Many outdoor enthusiasts consider a bike trip one the best 'bang for the buck' adventures you can take if time is limited.
If you have a few hours to spare and want to see some of Florida’s Nature Coast, you'll want to add the 7-mile off-road loop trail at Crystal River Preserve State Park to your bucket list.
When entering the park entrance, don't take a left on Sailboat Avenue toward the Visitor Center. Instead, head straight on the dirt road by the entrance sign and you'll find the parking area and trailhead. The parking area isn't large, but can accommodate several vehicles. During the week, you might find that you will have the trail all to yourself.
From the parking area, enter through the open section of fence and check out the map at the trailhead kiosk. There's a short linear ride before you reach the actual loop (less than a mile), and I did the whole trail in a clockwise direction. Going this way, you encounter the coastal section of trail first, with lots of places to pull over and check out small scenic creeks. Don't be surprised if you spend more time hanging out on this section – the view is incredible.
Further along, the trail gets a little wilder. At about mile marker 3, you'll start to enter a wooded section, passing through palms, oaks and cedar trees. This hammock is an interesting contrast from the wider views found earlier on the trail, and gives a better sense of the variation of habitats found here. All in all, you'll pass through several habitats – swamps, hammocks, pine flat woods and coastal marsh – on this ride.
All told, the whole loop will take most riders around three hours, especially if you stop and pull over a lot. The trail is primarily hard-packed limerock and dirt roads, and can hold a little bit of water after a rain. This ride is best done in the winter months – cooler days are better for keeping the biting bugs at bay.
Below is is a short video clip from one of the tidal creeks along the trail. See the little alligator sunning on the bank?
For more information, check out www.floridastateparks.org/crystalriverpreserve.