Trail.
For updates, visit the Friends of Legacy Trail web site: friendsofthelegacytrail.org
Bike Rentals near the Legacy Trail
For those who do not own bicycles, or are not traveling with bikes, there are several bike shops along the trail where you can rent. The shops listed are business members of the Friends of the Legacy Trail. We are providing this list with links as a courtesy to our readers.
Popcycles — Publix Northridge Plaza, 5130 Palmer Plaza Blvd, Sarasota. 941-921-245. This shop is located in Palmer Ranch, near the north end of the Legacy Trail.
Siesta Sports Rentals — Southbridge Mall, 6551 Midnight Pass Rd, Siesta Key. 941 346 1797. Close to the north end of the Legacy Trail.
Siesta Key Bike and Kayak — Capt’n Curts Village, 1224 Old Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key. 941-346-0891. Near the north end of the Legacy Trail.
Real Bikes — 581 US Highway 41 Bypass North, Venice. 941-485-3113. Near the south end of the trail at the trail bridge over U.S. 41.
Bicycles International — 1744 S. Tamiami Trail (U.S 41), Venice. 941-497-1590. South of the southern trailhead for the Legacy Trail, close to the Venetian Waterway Trail.
Beach Bikes and Trikes — 941-412-3821. Mobile-only service with free delivery and pickup to residences, hotels or trail locations in Venice and Nokomis along the Venetian Waterway Trail and the south end of the Legacy Trail.