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.
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 West Orange Trail connects to another 10-mile trail system in Lake County, the South Lake Trail and the Minneola Scenic Trail, brining the total to 32 miles of paved trail.
An advantage for visitors: There are several good bike rental operations that serve the trail, so this can be a great day’s activity when visiting Central Florida.
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. (OK. We know Florida is not known for its elevation.) The South Lake section, which starts where the West Orange Trail ends, is popular with triathletes for training.
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 station 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, a charming town we can tell you more about in the link.
Are e-bikes permitted on the West Orange Trail?
Yes. The official Orange County Parks webpage on the West Orange Trail says:
“Class 1 and Class 2 electric bikes (e-bikes) may be operated on Orange County paved trails. A Class 1 e-bike is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour; a Class 2 e-bike is equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the e-bike and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 3 e-bikes are prohibited from all Orange County trails; a Class 3 e-bike is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.”
If you want to rent bicycles, there are several options:
- A Bikes and Blades rental site is located at Killarney Station at the west end of the trail.
- There are two bike shops in Winter Garden: Bikes and Blades.
- Winter Garden Wheel Works at Winter Garden Station, 455 E. Plant St., Winter Garden, FL 34787. Open Sunday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Spin City Cycles in Apopka rents bikes and is two blocks from the West Orange Trail.
Note: A few riders suggest you not ride alone in the Apopka section; it’s also not as scenic.
The South Lake/Lake Minneola Scenic Trail
As you head east, the West Orange Trail doesn’t end, it continues for 10 more miles along three additional trails and along the scenic shoreline of Lake Minneola. This Lake County trail section offers lake scenery, varied elevations, picnic spots and parks.
One thing to note: This trail section has hills higher than other rail trails in Florida. It is well used and can get busy at peak times.
On the eastern end of the trail, the trailhead at Clermont’s Waterfront Park includes access to the lakeside
beach and playground.
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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.