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 54 miles through one of the most densely populated areas in the state? I wish it were in my county!
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.
Pinellas Trail was built first to make bicycling safer
The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail starts in downtown St. Petersburg and follows the old CSX railway right of way for 50 miles to Tarpon Springs and on to the Pasco County line. 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 more than 1.5 million users a year, 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 of the Pinellas Trail:
- 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 find a great variety of ice cream shops, coffee shops, restaurants and breweries, some facing directing on “the Trail,” as residents call it. Here’s our guide to visiting Dunedin, a great base for biking the trail. (Dunedin is 25.7 miles from the start of the trail in St. Petersburg.)
- 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.) This park is a trailhead on the Pinellas Trail.
- 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 terrific.
The Pinellas Trail is generally 15-feet wide and paved with asphalt or concrete. It is flat, except for 10 overpasses and a few hills in Miles 37 and 40 in Tarpon Springs.
More tips on Pinellas Trail
- The Pinellas Trail is rolling out a change in its traffic flow. For the past 30 years, cyclists rode on one side of the trail and pedestrians used the other side. Now, everyone will use the trail on their right-hand side and pass on the left, as drivers do on the roadways. Some users of the trail have objected, but trail managers say this approach is what is used on most paved trails and it works well.
- 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.
- 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.
- Does the Pinellas Trail allow electric bikes? The Pinellas Trail permits e-bikes that require a combination of human power and electric motor power. There is a 20-mile-per-hour speed limit.
- Want a trail that is less urban? The Pinellas Trail isn’t the only long, paved bike trail in the region. We love the Withlachoochee Trail, which starts six miles north of Dade City and runs through forests and rural hamlets.
- The Pinellas Trail connects in downtown St. Petersburg with the beautiful North Bay Trail. This multiuse trail extends six miles north from where it meets the Pinellas Trail at First Avenue Southeast at Bayshore Drive, where the Pinellas Trail originates. The first three miles of the North Bay Trail are along a scenic path that hugs the bay with views of parks and historic homes. Read more about this trail in this Florida Rambler story: Seven things to do in St. Petersburg for Old Florida flavor.
- The Pinellas Trail is part of a growing network of bike trails. There will soon be a completed Pinellas Trail Loop. An eastern portion of the loop is being developed that will use powerline corridors and roadsides instead of abandoned railroads. More than 20 miles have been completed. The Pinellas Trail also will form the western end of the 250-mile Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail connecting Titusville and St. Petersburg. It is 88 percent complete!
Pinellas Trail and things to do nearby
- Pinellas Trail official site
- Pinellas Trail map
- Friends of the Pinellas Trail
- Wall Springs County Park
- Honeymoon Island State Park
- Camping near Tampa
- Fort DeSoto Beach plus Fort DeSoto camping
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.