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Withlacoochee State Trail: This might be Florida’s best bike trail

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.

withlacoochee state trail withlacoochee trail recumbent Withlacoochee State Trail: This might be Florida's best bike trail
The shaded Withlacoochee Trail west of Orlando is popular with recumbent bicyclists. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

withlacoochee state trail withlacoochee trail Duval House Withlacoochee State Trail: This might be Florida's best bike trail
A stop along the Withlacoochee State Trail: The 1865 Duval-Metz House in Floral City. The oldest house in Citrus County, the house is across the street from Floral City Heritage Museum, a well-done free local-history center open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

The beautiful Withlacoochee River runs parallel to the Withlacoochee State Trail along the southern section.
The beautiful Withlacoochee River runs parallel to the Withlacoochee State Trail along the southern section.(Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.)

Floral City Avenue of the Oaks near the Withlacoochee Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Not far from the Withlacoochee State Trail, the Avenue of Oaks in Floral City. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Cypress forest along Withlacoochee State Trail in the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest.
Cypress forest along Withlacoochee State Trail in the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.)
A scene along the Withlacoochee State Trail near Floral City.
A scene along the Withlacoochee State Trail north of Floral City. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • 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.
Fort Cooper State Park is an interesting place to explore along the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Fort Cooper State Park is a place to explore along the Withlacoochee State Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

  • 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.
Every mile is marked by these cement poles from the railroad era. They mark the miles to Richmond, the railroad's hometown.
Every mile of the Withlacoochee State Trail is marked by these cement poles from the railroad era. They mark the miles to Richmond, the railroad’s hometown. (Photo: David Blasco)
  • 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.

One of our favorite things about the Withlacoochee State Trail is the regular glimpses you get of Old Florida scenery, which includes ranches, cattle, horses and authentic looking old buildings.  (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
One of our favorite things about the Withlacoochee State Trail is the regular glimpses you get of Old Florida scenery, which includes ranches, cattle, horses and authentic looking old buildings. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Planning a ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail

Old cemetery in spring along Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness.(Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Old cemetery in spring along Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness.(Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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:

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&BThe 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:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.

This page may include affiliate links from which we earn modest commissions if a purchase is made. 

This article is property of FloridaRambler.com, protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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Dave Hogan

Sunday 20th of March 2022

Thanks, Bonnie. Excellent article. I do want to point out that e-bikes are allowed on this trail and are widely used there. The website states: “Bicycles, including electric bicycles, may be used on trails designated for bicycle use with(in) the park system, consistent with Section 316.20655 Florida Statutes.” E-bikes are not considered “motorized vehicles” by law. I rode the trail yesterday and would estimate that about one third of all the bikes on the trail were electric.

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 23rd of March 2022

Thanks so much for the note. I diligently researched this after readers requested e-bike information and saw the previous language barring e-bikes on the Withlacoochee. We really try to keep the site updated and accurate, so tips this like are much appreciated.

Linn

Sunday 19th of December 2021

I could not get the information regarding bike rentals via the link. The link did not work for me. Could you please add those or send them to me via emails. Thanks

Bonnie Gross

Sunday 19th of December 2021

Sorry. The organization revised their website. I've updated the links in the story and emailed you.

Susie

Monday 31st of May 2021

What a great resource! Definitely bookmarking it.

There are several Hipcamp sites in the area, as well, that provide their own unique camping experiences. :)

Bob Rountree

Monday 31st of May 2021

Thanks for the info about Hipcamp sites in the area.

Melissa Hengstler

Monday 3rd of May 2021

Thank you for this wonderful and helpful article. I can't wait to visit these places!

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