Redland Tropical Trail

Not a bike trail. Not a hiking trail. Not a kayak trail. Nevertheless, the Redland Tropical Trail is one that shouldn’t be missed.

I’m not sure how we’ve been visiting south Florida for the past ten years without ever exploring Redland. Located near Homestead, Redland remains an agriculture center known as the “garden capital of the world”, and I guess that designation doesn’t sound like an invitation to visitors; but that would be wrong.

We started exploring Redland by stopping at Knauss Farms, a U-pick farm with strawberries and tomatoes ready for picking. However, it wasn’t the produce, but the bakery, that will require a return trip. Without a doubt, the warm cinnamon rolls purchased from the bakery were the best I’ve eaten and the white chocolate chip key lime cookies…delicious!

Most left Knauss with boxes of cookies, pies, bread and of course, cinnamon rolls, but since we were camping, we could only manage a half dozen rolls and a half dozen cookies. We’ll develop a better plan for our next trip so we can make a larger purchase.

The next stop on the Redland Trail? Another U-pick farm, Burr’s Berries. Again, we did not pick any produce, but instead ordered their famous strawberry milkshakes. (Just what we needed to top off the cinnamon rolls.) And yes, it deserved the hype of the best berry shakes. After purchasing the days homemade salsa with ingredients picked from the field earlier in the day, we were ready for stop number three.

Fortunately, R.F. Orchids didn’t sell food. Instead we enjoyed the amazing variety of orchids in the greenhouses and show rooms. Of course, we didn’t turn down the complimentary lemonade being delivered by the staff, but we did leave without making a purchase since the likelihood of an orchid surviving five days of camping seemed remote.

Our final stop: Robert is Here, yes, that really is the name of the produce stand with a small zoo, playground and water park for kids (all free). Here we found numerous fruits and vegetables we were unable to identify and after sampling various products, left with a jar of mangrove honey and one of mango butter. Both unique and yummy.

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Apparently we didn’t leave sufficient time to explore all of the Redland Tripical Trail attractions since on our final stop I came across a brochure listing a dozen more Redland treasures.

Who knew a sleepy agricultural community could provide a day of entertainment and so many calories?

Overseas Heritage Trail

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Following the path of Henry Flagler’s old railway, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail provides a way for cyclists to ride the 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West. More than 70 miles of the trail have been paved, and in fact, new portions were marked and completed while we were there.

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You can hardly ask for a more beautiful ride with the water in sight a good part of the ride. Most of the trail runs parallel to US 1, and while there are dedicated bridges for bikes, pedestrians and fishermen in some portions, it’s necessary to share the road in other places, making for some dangerous encounters with traffic.

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We never had any intention of riding the full length of the trail, 106 miles (one way) is way more than I can manage. And while we saw a few cyclists riding the full distance, there are too many sections which are much too dangerous. When roading sharing is required, the bike lane is often narrow and filled with debris. However, what worries me the most are the drivers…residents in a hurry to pass the slow moving tourists, trucks and cars pulling boats and campers, eighteen wheelers rushing to make deliveries, tourists gawking at the fishermen reeling in their catches, not to mention the harsh, sometimes, blinding sun. We witnessed a woman drive off the road into the water. What if there had been a person on a bike?

Despite these challenges, we had a WONDERFUL time riding the Overseas Trail, riding almost 60 miles over the course of three days.

Our first ride was truly a destination ride as we unloaded our bikes and rode the last five miles to Mallory Square in Key West to not only enjoy a bike ride but to avoid the traffic and hassle of finding a parking space.

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The next day we took a short ride from our campsite in Long Key State Park to see the sunset, all on a paved trail off the side of the road. (It’s also the place where we watched a car skid into the water the next morning.)

The fifteen mile ride on Marathon was the most enjoyable as it was all off road and took us out on the old 7 Mile Bridge, which is dedicated to bikes, pedestrians and fishermen. The final leg of this ride ended on Sombrero Beach, which may be the best beach in the Keys.

Without a doubt, the most beautiful ride was from MM71 to MM81, twenty miles round trip, past gorgeous houses and clear blue-green water with lots of boats filled with fishermen. Unfortunately, this section requires cyclists to share the road with traffic across three bridges. And even though the shared lanes were wider than on most bridges, I still held my breath while crossing.

Our final ten mile ride on Long Key included a 2.2 mile span across the water, separate from traffic, but being a Saturday morning, packed with fishermen. No problem! I can dodge their casts much easier than vehicles.

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The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail provides riders with spectacular views, and it’s one I’d ride again…but, only  by skipping the parts I feel are unsafe, and only by riding in the cooler months. We were lucky to have perfect weather with temperatures in the 70s all week. Since there’s very little protection from the sun, I can’t imagine riding in the heat of the summer.

 

 

 

Azalea Trail

Since we would be meeting our daughter in Palatka on Monday to return her dog after a weekend of dog sitting, we decided to spend some time at Ravine Gardens State Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to take a hike in the garden known for its azaleas.

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Unlike most Florida parks, the trails at Ravine Gardens include stairs to accommodate the step drops along the ravine as well as a couple of suspension bridges. The trail also commemorates William Bartram’s eighteenth century travels in Florida.

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We decided on the Azalea Trail instead of the Spring Trail in hopes of being immersed in flowers. We certainly saw our share of blooming plants along the trail, but we obviously missed the peak season.

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On March 4-6, the park held its annual Azalea Days festival, the 70th year of this event. From what we saw, the festival was timed perfectly for the maximum color from their more than 100,000 flowering plants.

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Even on the Azalea Trail, we passed the spring, a stream and pond.

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And how does a tree grow like this? Looking for a short, two mile trail that’s in a beautiful and unusual setting? Then Ravine Gardens Park may be the place for you.

 

 

Santos Trail: Marion County

I’ve always thought of Santos as a place with trails for bicycling and horseback riding, but last month when I received my weekly email from All Trails, it suggested the Santos Trail in Belleview as one to hike. Sure enough, when we pulled in to the parking lot of the Santos Trailhead, it was clearly marked for hiking.

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Restrooms, a water fountain and picnic tables are available at the trailhead. The well maintained trails begin near the campground and cross paths with those designated for bikes and horses, but never share the same route. The out and back trail covers a distance of 3.4 miles round trip making it a nice way to get out for a short walk while experiencing part of the Florida Trail.

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We enjoyed our first hike at Santos so much we decided to take Luna with us a couple of weeks later. A true, blue, city dog who spends most of her time inside, Luna had quite a day on the trail briskly walking all the way out, but then slowing considerably on the way back, and did she ever sleep when we returned home.

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Less than twenty minutes from our house, the Santos Trail will be one we walk regularly, and it may be time to try the bike trail as well.

WST: Hernando to Floral City

It’s hard to believe that as many times as we’ve ridden the Withlacoochee State Trail (WST) that we’d never ridden the section from Hernando to Inverness. But after a couple of friends told us about a hamburger place in Hernando, we were motivated to take another ride on the WST.

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Like the rest of the trail, this portion is flat and mostly shady, but we also found some wacky sites Florida is so well known for. Less than two miles into the ride we came across a glass shop that creates art from bottles, mostly blue bottles. Bottle trees. Bottle flowers. Even bottle art with a bicycle and across the street, a large pink elephant.

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Our plan for the day was to ride more than twenty miles so we didn’t stop at Inverness, but instead continued to Floral City on a beautiful springlike day.

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Seeing a gopher tortoise along the trail is not unusual, but we saw our first bluebird on one of the many birdhouses that line the trail.

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For some reason I struggled on this ride. Before reaching Floral City I was tired and riding slower than usual. Fortunately the thought of a burger at the end of the ride kept me going. Located just north of the Hernando trailhead Burger Station delivered tasty burgers as promised.

It’s amazing that I’ll ride 24 miles for a burger.

VanFleet Trail: Polk County

We made a return trip to the Van Fleet Trail (click here to read about our ride from the Mabel Trailhead), biking the southern portion starting at Polk City. This is easily one of my favorite places to ride since the trail is so flat.

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Less than two miles from the trailhead we spotted the first wildlife of the day. Not gators or gopher tortoises or rabbits like you might expect, but a herd of llama. A lone llama posed for us from outside the fenced enclosure before we continued on our way.

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The trail was well marked with mile markers painted on the path as well as the names of roads crossed and emergency contact information. Another interesting feature of the trail: a bicycle repair station complete with a pump and a few basic tools.

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More wildlife along the trail, but again only the domesticated type. The rural landscape was home to donkeys, cows and horses. And while we heard gators in the swamp bordering much of the trail, none were to be seen.

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The roundtrip ride from the Polk City Trailhead to the trailhead at Green Pond measured 19.7 miles. On a clear, cool, February afternoon, this trail was a great ride despite the fact the wind blew in our face riding out AND on our return. How come it never blows to our back both ways?

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Although flat and straight like the northern part of the trail, the southern portion of the Van Fleet Trail did not provide the cover of shade we found on our earlier ride starting in Groveland. I’d ride this section only in the early morning or on a cool day so as not to bake in the sun.

We’ve ridden all but the middle section of the Van Fleet trail so the next time we’ll start at Green Pond and ride north to Bay Lake Road in the heart of the Green Swamp. This section is described as tree-lined offering shade during most of the day, and it crosses the start of the Withlacoochee River at three points…maybe a good place for a March ride.

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Daycation: St. Petersburg

In January, we checked off the first item in our list 16 in 16 when we attended a Jackson Browne concert. On Monday, February 22nd, we finally found the perfect day for another of the planned events for 2016 when we spent the day in St. Petersburg for a Daycation.

We waited for a warm and sunny February day because our plan was to bike ride the city trails and visit several of the museums. We started the ride on the trail behind the Morean Center for Clay, one of the museums on our list and rode in to the city. I was somewhat reluctant to ride downtown because I “don’t do traffic”. Fortunately, a concrete barrier divided the trail in the city from the traffic. We even had stop lights to make for a smooth flow downtown.

Traveling past Tropicana Field, through downtown, to the bay and then before the end of the day toward Treasure Island until we reached an end of the trail due to construction, our 17 miles on the bike met our goal for the active part of the day.

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Parking at the Historic Seaboard Train Station, our first stop was a tour of the Morean Arts Center for Clay.

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Here we were surprised to find the center closed on Mondays, but when a staff member realized we’d driven two hours, she permitted us to walk through the facility where artists were working in the shared spaces. Actually, we enjoyed looking at the art outside as much as the displays inside the center.

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From the train station we rode our bike downtown to see the Chihuly Collection at another of the Morean Arts Centers located on the city’s waterfront. A 20 foot sculpture located outside the center ushers guests into the building that was specifically designed to display the glasswork. The price of admission includes a docent led tour, but we decided to enjoy on our own instead of traveling from room to room with a crowd.

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Next, we stopped for lunch at Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro with margaritas overlooking the water.

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We purchased a bundled ticket which included a visit to the Morean Galleries as well as to the Glass Studio and Hot Shop with our ticket to the Chihuly Collection. Unfortunately, the Morean Galleries were in the midst of changing out the exhibit so we saw more cardboard boxes than art. Next time we’ll know to call ahead since this information is not provided on their website.

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But while the galleries were a disappointment, the highlight of the trip was the time spent in the Glass Studio and Hot Shop where we sat in bleachers watching David Sturgeon create a piece of glass art with the assistance of the narrator, Jeremiah. For fifty minutes, the glass was shaped, colored, twirled, heated, cooled, heated, cooled, and heated and cooled some more until the piece was completed.

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A successful daycation of bicycling and art. We’ll be back.

Costs: $106

  • Gas $16 (about 8 gallons at $2/gallon
    Tickets for Chihuly Collection, Glass Studio and Hot Shop $40 (tickets for two)
    Lunch $50 (2 margaritas accounted for half this cost)

Lake Apopka Loop Trail: Orange County

A couple of weeks ago we rode the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, a new bicycle trail for us. Starting at Lovell’s Landing, the trail follows the road for a short distance before reaching the crushed stone trail which bordered the lake.

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While overcast, the weather was otherwise perfect, cool with light wind. Several reviews of the trail made mention of the need to bring bug spray because of the mosquitoes, but our February ride proved to be bug free.

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The bellows of gators could be heard throughout the ride and several of the large creatures laid in wait along the trail’s edge. Not only were signs posted with the traditional Florida alligator warnings, but yellow “In case of emergency” signs were posted at regular intervals as well.

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At the four mile mark, we stopped for lunch at the picnic pavilion located near the old pump house before continuing another five miles down the path.

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The trail provided great views of Lake Apopka, Florida’s fourth largest lake which is rebounding after being poisoned by pesticides. Not only can alligators be found in abundance. The area is known as a birding destination.

In fact, the 4th Annual Lake Apopka Wildlife Festival Birdapalooza was held in early February, and while we saw a variety of birds, most were camera shy making it hard to photograph many. But there was no shortage of birders with binoculars, check lists and cameras with massive lenses…the tools of the Birdapalooza crowd.image-82-683x1024

The most interesting find on the ride was the skeleton of a large gator just feet from the trail. Can’t help but wonder what happened to this big guy.

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The Lake Apopka Loop Trail was a nice, although rough, 15 mile out and back trail, but there’s talk of connecting it to the West Orange Trail which would make it possible to ride around the 50 square mile lake. That would be quite a ride.

Sawgrass Island Preserve

Unfortunately, due to illness, I was unable to accompany John on a first time ride at the Sawgrass Island Preserve last week. We’ve passed this trail numerous times on our trips to visit one of our daughters in Orlando, but only recently stopped to get a quick look in anticipation of a ride later in the week.

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In the parking area, a sign indicates the trail can be used by hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. The trail travels to Lake Yale, located south of SR 42 about ten miles from Weirsdale, and according to John is well used by those on horseback making in less than a desirable surface for bike riding.

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Nevertheless, he said he would return to Sawgrass Island Preserve on foot, especially near dawn or sunset as it appears to be a prime location for observing wildlife. And of course, since the area is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, birdwatchers may also enjoy hiking in the trail.

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Sorry I missed the ride, but I can see an early morning hike on the horizon.

Land Bridge Trail

Anticipating a rainy afternoon, we set out for a hike close to home with Meghan and Jon at the Cross Florida Greenway on Saturday. We followed the orange trail for a little more than a mile to the Land Bridge where the trail crosses I-75.

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The most notable feature of the well marked trail was the large trees. Several of which partially blocked the path.

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Upon reaching the bridge, we stopped for a quick selfie before returning on the somewhat longer blue trail.

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The blue trail was similar to the orange trail. Well marked, tree-lined, narrow, flat and easy. A good place for walk on a cool February morning before the afternoon rain.

Thanks John and Meghan for sharing your pictures.