Florida by Bicycle
by Anne Grant
Lake Apopka Trail
Florida By Bicycle - The Best Way To See The Sunshine State
Bicycling is a sport on the rise - and for very good reason. Not only is it great for your body, it’s also one of the best ways to really experience the places you’re visiting. Bicycling makes the journey as fun (if not more so!) as the destination.
Unsurprisingly, given our amazing scenery, climate, and heritage, Florida is leading the way in the American cycling revolution (particularly Key West). However, it can be tough to pick a location to bring your bike in Florida. We are, after all ⅔ as big as the entire island of Great Britain! So here are a few ideas which may narrow down your Florida biking vacation ideas.
Before You Start…
Florida is like no other state (or even other place) in the world! A vacation here is always unique! If you’re planning on heading here with your bike, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic time, but there are a few things you’ll want to think about before you head off.
The time of year (and location) can be an important consideration if you’re not keen on peddling in humid weather. Humidity levels and times vary around the state, so do some research into average weather conditions at certain times before you book (cycling in a Florida downpour isn’t much fun, either!). It’s also just as well to think about getting yourself properly covered, more to give yourself peace of mind than anything else (Florida is a very safe state for cyclists!).
Finally, if you’re planning on travelling largely by bicycle, you’ll probably want to give a level of thought to your packing. Huge rucksacks and cases are a bit if a no-no in the saddle!
Heritage - The Legacy Trail (Central West Florida)
Central West Florida is just packed with heritage and history, from the very earliest native settlers to the vagaries of modern history. If you’re a history buff, Central West Florida is the place to go.
If you’re a history buff with a bike, you could do a lot worse than to undertake the 11 mile Legacy Trail. The Legacy Trail follows the route of an old Seaboard Air Line Railroad from south Sarasota to Venice. It heads through the Oscar Scherer State Park before connecting to the Venetian Waterway Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can continue on for another 10 miles through the park.
There’s a bit of everything to see on the way, including stunning scenery, beaches, plenty of refreshment stops, and wildlife - but history lovers will be especially in their element. The trail takes you past the historic Venice Train Station, past the old Ringling Circus site, and through some of the most historically important areas within Florida.
Diversions to see things like the classic cars museum, the Venice museum, the Sarasota cemetery and many other points of historical interest are easily achieved. It’s an easy and enjoyable trail to cycle - although it’s worth noting that there isn’t tons of shade, so probably best to do this trail when the sun’s not beating down too hard.
Nature - The Shark Valley Trail (Everglades)
It will come as a surprise to nobody that the Florida Everglades are probably a bicyclist’s best bet for nature watching. The relative silence of a bicycle makes nature-spotting far easier than it is from a car, and cyclists on this trail will sometimes even find themselves having to swerve around lazy gators! (Don’t worry, they’re not accustomed to attacking cyclists!). You’re also likely to see a huge variety of colorful bird life, lots of fish, turtles, and much more! The Shark Valley Trail is paved, and easy to ride on. It comprises a 14.5 mile loop just off the Tamiami Trail (US 41).
There are tram tours which take this trail, so you will occasionally have to stop to let a tram pass, but they’re not particularly obstructive! There’s an observation tower at the south end of the trail, and it runs by a canal to the west (it’s on the western, canal side that you’re likely to see the most wildlife). To the east there are man-made lakes, placed there for the purpose of encouraging wildlife. Perversely, however, the gators and their companions seem to prefer the canal (they particularly love basking on the sun-warmed paving of the trail.
If you can’t get past them, don’t worry. They slide back into the undergrowth or water when the trams go past). If you head out near sunset, you’ll be treated to the sight of thousands of birds flocking back to roost - delightful!
Beaches - Flagler County Trail (Flagler County), Boca Grande Rail Trail (Gasparilla)
Beach bicyclists are really spoiled for choice in Florida. Wherever you go near the coast, there’s plenty of cycling scope. Here, we’ve picked two of the best.
The Flagler County Trail runs for 22.5 miles along Florida’s east coast, from Marineland to Ormond Beach. The surface is well-maintained concrete, and travelers are treated to an uninterrupted ten mile beach stretch.
It’s great for people-watching, sea-gazing, and (if you’re a lark), sunrises.
Then there’s the Boca Grande Rail Trail on the island of Gasparilla (off Florida’s west coast).
You have to pay a fee to get onto the island, but it’s worth it. The trail runs along the route of one of Florida’s old railways, traversing this stunning island, and giving plenty of scope for admiring the unspoiled beaches of the area. There are plenty of access points by which you can hop off your bike and get some sand between your toes should you so wish! The trail itself is only 6.5 miles long, but who needs a long trail when there’s plenty of beach to enjoy?
Another interesting bike ride is the Lake Apopka Loop Trail on the north shore of Lake Apopka.