The Withlacoochee State Trail is Florida’s longest multi-use trail—and also one of the most popular. It is definitely the best all-season trail; much of the way it is shaded by trees arching over the former railbed. Originating in Pasco County, the trail clips a corner of Hernando County, but the bulk of it runs through Citrus County. The trail is used by walkers, runners, cyclists, and is open to equestrians; but with an abundance of trails in the state forest, horses are a rarity on the WST. Perfect for novices and young cyclists, the trail is also favored by faster cyclists out for a speed run when it’s not too congested.
Withlacoochee is a Native American word meaning “crooked river,” which accurately describes the river as it makes its 70-mile journey from the Green Swamp in northern Polk County to the Gulf of Mexico at Yankeetown. Above Floral City, the Tsala Apopka Lake Chain or “trout eating place,” which is the generally accepted translation, is a unique water system that was a place of refuge for the Seminoles.
Citrus County has embraced ecotourism in a big way. Water sports are tops, but it offers bicyclists a dream too with the nearly level shady trail and plenty of lightly traveled roads that follow gently rolling hills, with a few killer climbs up to six percent grade.
I’d heard about the trail, and was eager to ride it. I started out by planning my trip on paper. I don’t use GPS, my paper maps allow me to be generally positively sure of where I am. There are maps of the trail, mileage charts, GPS coordinates, trail-head locations and more on the internet. I wanted to be able to venture off the straight line and explore the surrounding area, so I augmented the WST information with a Citrus County Cycling map and detailed clips from Google Maps of specific locations I wanted to visit. I planned to stay in a state forest campground and a motel located directly on the trail. I enjoyed my night of camping and watching the full moon rise, but with 160,000 acres available, I had to wonder why they chose a site adjacent to Interstate-75 for the Silver Lake Campground. The nearby Cypress Glen Campground is in a quieter area, but was being renovated during my visit.
After setting up camp, I rode the trail to Floral City, a lovely historical town with eateries, a bike shop, library and historical museum—watch for more about this town in another article. The museum would be open on Saturday, so the next day after an early morning ride to the south end of the trail, I broke camp and drove to Floral City. After exploring the museum, I then biked to Inverness, checked into the motel, and then returned by cycle for my car. There are numerous points along the trail with parking spaces, restrooms and pavilions. At road crossings, crosswalks are clearly marked; signage directs cyclists to stop and yield to traffic or use crossing signals where provided. Motorists are courteous to trail-users, stopping at all marked crossings.
What struck me most about the trail was how friendly everyone was. If I stopped and rummaged in my gear bag for my camera, or unfolded my laminated maps, people would immediately stop and ask if I needed any assistance. It was easy to break into conversation with cyclists and talk about the trail. I met riders from as far away as Broward County, and a lot of locals who ride the trail on a daily or weekly basis. Several said they had moved there just because of the great cycling opportunities. At the south end of the WST, I met a fellow who has ridden and done volunteer maintenance on the Van Fleet Trail for many years. Both trails rely on volunteers to help maintain the trail. Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee is the nonprofit friends group that supports the trail. They sponsor an annual ride on the first Sunday in October that is a fundraiser for trail improvements.
I’d marked out loops through the Chain of Lakes, as well as through residential sections. I didn’t get to ride all the roads I’d planned, so another trip will definitely be on the agenda. There was also a new connector—the Good Neighbor Trail—that runs 10 miles southwest to Brooksville, and plans are to extend the trail north to Dunnellon and beyond. There are a dozen parks along the trail, and more than 40 on the Citrus County Bicycle Map. Away from the trail, the area gets progressively hilly as you head west. I should have looked at a topographical map as well! One climb on a paved trail along a busy highway forced me into my lowest gears.
I followed Dan Henrys—the markings cycling groups paint on roadways—and did a delightful loop that brought me through the Fort Cooper State Park, which is also accessible from the trail. During the Second Seminole War in April 1836, Major Mark Anthony Cooper built the fort to care for the sick and wounded while General Scott pushed on to Fort Brooke (now Tampa). The Seminoles kept the fort under daily attacks for two weeks until a relief column arrived. The location was used by U.S. Army detachments until 1842. Nothing remains of the original fort; a reconstructed stockade marks the site, as well as kiosks featuring the story of the siege and illustrated by reproductions of artwork by the late Guy LaBree and others.
David’s World Cycle is located just south of the Inverness trail head right on the trail. I stopped in to pick up a spare tube, since I’d had to fix a flat upon my arrival, and had a chat with Ashley Clark, who was busy assembling a recumbent bike for a customer. The shop rents cycles by the hour or by the day. Crusiers, geared bikes, kids bikes, recumbents are all available, and you can reserve bikes online. Rates vary from $10 per hour for a single-speed bike, to $50 per day for a recumbent. The shop features Catrike recumbent bikes, which are manufactured in Orlando. The trail is the perfect place to try out one of these built for comfort bikes.
All in all it was a marvelous cycling adventure. If you are looking for a great place for a getaway—however you like to explore—you can’t beat Citrus County.
If you goCitrus County Bicycle Map: www.citrusbocc.com/www.tampabayrideshare.org, 352-527-5544
Withlacoochee State Trail: 3100 S Old Floral City Road, Inverness, www.floridastateparks.org, 352-726-0315
Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee: Annual ride: Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Fee: $40 pre-registered/$45 day of ride. Determine your own distance, awards to 100K and 100-mile riders. Register online or by mail: RTTWST, 704 Peebles Ct., Inverness, Fla. 34453. www.rttwst.org
Withlacoochee State Forest: Withlacoochee Visitor Center, 15003 Broad St., Brooksville, www.floridaforestservice.com, 352-797-4140
What to expect: Withlacoochee State Forest totals nearly 160,000 acres and is comprised of three large tracts and several smaller ones. Trails for bicycling, birding, canoeing, equestrians, nature lore, hiking/walking, and off-road vehicles abound. There are nine campgrounds, as well as primitive sites for backpackers, canoeists, equestrians and hunters. Reservations required: www.floridastateforests.reserveamerica.com, 877-879-3859
David’s World Cycle: 322 N Pine Ave., Inverness, www.davidsworld.com, 352-637-5757
Inverness Bicycle & Fitness: 130 N Pine Ave., Inverness, www.invernessbicycle.com, 352-637-2453
Trailside Bike: 3849 E Orange Ave., Floral City, www.trailside.bike, 352-419-4809
Central Motel: 721 US Hwy 41 S, Inverness, centralmotel.de, 855-213-0582.
Lake House B&B: 8604 E Gospel Island Road, Inverness, www.thelakehouse.biz, 352-344-3586.