Some cyclists like to pedal fast and far. Some (me) like to use a bicycle to explore and enjoy the outdoors with 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.
The Withlacoochee bike path 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.
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. Lined with trees, it offers a good amount of shade.
The Withlacoochee State 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.
On several rides over the years, we have 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. (You can ride a parallel residential road north of Orange Avenue that is a safer route.)
We also admired the oldest house in the area – the 1865 Duval-Metz House – and rode through some of the residential streets leading down to the Tsala Apopka Chain-of-Lakes.
Floral City has a café, the Shamrock Inn located directly on the trail that is a popular lunch stop, 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.
Things we loved along the Withlacoochee State 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. In Inverness, the 1892 rail depot still stands. We also were fascinated by the historic marker for the Great Train Wreck of 1956, in which four crew members died in a head-on collision. (There was a lot about this remarkable incident in the Floral City Heritage Museum.)
- 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.
- Another great park that is right off the trail is Lake Townsen Preserve, 28011 Lake Lindsey Road (CR 476), Brooksville, FL 34601, where there is plenty of parking, restrooms, picnic tables and a fishing pier into the Withlacoochee River. On our most recent visit, we parked here and then biked to Floral City, had lunch and explored the town and then bicycled back for a half-day ride of about 17 miles.
- You can pause and take hike at many locations. In the Withlacoochee State Forest, we took a very nice four-mile loop trail through the woods and next to the river starting from the bike trail’s Ridge Manor Trailhead.
- 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
- Which section to ride? We planned our route after reading detailed notes on 100floridatrails.com. The consensus is that a dozen miles in each direction of Floral City has the best scenery.
- A group of friends of the Withlacoochee Trail have great info too, including a printable map and list of bike shops.
- State park website for Withlacoochee Trail.
- Withlacoochee State Forest Croom Tract, through which the trail passes.
- Fort Cooper State Park
- Reviews on Trip Advisor
- Need to rent a bike? There are bike shops right near the trail in Floral City and Inverness, and they include recumbent bikes, too. Here’s a page with links to local bike shops convenient to the trail.
- Does the Withlacoohee State Trail allow e-bikes? Yes. While originally park management interpretted legal requirements to bar e-bikes, it is now clearly stated that they are OK and they are much used on the 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:
- Paddling the Withlacoochee River
- Van Fleet bike trail: 29 miles of solitude
- Dade Battlefield: Lovely spot to reconsider history
- Weeki Wachee springs: Canoe with manatees, see the mermaids.
- Chassahowitzka River: Kayaking over springs with wildlife
- Best camping near Tampa: Lithia Springs
- Best camping near Orlando: Kelly Park
- Brooksville has a popular annual Blueberry Festival in early April.
- We also love the Florida Cracker Kitchen, 966 E. Jefferson St. in Brooksville. It is well worth a stop, even if all you get is the Smoked Mullet Dip. It’s open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday and serves outstanding dinners Friday and Saturday night. (Try the 10,000 Island Shrimp and Grits.)
Places to stay near Withlacoochee State Trail
Most accommodations in the area are chain hotels located at the I-75 interchange. Brooksville has a few bed-and-breakfast inns in town, Dolan House B&B, The Mirador and Arendales Guest House, plus a few mom-and-pop motels. You’ll find accommodations on Airbnb too. Hotels.com: Hotels in Brooksville
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.
Notes from the editor:
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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.