This past weekend forecasters expected mild winter conditions across Florida with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-sixties; perfect weather to be outside. An activity we do enjoy as a family is bike riding. Usually on weekends we bike to the beach and when we are done we reward ourselves with breakfast wither at the beach close to the boardwalk (Beachside Café) or inland close to the local mall (Keke’s Café). Throughout Florida there are many paved rail-trails ranging in length from a few miles to close to fifty only one way. Withlacoochee State Trail with its 46 miles holds the title of the longest existing paved rail-trail. For more information on Florida’s trails and best rails to trails check the Trails.com web site.
This past Saturday we decided to explore General James A. Van Fleet State Trail, one of Florida’s most rural paved rail-trails. This 29 mile long bike trail is one of Florida’s most scenic rural landscapes that extends from Polk City in the south to Mabel in the north. It is a flat straight path (only one curve can be found) with nine bridges and convenient benches spread throughout its length. The scenery surrounding the pathway transforms as you pass through many habitats including cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks and pine forests.
On Saturday we got up early and started packing the bikes and preparing our lunches. Lunch consisted of roast beef, cheddar and pesto sandwiches, tabouli, fruit, luckily for me leftover homemade gluten free pizza and deliciously crunchy Cape Code chips that we couldn’t do without. When we arrived at the trailhead we found ample parking, a picnic pavilion with a couple of picnic tables and no bathrooms; the bathrooms were a couple of miles down the trail. General James A. Van Fleet State Trail has four trailheads; we arrived to the one located in Polk City at the intersection of State Road 33 and County Road 665. After lunch and a brief intermission to digest we embarked on our three hour biking adventure.
General James A. Van Fleet State Trail has booth paved and hiking trails. The paved surface areas are meant for walking/running, biking, and roller blading. There is also an equestrian trail that parallels the length of the paved path. Hunting is permitted on the western side of the northern half of the trail. For those hiking in this trail is recommended wearing fluorescent clothing during hunting season (January – April).
During our visit we could only pedaled half the length of the trail; we are already planning to go back, while the weather is cool, to pedal the rest. Maybe on our next visit we will encounter other type of wildlife in the swampy area. If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this bike trail is for you. Because of the path’s remote setting there is likely many visitors, it is peaceful and would even dare to say a bit isolated. Throughout our bike ride wildlife viewing was unsurpassed. Along the trail we saw cattle ranches and just a couple of miles from the trailhead there was even a llama farm; giving us plenty of opportunities for picture taking!
The family posing for a picture and getting more energy to pedal back to the trailhead before the sun sets … Bike Forrest, bike!!
Our first animal encounter … not even a wild animal as you can see but one you wouldn’t even expect, a llama!
Rusty as we called this friendly bull is posing for a picture. I think he was expecting something to eat for his services 🙂
Beautiful sunset taken just before arriving to the trailhead.