By Kevin Mims

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 seven-mile off-road 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 to 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). Going clockwise, you'll 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 three, 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. You'll pass through several habitats – swamps, hammocks, pine, flat woods and coastal marsh – on this ride. 

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 at Crystal River Preserve State Park. See the little alligator sunning on the bank?