The Pinellas Trail is a treasure, and anyone lucky enough to live near it has access to what is probably the best urban bike trail in Florida.
It’s not perfect – it’s not always scenic and riders will experience lots of stops at intersections as the trail crosses road after road.
But how can you complain when you find a wide, paved, well-marked trail that extends for 39 miles through one of the most densely populated areas in the state? I wish it were in my county!
In July 2017, a new 5-mile-long addition to the Pinellas Trail opened at the northern end, and riders say it is the most scenic section because it passes through undeveloped areas. Here’s information from the Tampa Bay Times about the new section.
My husband and I bicycled a section of the Pinellas Trail while exploring the spectacular beaches on barrier islands north of St. Petersburg. We took the universal advice you find online: That the most scenic part of the trail is its northern portion, between Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.
We found pretty views, parks to discover, historic buildings and cute downtowns. We also found plenty of suburban backyards, the back-sides of businesses, boring views of commercial roadways and shadelessness.
The Pinellas Trail is a mixed bag, so set your expectations accordingly.
The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail starts in downtown St. Petersburg and follows the old CSX railway right of way to Tarpon Springs. Its story began in 1983, inspired by the vision of a man whose son was killed riding his bike. The first six-mile section opened in 1990, and it’s been expanding ever since.
It is heartening to see how much it is used, and by all sorts of people. With a separate, well-marked pedestrian lane, it attracts and comfortably accommodates dog-walkers, joggers, wheelchairs and strollers. You’ll see every type of bicyclist – some poking along on training wheels; others whizzing by on recumbent bikes. With 70,000 users a month, the Pinellas Trail ranks as one of the most heavily used rail-trails in America, according to the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
We enjoyed exploring the Pinellas Trail, particularly the opportunity to stop at interesting spots along the way. Highlights on the northern section included:
- Dunedin’s downtown, where the Pinellas Trail serves as a “main thoroughfare” because the downtown grew up around the old railroad tracks. Local merchants have embraced the trail, catering to the steady stream of visitors it brings. In cute and historic Dunedin, you’ll also find an outstanding homemade ice cream store (Strachan’s, loved by Yelpers) at 310 Main St., one block off the trail.
- Weaver Park, just north of Dunedin, where you look through a shaded picnic grove to a view of the Gulf. If you take a short detour off the Pinellas Trail and cross the park and Bayshore Drive, you can head out to the free 725-foot fishing pier with expansive views .
- The Pinellas Trail spur to Honeymoon Island State Park, which runs along the Dunedin Causeway. The trail offers a safe way for bicyclists to pedal to the beach and enjoy scenic views of St. Joseph Sound.
- Wall Springs County Park, a shady spot for a picnic right off the Pinellas Trail a few miles north of Dunedin. Wall Springs was a historical, natural spring, once used as a spa and swimming area. Today, there’s a boardwalk around the old spring with interesting displays explaining the history. (Sorry, no swimming though.)
- The sponge docks in Tarpon Springs. This touristy few blocks along the Anclote River is full of Greek restaurants. It’s just a few moments detour from the Pinellas Trail.
- North Anclote River Nature Park, near the northern end of the trail in Tarpon Springs. Another spur off the Pinellas Trail heads into a wooded park with shell-rock trails winding around waterways.
Planning your ride on the Pinellas Trail
Pinellas County has done a lot of things right with this trail, and one of them is the extensive, helpful information available. Each section of the trail has a detailed guide, with a map and information about parking, water fountains, restrooms, bike rental and repair shops, restaurants, lodging and more. I printed out this information to plan our trip and used it the whole way. If you’re planning a trip on the Pinellas Trail, I recommend you spend time with this material to plan your route.
As I researched which section of the Pinellas Trail to ride, I found residents expressed concerns about the safety and attractiveness of southern sections of the trail once you leave downtown St. Pete.
One of the most popular sections is the quarter-mile-long Cross Bayou Bridge which spans Boca Ciega Bay. The $4 million bridge was built specifically for the Pinellas Trail — that’s right, no vehicles at all — and the views are said to be terrific.
A few additional tips:
- Cylists looking to cover a distance sometimes bike the whole trail in one direction, stay overnight in Tarpon Springs, and pedal back the next day. Here’s one cyclist’s account.
- In our experience, drivers were very courteous to bikers at intersections. Still, you have to slow down and/or stop frequently as you cross streets, which may be a frustration for those who work up some speed.
- Despite its amenities, come prepared with cell phone, extra water and sun screen.
- Want a trail that is less urban? The Pinellas Trail isn’t the only long, paved bike trail in the region. Withlachoochee, which starts six miles north of Dade City and runs through forests and rural hamlets.
Pinellas Trail and things to do nearby:
- Pinellas Trail official site
- Pinellas Trail map
- Wall Springs County Park
- Honeymoon Island State Park
- North Anclote River Nature Park
- Camping near Tampa
- Fort DeSoto Beach plus Fort DeSoto camping