About this Itinerary
Located in west-central Florida, the Withlacoochee State Trail (WST) offers a paved, flat 46-mile route through several small towns and state parks, and runs parallel to the Withlacoochee River for much of its length. Once a rail line dating back to the 1800s, the stretch from Citrus Springs to Owensboro that includes the present-day bike trail was part of railroad entrepreneur Henry Plant’s west coast rail route. Today, the trail provides a tranquil, relatively crowd-free bike ride through ‘old Florida.’ While the WST can be done in a day, we recommend stretching the ride out to two days in order to have time to explore scenic wildlife areas along the way, including some of the best birding in the region. No trip to Florida is complete without spotting a gator, so keep your eyes peeled for those as well!
Located almost equidistant from Tampa or Orlando, fly to either city and drive about an hour and twenty minutes to Inverness (public transportation is not feasible). From Orlando, take the Florida Turnpike to 44 west. From Tampa, take FL-589 N to US-98 S. in Hernando County. Follow W. Stage Coach Trail and S. Pleasant Grove to Inverness.
The small town of Inverness is located roughly halfway along the WST and provides an ideal base to explore the northern section on one day and the southern section the next. We recommend staying at The Lake House. A small B&B located on Big Henderson Lake, the house is a restored 1930s-era fishing and hunting lodge surrounded by huge oaks and lush landscaped grounds. The property is close to Historic Downtown Inverness and the Withlacoochee State Trail, yet provides a tranquil refuge after a long day of riding. To reach the trailhead, located about 3 miles away, take a left on E. Gospel Island Road continuing along as the road becomes E. Vine Street, then turn left on N. Apopka Avenue after 1.7 miles. The trailhead is at 315 N. Apopka Avenue and is clearly marked with a red caboose. The route is through a residential/rural area and is not heavily trafficked. The trailhead has parking, restrooms and a drinking fountain to top off those water bottles.
Bicycle rentals are available at either Inverness Bicycle and Fitness or Suncoast Bicycles, both of which are located in the downtown area within two blocks of the trail. Be sure to call ahead to ensure availability and note that both shops are closed on Sundays (Inverness Bicycle’s is also closed on Mondays). While there are opportunities for picking up cold drinks along the route, we highly recommend bringing extra water as you set out on your ride. The temperatures in Florida should hardly be surprising to anyone, but even in the cooler winter months a cold morning start can quickly become hot by mid-day.
From the trailhead in Inverness, we recommend traveling north for the first day of riding. The trail is really very different north and south, with the south being more rural and offering more opportunities for exploration in natural areas. The northern route passes through residential areas, however, the forested trail provides a scenic route that blocks out most of the surroundings. There are mile markers all along the WST, so you will always know how far you are. After leaving Inverness, you will cross a canal joining two lakes, before finding yourself under a pleasant tree canopy. Continue along to Hernando and stop at a local favorite, Sabina’s Diner, where breakfast and lunch are served all day until 5 o’clock. Try the chicken fried steak or a refreshing ice cream float.
Past Hernando, Snow’s Country Market has cold drinks and snacks. Be sure to grab some fresh sweet fruit that likely was picked only hours earlier from one of the local farms (take right at N. Lecanto Highway and look for it on the north side of the street about a block down). Heading farther along, the trail runs parallel to Highway 41, but a dense tree-line buffer makes this much more pleasant than it sounds. The trail ends rather abruptly in Citrus Springs at a parking lot with restroom facilities.
On your return, be sure to spend time in Historic Downtown Inverness and visit the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Courthouse was built in 1912 and is now the headquarters of the Citrus County Historical Society. A small museum highlights the region’s history, including pioneer days and the impact of the citrus industry in the region. Visit Cooter Pond, a small but charming park located in the center of town. Stroll the boardwalk looking for local wildlife, including the namesake Cooter turtle, storks, egrets, herons, and possibly even alligators. Local legend has it that at the bottom of the lake are rail cars from a 1930s derailment.
Heading south from Inverness towards Floral City, the trail passes Fort Cooper State Park. The park is named after Major Mark Anthony Cooper, who in 1836 built a fort to protect the sick and wounded left behind during the Second Seminole War. The park offers almost 5 miles of walking trails and some of the best bird and wildlife viewing in the area. Look for alligators, turtles and pileated woodpeckers as you learn about Seminole life at one of the multiple interpretive stations located throughout the park. Restroom facilities are available.
Continuing along, you will approach Floral City (about 7 miles south of Inverness). Adjacent to the trail is The Shamrock Inn, a popular local spot where you can grab a sandwich or salad. Visit the Florida Artists Gallery located in the heart of downtownand see original artwork from local artists (continue north along Pine Avenue and it will be on your right past the WST). The attached cafe is also a good spot to grab a cup of coffee before biking onward.
While the Withlacoochee River runs alongside the trail for several miles in this southern section, the best opportunities to view the river are about 8 miles south of Floral City at Nobleton Wayside Park. Keep your eyes peeled for the swallow-tailed kite, a strikingly marked raptor native to the wetlands of this region that frequents this stretch of the river.
Farther along the trail, you will cross the Withlacoochee State Forest and Croom Wildlife Management Area. Cypress and large expanses of longleaf pine dominate the forest, which is home to bald eagle, fox squirrel and gopher tortoise. At the Ridge Manor Trailhead, you will find restroom facilities, as well as the only ‘hill’ on the route, the bridge crossing SR-50. The trail ends in Owensboro with parking, covered picnic tables, and restroom facilities.
Enjoy a leisurely ride back to Inverness with stops along the way to take in the scenery and spot wildlife. Once you arrive in Inverness, consider a diversion to cool off and leave Florida behind for a taste of Belgium. Lynn’s Ice Cream and Belgium Waffles, whose owners come from Antwerp, Belgium, have infused a little bit of their homeland in their tasty homemade treats. Located on Highway 44/Main Street, the shop is less than 2 miles from the bike trail, but we suggest using GPS to travel on local roads and avoid the traffic on this main route.
The day is yours to enjoy the region at your leisure. Take part in an iconic Florida experience on an airboat ride to see alligators and other native wildlife. In Inverness, explore the Withlacoochee River wetlands with Wild Bill’s Airboat Ride. Reserve a spot ahead for either a day or night adventure.
Located about a half hour west on FL-44 is the town of Crystal River, considered ‘Home of the Manatee.’ Get in the water to swim or snorkel with these gentle giants in the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge. River Ventures will take you on a 3-hour guided tour and ensure that whether you chose to snorkel, swim or watch from the boat, you will gain a greater appreciation for these amazing creatures. This is a perfect family adventure as the tour is open to all ages and wetsuits are available for kids as young as two. For a less ‘hands-on’ experience, walk the boardwalk at the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge and see manatees from above and learn more about them at the visitor center’s interpretation center.
In Crystal River, visit Copp Winery and Brewery to enjoy a pint of handcrafted beer or a glass of wine produced in Citrus County with domestic and imported grapes. Popular with locals, this is a fun place to stop before heading out for dinner. A light snack menu of cheeses and pretzels is available as well as a small sandwich selection.
Specializing in fresh local fish and meats, Vintage on 5th in downtown Crystal River offers a tranquil spot to relax with a glass of wine from their extensive selection. Located in a 1940s era renovated church, the restaurant features beautiful outside seating on a wrap-around porch, in the courtyard area, or inside in the pine-wood dining room.
Traveling 40 miles southeast of Inverness you will find the ultimate ‘old Florida’ experience. In Spring Hill, visit Weeki Wachee Springs, the City of Live Mermaids, one of Florida’s oldest and most unique roadside attractions. From your vantage point in Mermaid Theater, immerse yourself in the underwater world of mermaids as you watch them swim and play in their magical underwater world. This is vintage family entertainment at its finest!
Back in Inverness, try one of the best dining establishments in the area for your evening meal. At McLeod House Bistro, located in a charming 100 year-old house, you can enjoy lunch or dinner in one of the cozy indoor dining nooks or outside on the deck under the 100 year-old oak. Reservations recommended.
For a taste of local seafood, try Stumpknockers on the Square, located in the center of Inverness, or its sister property Stumpknockers on the River in Dunnellon (near the northern terminus of the WST). Stumpknocker refers to a small fish that are found around cypress stumps in the Withlacoochee River and have long been a part of Southern fishing lore. The menu reflects this Southern fishing tradition, with typical Floridian fare such as catfish, frog legs, sea scallops, steaks, and gator in a relaxed, casual setting.