South and central Florida have some great bicycle trails - so let’s ride!

We start our journey on the Florida Keys Heritage Trail.  The 70 miles of existing trail segments (of a planned 106) begin in Key West and include the old Seven Mile Bridge, from which you can watch massive hammerhead sharks feed.  Hiking, fishing, kayaking and camping are among the other things to do at some of the 17+ state parks, wildlife sanctuaries and refuges along the way.  Speaking of feeding, fill your tank in Key Largo at local favorite Doc’s Diner and we’ll go cover some ground on the mainland.

Almost every cyclist I know has visited Homestead’s Shark Valley trail in Everglades National Park.  It’s a 15-mile paved loop that’s smooth and easy riding until you find yourself bunny-hopping alligators, but don’t worry, they seem used to it.  The park service has rentals for those without bikes of their own who are looking for a sunny two-tire outing.  Just kidding about the alligators (kinda), they usually stick to the sides of the road and won’t mess with you if don’t mess with them; just keep an eye out for them crossing.

On the east coast the main trail of the R. Hardy Matheson Preserve in Coral Gables, off the Old Cutler Trail, runs from Old Cutler Road east to Biscayne Bay via a nearly sea level, canal-side path and a parallel one we call “the high road”—a somewhat hairy narrow gravel-mountain trail of varying elevation which ends at a rocky point where native black mangrove trees, the rarest of the three species, can be found with the white and red varieties near multi-colored flowering lantana.  Build a firewall of coral rocks against the near-constant wind and collect deadwood for an enjoyable evening fire.  Your bike better be equipped with a light for the ride back.

Miami’s Oleta River State Park on Biscayne Bay is our next stop.  There are three miles of paved trail for the street cyclists and for those of us with off-road tendencies it offers over four miles of novice mountain bike trails and over 10 miles of intermediate and highly technical trails. They even have a loaner system if you forget your helmet, a requirement for everyone biking state parks and a legal requirement for people 16 or under statewide.

Now we’ll visit central Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (part of the 1400-mile Florida Trail).  This half-paved 110-mile trail perched atop the 35-foot-high Herbert Hoover Dike offers views of the “Big O” and many of the creatures that rely upon its resources, such as the American bald eagle.  Stop by the historic Clewiston Inn for lunch where they use recipes from the Old South BBQ Ranch, a former local landmark.

A little further up U.S. 27 is Sebring, home of the 12-hour auto race, and also home to a bike trail which circles centrally located Lake Jackson before taking you out to Highlands Hammock State Park, which sports a museum, tram tours, camping and bike rentals.  Its paved loop road is peppered with entrances to footpaths (with bike racks to lock up to) that meander through different environments; you can ride and stroll in the shade while checking out a staggering variety of plants and animals and a 1,000-year-old oak tree.  Cool down at the park’s rustic restaurant with a frosty, tart wild orange shake traditionally made from the fruit of old-growth citrus that dot the area, remnants of the original homesteader’s groves.  Go during the CCC Festival in November for live music and swamp cabbage (an old Florida side dish of boiled, seasoned heart of Sabal palmetto), harvested on-site.

The Great Florida Birding Trail is good for cycling, too, and has locations all across the state including the west coast, where we head next.  Bike tours are a great way to plan a cycling vacation here where a variety of environments offer trails of various skill levels, such as the Boca Grande Bike Path on Gasparilla Island.  Grab a fresh grouper sandwich for dinner at one of the area’s many nice restaurants to recharge after our wild marathon ride across the bottom half of the peninsula.  Whew, what a day!

Many other opportunities for road and off-road cycling exist throughout the state and beckon outdoors enthusiasts when the worst of the summer heat and rain is past—so come on down, get outside and ride this fall.


Photo by Brian Best