<--More Absolutely Florida
Hiking and Nature Trails
of West Central Florida

by Jim and Cynthia Tunstall

Many trails are on elevated wooden walkways.
If hiking in West Central Florida, you’ll experience sandhills, prairies, coastal scrubs, hydric swamps, hardwood hammocks and a nice assortment of other upland areas.

Tampa/St. Pete
The hike around Fort De Soto, and up and down its steps, provides solid exercise with your history lesson. A one-mile interpretative nature trail takes you through scrub and mangrove terrain at the Arrowhead Picnic Area near North Beach at Fort De Soto Park.

For a peaceful brush with nature and six miles of hiking and biking trails, head to
Boyd Hill Nature Center at 1101 Country Club Way 893-7326. Beneath oak canopies you can picnic, play on the playground, visit caged birds, spot butterflies, visit the nature center, and stroll in quietude. Admission to trails is $1 for adults, 50¢ for children ages 3-17.

The 47-mile
Pinellas Trail, 464-4751, begins in downtown St. Petersburg at 34th Street and Eighth Ave S, then heads north through city, town and country following an old railroad route. You can hike, bike, jog, or skate it.

For a quiet nature walk in the city, head to
McKay Nature Park at Crosstown Expressway and 34th Street, a 150-acre refuge for more than 180 species of birds and other wildlife. Trails head into uplands habitat.

Sarasota Area
Longboat Key:
Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) at 4801 E Fowler Ave, 987-6300 or (800) 998-MOSI, has three miles of back woods trails where you can hike and experience local habitat. Walkers, runners, cyclists, and skaters all take to the 2.2-mile trail in 126-acre Al Lopez Park at 4810 N Himes Ave. You can take a leisurely hike around the cypress swamp wildlife boardwalk at Lettuce Lake Park, 6920 Fletcher Ave, 987-6204. It also has a bike path and fitness course. $1 donation per car suggested. Eureka Springs on Eureka Springs Rd, near the junction of Interstate 4 and Hwy 301, 744-5536, has trails and boardwalks to hike, as well as a lovely botanical garden, greenhouse, and picnic area.

Lido Beach
South Lido Beach, trails take you through woodsy parts into the swampland of Brushy Bayou.
The Longboat Key bike path crosses the New Pass Bridge and continues for a few miles through Lido Key s northern residential section.

Oscar Scherer State Recreation Area at 1843 S Tamiami Trail 483-5956, has more than five miles of nature trails, plus bike paths, which allow you to witness nature and wildlife along with your exercise. A one mile-plus nature trail accommodates disabled persons and includes audio speakers and a butterfly observation area. During winter season, rangers lead bird walks.

Myakka River State Park on Rte. 72, 361-6511, is treasured by both bikers and hikers. It offers extensive nature trails, a bird walk, and close to 40 miles of wilderness backpacking trail through prairies, hammocks, and pine flatwoods. Bobcats, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, deer, and turkeys inhabit the less traveled areas of the park not accessible to motorists. Seven miles of road wind through the park for cyclists, who often incorporate the scenic ride into longer treks along Route 72. Bike rental rates range from $4 for two hours to $18 for a full day.

Withlacoochee State Forest Area
The Withlacoochee State Trail, 352-394-2280, is one of Citrus County’s better known trails. It’s part of Florida’s Rails to Trails program under which the state bought rights to an abandoned railroad right of way, then paved a 47-mile stretch from county line to county line with recycled rubber. It goes through parts of the Withlacoochee State Forest and parallels US 41 and the Withlacoochee River.

Additional hiking trails in the region include:

Withlacoochee State Forest, Citrus Hiking Trail, 352-754-6777, 46.7 miles. This is a mainly uplands trail, through scrub oaks and pine lands, that in most areas is paved and skirts US 41. The 16-mile Croom Trail has a few prairies, rolling hills, ravines and hardwood hammocks through a region that in the 1890s was the site of a prosperous phosphate operation. The forest’s Richloam Tract has 33 miles of hiking paths reaching through pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks and cypress swamps.

Fort Cooper State Park, 352-726-0315, 10 miles of trails, with interpretive plaques explaining the fort’s importance during the Second Seminole Indian War.

The Crystal River State Archaeological Site, 352-795-3817, at 3400 N. Museum Drive, two miles of trails through ancient Indian mounds that were built long before that world traveler, Chris Columbus, was born.

Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland, 352-493-6072, 8 miles of trails as well as a boardwalk and dock that reach into the Suwannee River. The main attraction is a first-magnitude spring (117 million gallons of water per day). The park has a 1,200-foot run to the river, making it a scuba divers’ and snorkelers’ favorite. The spring was described by William Bartram in his 1774 writings. The property has cypress, gum, maple, ash and sandhill. Otters, raccoons, wading birds and other small mammals live here. Manatees make occasional appearances, too.

Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, 813-834-3247, 10500 Wilderness Park Road, New Port Richey, 16 miles of trails through an 8,300-acre park.

Southwest Florida Water Management District offers these trails:
The Green Swamp has 20 miles of trails that occasionally come across the Withlacoochee River and wetlands.

Little Withlacoochee Flood Detention Area, 352-629-8162. Yes, most places call it a flood retention area. Detention sounds like you’re being made to stay after school. That aside, there are 30 miles of trails waiting, so maybe you don’t mind being kept after. The trails move through flatwoods, swampy stands of cypress, bayheads and hammocks in a spring region that is a vital recharge zone for the Floridan aquifer, the main drinking water supplier for folks who live in Central Florida.

Pott’s Preserve, 800-423-1476, 24 miles of trails, including a boardwalk through hammocks, wetlands and marshes. The trails are within 20,000 acres of land owned by the district.

Flying Eagle Tract, 800-423-1476, has 15 miles of trails that pass through a mosaic of small lakes, marshes, swamps and upland forests.

Cypress Creek, seven miles of paths through cypress, hardwood, ridge, slash pine and palmetto areas.

The Upper Hillsborough, 24 miles of trails in a site decorated with slash and longleaf pines, flatwoods and palmetto/gallberry stands along the namesake river’s floodplain.
You can get a copy of the district’s recreational guide by calling 800-423-1476 or writing to 2379 Broad St., Brooksville, FL 34609-6899.

Click for West Central Florida Camping Directory
More Great Links:

Florida Recreation
Florida State Parks
Florida Wildlife

For directions, call Florida Trail Association
800-343-1882 (in Florida) or 352-378-8823
P.O. Box 13708, Gainesville, FL 32604.

Office of Greenways & Trails
850-487-4784, Mail Station 795,
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000.

or try the mapping service below (some remote areas not available)

A Snowy Egret visiting Myakka River State Park.

One warning before you move on: Any time you venture into a state forest (not a state park) or conservation area there's a chance of encountering hunters. Call or write in advance for hunting seasons as well as a detailed booklet on the districtís properties (P.O. Box 1429, Palatka, FL 32178-1429).