Florida Gone Wild

Withlacoochee State Trail

Whether you are a birder, an equestrian, an avid athlete or simply someone who loves to be outside, the Withlacoochee State Trail, less than 100 miles west of Orlando, is a must-visit destination. From the farmland and ranches to sand hills and wetlands, the variation in scenery will certainly give visitors something to write home about.

The wildlife along the trail alone warrants a visit. Swallow-tail kites are known to live in the area, and you may find yourself sharing the trail with bird lovers from around the country who have come to catch a glimpse of these creatures. Keep your eyes out for other wildlife, including deer, alligators, raccoons and wild turkeys. There is no guarantee that you will spot a gopher tortoise along the Withlacoochee State Trail, but the odds are in your favor.

The Croom Tract, a 20,000-acre portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest, is home to a portion of the trail. Engulfed in longleaf pine and cypress forests, the stretch within the Croom Tract provides a glimpse into the biological diversity for which Florida is famous. The Silver Lake Recreation Area is a fantastic spot for a quick trailside picnic, or an overnight stay in one of the three campgrounds.

Photo by: Sean Enright

For much of its length, the trail parallels the Withlacoochee River, a state-designated paddling trail. The best place to catch river views and put in your canoe or kayak is a Nobleton Wayside Park, about eight miles south of Floral City. If paddling isn’t for you, you could also diversify your trail experience with the unpaved horse trail that runs the length of the Withlacoochee State Trail.

The Withlacoochee's length, popularity and proximity to numerous communities have given rise to seven trailheads, information kiosks, colorful murals and convenient parks. It was one of the first trails in the nation to be paved with a mix of asphalt and crumb rubber—from recycled automobile tires—giving trail users the pleasant sensation of walking, running and riding on air.

Although the trail makes for a long journey, food and drink are never too far as you travel through the towns of Citrus Springs, Inverness, Floral City, Isachatta and Trilby.

If you’re tired of trail mix and the desire for pizza takes over, you’ll find what you need at Little Italy in Inverness, just two blocks off the trail. Or, if a cold beer is more your style, try the Shamrock Inn, a friendly pub in Floral City. For any and all bike-related needs, don’t miss Hampton’s Edge Trailside Bicycles, where recumbent riders will feel especially at home.

After a day or two on the Withlacoochee State Trail, you’ll be left with only one question: When should I plan my next visit?

Photo by: Jodi Camino-Bailey
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