This 10-mile, roundtrip, North Florida Bicycle Trail includes canal, salt marsh, and ocean views.
Saturday mornings take many forms in our house. Some weekends, it's feet to the floor before the suns up to tackle a project, other's it's stumbling to the kitchen for another glass of water after a too-adventurous Friday night, and more often now that we're tackling a global pandemic, it's a slow affaire combined with lots of Little River Coffee Company coffee and planning a safe, socially distanced, outdoor adventure.
This week, Hunter took the reins with the planning while I tended to the coffee. I wasn't allowed to know exactly where we were going just that I needed to dress for a bike ride that was going to have significant sun exposure. Being that it's the first week of August in Florida, that means donning the proper PPE - shades, hats, UPF clothes, loaded water bottles, and even some sun screen.
We loaded up the bikes and headed south, west from High Springs. He promised this would be one of my new favorite trails and the afternoon bicycle ride didn't disappoint.
If you're into history, this next part is for you. If you're not, jump down the section titled "Trail."
The History of the Withlacoochee Bay Trail:
The land for the Withalacoochee Bay Trail was originally a part of the land acquired for the Cross Florida Barge Canal. An ill-fated, environmental nightmare in the making, the canal concept was envisioned as an easy way for maritime traders to pass their goods from the Atlantic to the Gulf without having to navigate down around the state. This would have been a continuous waterway that ran from the St Johns River, through the Ocklawaha River, and out the Withlacoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico
The centuries old project was first proposed in 1567 by founder of Spanish St. Augustine, Pedro Menendez de Aviles but dropped due to the enormous cost associated with the undertaking. In the early 19th century, the project was re-proposed due to the heavy piracy and variable weather conditions experienced while traveling around the tip of Florida. Though the project received funding in some capacity from President Roosevelt, President Kennedy, and President Johnson, the project was finally halted in 1991 after extensive environmental activism lead by scientist Marjorie Carr.
Today, the former land proposed for the Cross Florida Barge Canal is protected as a part of the Marjorie Carr Cross Florida Greenway. Which brings us to today's topic: The final 5 miles from inland to the Gulf of Mexico is called the Withlacoochee Bay Trail.
Sources / Extra-Credit Reading for those who want the more detailed story:
Trail: How to Enjoy the Withlacoochee Bay Trail
While we explored the trail by bicycle, there are certainly other ways to enjoy. (Walk, run, rollerblade, etc.) There are many spots to park along the 5-mile section making the length variable depending on where you choose to start. For those just wanting to fish, you have several options for just parking almost beside your fishing spot.
We began by parking at the Felburn Park trailhead located at 10201 N Suncoast Boulevard,
Crystal River, Florida 32248 but please note that the town this trail is in is actually Inglis, Florida.
The paved trail travels alongside the Withlacoochee Canal for several miles before crossing over a slight hill (yes, those really exist in Florida) where you'll begin to see wetlands and eventually brackish marsh. You'll pass a 30-acre lake, Phil's Lake, named for Phil Felburn - the founder of the park for which it was named.
As you make your way down the trail, there are several covered fishing and picnic areas. Best of all, many appear to be ADA compliant and are even shaded. For the full detail, check out the map below.
Expect to see wildlife on this greenway. With the varying terrain and edge habitat created by the construction of the canal and trail, we were excited to come upon 6 or 7 deer, a wide array of birds, tons of butterflies, and expect that in the early morning / late afternoon time you would see small mammals like raccoons.
The final quarter mile opens up to a big view of the Gulf of Mexico and a covered picnic pavilion. Though a short trail, it's the perfect spot to take a rest from the hot, Florida sun.
What would we do differently next time?
Pack a cooler: The pavilion at the end of the greenway is the perfect spot for a picnic. The light breeze off the gulf, that view, and a shaded spot really shouldn't be wasted on a quick pitstop.
Spend more time: We were kind of just scoping it out this time but there's a ton more to explore. Next time we'll probably pack out hiking boots and check out a few of the trails in the neighboring areas.
Bring real camera equipment: This spot is definitely worthy of a photo safari. For those of you with pro camera equipment, be sure to pack it. The birding here is worthy of hauling gear in and of itself.
Take time to cast a line: There were TONS of folks fishing along the trail which leads us to believe there's probably a pretty good reason. Next time we'll give it a go.
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days per year
Location: 10201 N Suncoast Blvd. Crystal River, FL 34428
Recommended Activities: Bicycling, Birding, Boating, Fishing, Geocache, Hiking, Walking, Running, Mountain Biking, Paddling, Horseback Riding, Rollerblading, Photography