Florida's public lands offer many off-road biking opportunities. the Munson Hill Biking Trail in Apalachicola National Forest actually offers challenging terrain in a pine forest with interesting wildlife, including gopher tortoises.
Florida's many rail trails can be both beautiful and convenient, since they follow old railroad lines. State lands that have biking trails include state parks, state forests, and water districts.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as well as many local recreation and parks departments are acquiring railway abandonments and developing"linear parks" for bicycling as well as hiking, jogging, rollerblading and horseback riding.
Gainesville - Hawthorne Rail Trail . . . 16.2 miles. Good wildlife viewing.
Withlacoochee State Trail . . . 46 miles through several ecozones
General James A. Van Fleet Trail . . . 29 miles through the Green Swamp
Tallahassee - St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail . . . Historic 16-1/2 mile trail ending at a coastal village
Pinellas Trail . . . Popular, 34 mile urban trail. Meet people.
West Orange Trai . . . When finished, this 30 mile trail will connect to the Cross Seminole
Blackwater Heritage Trail . . . 8-1/2 mile in a state park known for its pristine, sandy bottom river
The Cady Way Trail . . . Short, 5 mile urban trail in Orlando that is being integrated into a terrific city-wide biking system.
Jacksonville - Baldwin Rail Trail . . . 14.5 mile trail through pretty section of north Florida
Gainesville - Hawthorne Rail Trail
The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a 16.2 mile trail which goes through part of Paynes Prairie State Preserve and Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area. The first 2.5 miles from Gainesville are limerock (with a separate dirt path for horses) and pass through historical and natural areas which provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The next 8.5 miles are rough gravel and dirt. This section passes over streams and through wetlands that are within the Orange Creek Basin watershed. The last 5 miles to Hawthorne are paved, and wind through pine forests and wetlands. The entire trail will eventually be paved and is in process. There are also other off-road bicycle trails in the 21,000 acre Paynes Prairie Preserve.
Withlacoochee State Trail
The Withlacoochee State Trail is a 46 mile paved trail from Dunellon to Trilby, and is the first trail paved with recycled crumb rubber. The trail passes through the Withlacoochee State Forest, near several regional parks, Fort Cooper State park and many small, rural areas of central Florida. It traverses upland mixed forest, sandhill and wetland communities and provides many opportunities for viewing wildlife such as gopher tortoises, bobcats, deer and turkeys. There are trail heads at Citrus Springs and SR50.
General James A. Van Fleet Trail in the Green Swamp
The 29-mile Van Fleet Trail from Mabel to Polk City passes through the Green Swamp which is home to many varieties of wildlife and plant life. Twenty two miles of segments are paved, 18 from Polk City on the south and four miles from Mabel on the north end. The remaining 8 miles, which are currently gravel surface, will be paved in 1997-1998. There are trail heads at Green Pond and Mabel.
Tallahassee - St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail
The 16-mile paved St. Marks Trail follows the historic Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad line, passes through part of the Apalachicola State Forest and terminates at the small coastal village of St. Marks. The City of Tallahassee will soon extend this trail approximately 5 miles to the north into Tallahassee.
There is an equestrian trail adjacent to the St. Marks Trail, and an off-road bicycle loop trail through the forest near the northern end of the trail. The southern two miles of the trail have been designated a segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail, which continues on the other side of the St. Marks River to historic Port Leon and beyond. Hail a passing fisherman for a ride across the river.
The 34-mile Pinellas Trail is one of the most popular urban trails in the U.S. There are restaurants, camp grounds, motels, bicycle and roller blade rentals and other services located on or near the trail. The trail passes through many coastal towns and cities in Pinellas County, from the Greek community of Tarpon Springs on the north to St. Petersburg on the south. Currently 32 miles of 15' paved trail are completed. There are also plans for future extensions to the north as well as connecting spurs. A detailed trail guidebook is available by calling the Pinellas County Planning Department at the above number.
West Orange Trail
This 14' paved trail is currently 5 miles long from the County Line Station (west of Oakland) to Park Avenue in Winter Garden. There is a beautiful trail head, complete with all amenities, at County Line Station. Construction is scheduled to begin on phase two, which will continue from Winter Garden to State Road 441 in Apopka, in the summer of 1997 and be finished sometime in the summer of 1998. When finished this will be a 30 mile multi-purpose trail and connect to the proposed Cross-Seminole Trail to the west.
Blackwater Heritage Trail
Ready in early summer 1997. In Blackwater River State Park, the Blackwater Heritage Trail will cover 8-1/2 miles from the town of Milton to Whiting Field Navy Base in the Florida panhandle. The Cady Way Trail
The Cady Way Trail is a 3.5 mile paved trail which links the City of Winter Park recreational and residential areas with Orange County neighborhoods, the Naval Training Center and the Orlando Fashion Square Mall. This is one of the few recreational trails in Florida that serves as transportation corridors, and is being integrated into a system that will let you bike all through Orlando. The trail is 10-16' wide, and in places it is divided into separate 10' and 6' paths. The trail is open from dawn to dusk and can be used by bicyclists, in-line skaters and pedestrians. There are shelters and rest stops with benches, trash receptacles and water fountains located along the trail.
Jacksonville - Baldwin Rail Trail
Ready in early 1998, the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail will be a 14.5 mile trail corridor located approximately 1.5 miles north of I-10, between Imeson Road and County Road 121.
State Parks and Preserves
You can ride at a few Florida state parks, preserves and other public land. Here are some good leads . . .
Guana River State Park
O'Leno State Park
Paynes Prairie State Preserve
Tosohatchee State Reserve
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve
Myakka River State Park
Caya Costa State Park
Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park
Highlands Hammock State Park
Lower Wekiwa River State Reserve
Talbot Islands GeoPark
Teneroc State Recreation Area
The Florida State Parks web page has good descriptive rundowns and photos of all these places.
While probably not on anybody's top ten list, these state forests should have at least one bikeable trail. Do some exploring, and what you find.
Little Big Econ State Forest
Blackwater River State Forest
Pine Log State Forest
Cary State Forest
Withlacoochee State Forest
DuPuis Reserve State Forest
Water Management Districts
If you really want to get off the beaten track, the Florida's five Water Management Districts also allow bicycling on some of their properties. Each Water Management District has its own Public Use Guide which tells where cycling is allowed. As with the state and national forests, it is best to call ahead for specific information and get a permit, if needed. These land are not as well known as the national and state forests, and are off the beaten track. If you go, about your trip!
Northwest Florida Water Management District, (904) 539-5999
Suwannee River Water Management District, (800) 226-1066 (north central Florida) If you're interested in the Suwannee River, see Cycling the Suwannee: Gar Pond & Big Shoals on GORP.
St. Johns River Water Management District, (800) 725-5922 (northeast Florida)
Southwest Florida Water Management District, (800) 423-1476
South Florida Water Management District, (800) 432-2045
Many thanks to the Florida Department of Transportation for information used in this piece.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication