Lots of options for two wheels & two feet
By Lynn and Cele Seldon
Florida’s wide expanses of generally flat open space are ideal for multi-use rails-trails for cyclists, walkers, and more. Back when the rails-trails movement was still very much in its infancy, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was formed in 1986 to help create and promote a nationwide network of user-friendly and traffic-free hiking and biking trails from former rail lines (and connecting corridors). There are now almost 25,000 miles and counting of open rails-trails across the country, including lots of possibilities in the Sunshine State, with more than 50 varied options (several of which are connected, with more connections to come).
In Rails-Trails: Florida (Wilderness Press), past RTC president, Keith Laughlin, wrote, “Since 1986, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has been the leading supporter and defender of these priceless public corridors. We are excited to bring you Rails-Trails: Florida so you, too, can enjoy some of this state’s rail-trails and multiuse trails. These hiking and biking trails are ideal ways to connect with your community, with nature, and with your friends and family.”
Culled from RTC’s “Top Ten Trails in the Sunshine State” survey, the excellent book Rails-Trails: Florida, and personal experience, here are 20 varied rails-trails options across Florida to consider:
AUBURNDALE-TECO TRAIL (6.6 miles; Polk County), which connects with the 29-mile General James A. Van Fleet State Trail (below) in Polk City to make for a great 35.6-mile trail (see “Central Florida’s Great Outdoors” feature on pages 20-27).
BLACKWATER HERITAGE STATE TRAIL (9.6 miles; Santa Rosa County), following an old Florida and Alabama Railroad route.
BOCA GRANDE BIKE PATH (6 miles; Charlotte and Lee counties), which is credited as Florida’s first rail-trail.
CROSS SEMINOLE TRAIL (22.8 miles; Seminole County), with connections to the 14-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail (see below) and the 7.5-mile Cady Way Trail.
EAST CENTRAL REGIONAL RAIL TRAIL (47.6 miles; Brevard and Volusia counties), on railroad tracks built-in 1885 to carry cargo and people from
the Atlantic coastline to Central Florida.
FLORIDA KEYS OVERSEAS HERITAGE TRAIL (106.6 miles when connected, with 90 miles currently completed; Monroe County), following the route of Henry Flagler’s early-1900s Overseas Railroad and with some on-road riding required and prevailing winds worth considering.
FORT FRASER TRAIL (7.75 miles; Polk County), which is on the former South Florida Railroad Pemberton Ferry Branch between Lakeland and Bartow and parallels busy US 98, but does offer a 0.6-mile spur trail that leads to a 2.5-mile trail out to Circle B Bar Reserve (see “Central Florida’s Outdoors” feature).
FRED MARQUIS PINELLAS TRAIL (49.8 miles; Pinellas County), connecting with 6.3-mile North Bay Trail in downtown St. Petersburg.
GAINESVILLE-HAWTHORNE STATE TRAIL (16.5 miles; Alachua County), which is among the “hillier” rails-trails options in Florida.
GENERAL JAMES A. VAN FLEET STATE TRAIL (29 miles; Lake, Polk, and Sumter counties), which connects with the 6.6-mile Auburndale-TECO Trail in Polk City to make for a great 35.6-mile trail (see “Central Florida’s Great Outdoors” feature).
LEHIGH GREENWAY RAIL TRAIL (6.6 miles; Flagler County), along the Lehigh Canal on a one-time rail spur line running to a former Lehigh Portland Cement Company plant.
JACKSONVILLE-BALDWIN RAIL TRAIL (14.5 miles; Duval County), including a spur trail to Camp Milton Historic Preserve, which was an important Florida Civil War site.
LEGACY TRAIL (10.7 miles; Sarasota County), with a start (or turn-around) at the 1927 Historic Venice Train Depot, including displays about the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and more.
PALATKA-TO-LAKE BUTLER TRAIL (30.3 miles; Bradford, Clay, and Putnam Counties), on the old Norfolk Southern Railway.
SEMINOLE WEKIVA TRAIL (14 miles; Seminole County), on the former Orange Belt Railway.
SUNCOAST TRAIL (42 miles; Hernando, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties), which follows the Suncoast Parkway and joins the 16.5-mile Upper Tampa Bay Trail at its southern trailhead.
TALLAHASSEE-ST. MARKS HISTORIC RAILROAD STATE TRAIL (21 miles; Leon and Wakulla Counties), following the route of Florida’s first and longest-running railroad.
WALDO ROAD GREENWAY-DEPOT AVENUE RAIL-TRAiL-KERMIT SIGMON BIKE TRAIL (6.4 miles, Alachua County), which seamlessly combines three Gainesville trails into a network and also connects with the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail (see above).
WEST ORANGE TRAIL (22 miles; Orange County), which is only 15 minutes northwest of downtown Orlando, but in another world.
WITHLACOOCHEE STATE TRAIL (46 miles; Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties), one of the longest paved pathways in Florida.
Of Florida’s great rails-trails options, Florida-based RTC Senior Strategist for External Relations, Ken Bryan, says, “It’s exciting to see all of the rails-trails being connected and forming regional systems that then form the backbone to an emerging statewide system. The value of these trails is being enhanced as these are woven together.” Ride on! ⎯
IF YOU GO
Head to railstotrails.org to learn everything you need to know about the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) and offerings across Florida – and across the country. Rails-to-trails enthusiasts should consider joining and supporting RTC. Their signature endeavor, TrailLink.com, is America’s portal to rails-to-trails, as well as other multi-use trails. Rails-Trails Florida, an “Official Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Guidebook” from Wilderness Press (as part of their great rails-to-trails guidebook series) is highly recommended.