Cycling State Parks

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Many of Florida's state parks have miles of scenic bike paths. Here's your guide to the must-ride trails.

From smooth cement pathways through sea oat-covered sand dunes to heart-pounding, tree-dodging downhills on twisting single-track trails, cycling Florida's state parks is as exciting - or relaxing - as you want to make it. Biking is allowed in 60 state parks, but the following locales provide some of the Florida's best trails.

In the furthest reaches of northeast Florida sits Fort Clinch State Park, home to almost 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Hikers and bikers share the park's main loop, six miles of undulating unpaved terrain that features steep, challenging dunes and heavily forested sections. The park's main road offers a scenic 6.5-mile roundtrip from the entrance to the historic fort, while side roads lead to campgrounds and views of Cumberland Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Cycling on the hard-packed sand along the sound is permitted during high tide, just watch out for shell collectors.

Northwest Florida's state parks are more known for dazzling beaches than cycling, but Florida Caverns State Park outside Marianna offers some distinctively different riding. Several miles of multi-use trails wind along floodplains, sinkholes and rivers. Wildlife, including deer and a variety of forest fowl, abound in this small park.

Just west of Gainesville, a pair of state parks offer superb off-road cycling for beginner and intermediate riders. San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, just south of Alachua, offers seven mountain bike trails of varying lengths. Old-growth hardwood canopies, sinkholes and varied terrain make the mostly single-track trails entertaining and challenging.

Neighboring O'Leno State Park boasts slightly easier but equally beautiful off-road cycling. Set along the banks of the Santa Fe River, cyclists should take a break from the 13 miles of rolling single- and double-track trails and take the short hiking trail down to the "river sink," where the Santa Fe vanishes underground, reappearing three miles away. The park's entrance road provides a short but scenic two-mile paved ride.

Speed demons and nature lovers alike will enjoy General James A. Van Fleet State Trail, a linear rail-trail running 29.2 miles through some of the most remote areas of central Florida (bring extra water), including Green Swamp, which offers great wildlife watching opportunities. Polk City, off I-4, and the town of Mabel, on Hwy. 50, form the endpoints of the trail, with two other trailheads in between.

When it's time to get serious about some real fat-tire mountain biking, two can't-miss state parks immediately jump to mind. The International Mountain Biking Association has ranked Alafia River State Park, located east of Tampa, as an "Epic Ride." Well maintained and clearly marked, the 17 miles of trails at Alafia are divided into four categories - from the more basic to the most difficult trails. The entire trail network is built on former mining country, and the black loop's severe climbs, steep drops and perilous rock ridges are suitable for experts only, but the three miles that compose the green loop provide just the right amount of distance and excitement for the whole family. Picnic and camping facilities sweeten the family appeal.

The Croom Off-Road Bicycle Trails are technically within the Withlacoochee State Forest, but for sake of simplification we'll call it a park. Close to 50 miles of single-track trails criss-cross ravines, creek bottoms and abandoned rock mines. Pine, oak and hardwood hammocks provide shade, as well as obstacles. Trails vary in technical difficulty and many are quite long, so be sure not to bite off more than you can chew.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park, just north of Jupiter, boasts some of the best off-road cycling on Florida's East Coast. Close to ten miles of single-track trails wind through pine scrub, flatwoods and cypress sloughs. Keep an eye out for wild pigs, the occasional snake and, of course, lots of alligators.


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