Take the Ozello Trail, to a Florida Untouched

    By Greg Hamilton

    There’s no need to click your ruby slippers to get to Oz; the magic is just a short and memorable ramble along a winding waterfront road in western Citrus County.

    About halfway between Crystal River and Homosassa, pick up Ozello Trail and lean west. The two­lane blacktop winds for nine miles out to the Gulf, its 67 turns and magnificent marshland scenery a magnet for bikers, birders, anglers and adventurers of all stripes seeking a reminder of Florida’s longtime love affair with the sea.

    Leave your watch and itineraries behind and your jaunt will be rewarded as you pull over at the roadside eateries favored by the locals on land and water. No chain restaurants here; these are neighbors feeding friends both old and new with locally caught fare.

    Coming up on the left is Backwater Fins Island Bar & Grill, where drivers and boaters alike pull up for a beer or a cocktail at its beautiful cedar bar. Try the frog legs, redfish or local blue crabs or a favorite, the country boil steam pot, a bucket of flavorful goodness.

    A stone’s throw down the trail on the right is the funky and unpretentious Island Outpost tiki bar, where draft beer is $1 all the time and good times and laughs are on the house. The converted convenience store beckons you in for a fill-up on island grub and relaxation.

    Soon, it’s back on the road, with more turns and incredible views await. Along the way you’ll pass hamlets where the 600 or so islanders -­ a mix featuring shrimpers, commercial fisher­folk, and artists -­ reside in a bucolic collection of weathered homes.

    Ozello Trail continues dipsy­doodling toward the setting sun, past an incredible array of aquatic birds nesting in the salt marshes, oaks, cedar and palm trees lining the asphalt.

    Marked canoe trails help kayakers and canoeists navigate through the breathtaking beauty few know still exists in Florida. Word to the wise for paddlers: Bring along your GPS if you want to wander; the meandering waterways can be confusing to the novice.

    The speed limit along Ozello Trail is 35, but not everyone pays attention, so take care and watch for bicyclists.

    Before long, you are at land’s end -­ a causeway, boat ramp, a knot of homes and a superb seafood restaurant that’s worth the trek.

    Peck’s Old Port Cove has survived the storms ­- natural and man­made -­ that forced lesser businesses to pack up and head east. Grab a cold beer in a Mason jar, sit on the back deck next to the blue crab tanks where your all­you­can­eat crab feast is still scuttling around and take in a magnificent sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

    The locals will be settling into their favorite fishing spots along the low causeway to catch the evening tide. Visitors looking to try their own luck -­ the area is a well-known shallow­water estuary for redfish, trout, snook and other species -­ can fish along the causeway, the seagrass islands at a pier at the county park on John Brown Road, on the south side of the trail.

    But if that seems like just too much work, settle back and let the staff bring you a catch of the day that was swimming in the water not long before you arrived.

    For those looking for a reminder of a Florida untouched, a trip to Oz is just the cure.

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