It's a great trail with a few flaws
I've been riding this trail for the past couple of months in training for a ride coming up in July. It's a great trail with a few flaws.
While there are certainly limited crossings. Coming from someone who used to ride the Pinellas trail, it's a godsend. Many of the crossings can be quite dangerous with 6 lanes going both ways in multiple locations so it's important to be alert. It can be quite scenic, but the biggest grief I have with the trail is the wind, which I understand doesn't really have anything to do with the trail, but it seems that there's headwinds going in both directions.
I've only been riding seriously for a little over a year so maybe it's just my beginner legs, but I feel that the crosswind can be quite irritating at long distances (I'm riding 60+ miles solo usually) and it slows me down to a disheartening pace especially when heading south, which is the way back for me. All in all, it's good to train under these conditions and the surprising number of hills on the north end is a welcome change to the typically flat Florida scenery. Long story short, I'd recommend riding in a group if you can find one.
The best advice I can give is this: Arrive early or suffer the wrath of the unforgiving Florida sun and humidity. The heat is not as bad in the cooler months, but there's still very little coverage. I usually arrive around 7:30-8:00 AM and leave around 12:00 PM, but by 11:00 AM the sun is especially brutal. Wear sunscreen or you'll get burned up quick, and drink the provided water or you'll get dehydrated just as quickly.
I drive all the way from St. Petersburg to ride this trail, so it's on the expensive side with the Toll road + $2 parking, but I wouldn't keep coming back if it didn't provide everything that I require. This trail seems to chew me up and spit me out on a weekly basis, but I always come back for more!
Need for speed?
Flat, straight, hardly an intersection, and the trail parallels a noisy highway. Ideal for heads-down time-trialing, with pavement marked every half mile, otherwise not among our favorites. Plan to be self-supporting (water, food, basic repairs). In late March 2015, the southernmost trail head and parking area was under construction, so take the highway north to next exit where you can find a good parking area for a $2 donation.
Less Crowded and Longer Stretches
This is an ideal more remote trail for more serious longer rides that are less interrupted by road crossings and families. I especially like it on weekends, when the Pinellas and Starkey Trails can be more congested with slower and less-experienced riders. That said, this is not ideal for families, children, and less experienced riders. As always, carry basic tools and stuff to fix flats.
I resisted this trail for several years because it runs right alongside a major highway. What a mistake! I'm hardly aware of the highway, and I've seen as much wildlife on this trail as anywhere---gators, deer, etc. Just enjoy the west side and ignore the east side.
The plan to make this trail part of the Cross-Florida Trail and connect it with the Upper Tampa Bay, Pinellas, and Withlacoochee Trails is very exciting.
Beautiful Trail, Lots of Wind
I rode this trail several times and enjoyed it very much. I get on near Land O Lakes. There's a small bike shop near the Target that is great for last minute needs. You can even leave it over night for any maintenance, pick it up the next day and jump right on the trail.
Being in Florida you really have to time it right especially if your going to be on it for the long haul. There are several stretches with little to no shading, making it a very long and hot ride. Sunscreen, shades and a helmet with a visor is highly recommended. Early morning or evening is the best time to ride. High noon can be brutal. Also, the trail is in a wind tunnel and it seems you're riding into it both ways adding resistance to your ride.
It's very scenic, passing through that natural Florida flora as well as farms and some suburban points. I always seem some sort of wild life, usually various birds, gopher tortoises and sunning alligators on occasion. However, much of the trail parallels the Suncoast Highway.
There are plenty of water points but I recommend bringing in as much of your own water as possible since the coolers are sometimes empty.
Around the 15 mile mark is Snowden Park which has bathrooms and water fountains.
At the 21 mile mark there is an elementary school just off the trail. If you are thirsty enough, there is a water fountain outside of the school.
Around the 23 mile mark there is a small shopping center containing a tap house. :-) It's nice to stop in for a quick glass or two along the way. I've met other cyclist in that place. There are also a few full service restaurants as well.
WOW, hills in Florida
Rode this trail on April 26, 2011. On a visit from CT, I found this trail challenging for a mid - Florida trail. Not flat like the van Fleet. There is a series of hills at the last 15 miles before the northern trailhead. Not long & steep hills like you'd find in CT, but downshifting was required. Water was limited, but available periodically. The bathroom facilities at Cortez were terrific, especially for a riding trail. The pedestrian/bike bridge over Route 50 near Cortez was a nice touch. Some of the other road crossings are pretty risky affairs. Riding at mid day, I only saw a couple of other riders. As evening approached, more riders, walkers, and rollerbladers appeared. The northern trailhead was very barren; 1 picnic table and a handful of signs. Lot's of parking there. I wasn't pleased with the parking fee imposed by the Hillsborough County for their 2 parking areas @ W Lutz Lake Fern Rd & the other one @ Route 54. It's $2 per car; their bathroom facilities consist of Port-a-Potties and they warn of break-ins of cars parked there. Seems odd since none of the other trailheads imposed parking fees and some had better bathrooms (like Cortez). I would suggest parking at one of the other trailheads.
Trail has nice variety; limited amenities.
I rode the northern half of this trail in mid February on a mostly sunny, warm day. It was way better than I expected considering it parallels the Sun Coast Parkway. I've ridden trails before that are close to freeways and the road noise makes it unpleasant but this trail had buffers between it & the road and in many cases wasn't that close or maybe there wasn't enough traffic for me to notice (went mid day).
The northern third or so has quite a few hills and some curves and lots of pretty pine trees and sparse traffic. The northern Trail Head was nothing more than a parking lot--no shade, shelter, bathroom facilities, water, etc. So bring your own water, food and find your own place to relieve yourself.
The Trail Head off of Cortez (Brooksville/Spring Hill) was very pleasant with a nice building, indoor bathrooms, cold water, shelter, picnic tables, etc. Also, there's a huge overpass crossing Cortez which was kinda fun in & of itself. My car was just fine when I returned. The southern portion had more traffic on the parkway and was closer to it but still wasn't that bad. There was also an athletic field/park with facilities, shade, etc. The condition of the trail was very good all the way. I will definitely finish the southern half on my next FL visit.
What is the hold up on the connections between the Suncoast and the UTB Trail? I mean, heck, we've only been waiting for this silly thing for the last 9 years, since it was proposed! OK, I realize that the "wheels of Bureacracy turn slowly," but this is ridiculous! Come ON, people... 9 years? My grandmother could have done it by herself, by now! And she's been confined to a wheelchair for 15 years!!!
I cannot wait to ride my bike from Hillsborough Rd, in Tampa, aaaallll the way to Citrus County and beyond!!