Pasco County: Hike, Paddle and Ride
Explore this Central Florida county by land or by sea.
Located less than an hour's drive north of downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, Pasco County is an outdoors paradise. With more than 30 parks stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the wild Withlacoochee River, you'll find no shortage of places to hike, paddle and ride.
With dozens of trails on more than 100,000 acres of public land, backpackers and day hikers will have plenty of room to explore.
Blessed with a variety of habitats, including salt marsh, mangrove, barrier islands, oak scrub, pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, coastline, pasture and ranch land, Pasco County is home to more than 320 species of birds, including several considered threatened or endangered.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Great Florida Birding Trail runs through the heart of the county, taking the guesswork out of your birding adventure.
Among the dozen or so great places for nature observation, J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park in New Port Richey has 13 miles of hiking trails, seven miles of bike paths and 10 miles of horseback-riding routes.
This beautiful wilderness preserve has options for overnight visitors, including a tent camping area with 16 sites, several "backcountry" primitive sites and eight Boy Scout-style cabins that sleep up to eight people each.
Behind the park's nature center, follow the boardwalk across a floodplain forest to the picturesque Pithlachascotee River. The nearby 100-acre James E. Grey Preserve is a great place to see water birds, including limpkins and yellow-crowned night herons.
With 20 miles of shoreline as well as numerous lakes and rivers, Pasco County is also an anglers' wonderland. Explore the sheltered shoreline by boat, sea kayak or canoe, and fish for snook, redfish or spotted sea trout in the morning and largemouth bass in the afternoon.
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park in Port Richey has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best sea kayaking areas on the west coast of Florida. The park is brand new and doesn't have launch facilities, but paddlers can put in outside the park's boundaries and paddle in to explore four miles of protected coastline. The salt spring may not look like much, but it is actually more than 300 feet deep.
Withlacoochee River Park, located on the other side of the country at the edge of the Green Swamp, is the place to go for canoeing. The river, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico north of Pasco, flows through a variety of habitats, including high sandhills and low riverine swamp. In addition to great paddling, the 610-acre park provides other recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, cycling and in-line skating.
The Pithlachascotee River, or Cotee River for short, has a great six-mile paddle that starts on the outskirts of civilization and ends up in a wilderness preserve. The difficulty rating is moderate, making this an excellent choice for paddlers of any skill level.
Cyclists from all over the world come to Pasco County to ride the paved 42-mile Suncoast Trail. Spanning three counties as it parallels the Suncoast Parkway, the Suncoast Trail starts in Tampa, runs north through Pasco and ends up in Brooksville.
A favorite training spot for triathletes and road racers, the Suncoast Trail should be on every rider's must-do list. There are few places in Florida where hard-core riders can bust out an 84-mile roundtrip ride and not have to think twice about traffic.
Riders from the heavily populated Tampa Bay area come north every weekend to ride through the Dade City and San Antonio area, with its gentle, rolling hills. These quaint small towns host their share of group rides, and Pasco also assists with several top regional races, including the Race for Humanity in February, the St. Petersburg Times Bike Tour in March and the Hilly Hundred in October.
If off-road riding is your thing, you will find no shortage of fat-tire single track to test your cycling skills, as many of the local parks have off-road trails for mountain bikers.
Cyclists can also check out the Withlacoochee State Trail, which starts near Dade City and runs north for 46 miles, making it the longest paved rails-to-trails path in the state.
To plan your own outdoor getaway to Pasco County, call 800-842-1873 or visit www.visitpasco.net.