Photograph by Steven Martine, National Geographic Travel
Many of Florida’s most remote wilderness and wildlife areas are accessible via pedal power. Taking the road less traveled, however, does come with some risk. To stay safe, always bike with a buddy, wear a helmet, and ride under control so you’re able to steer clear of any alligators, turtles, or other critters that may cross your path.
Munson Hills Off-Road Bike Trail, Apalachicola National Forest, Leon County
Winding through the low sandhill habitat of the Apalachicola National Forest, it’s easy to forget you’re only minutes away from downtown Tallahassee. Follow the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail south to the Munson Hills trailhead. The 21 miles of mainly red-clay single-track includes Munson Loop (seven miles), Twilight Loop (ten miles), and connector routes, and features frequent animal sightings. “This is a great place to view rare wildlife,” says Mike Yaun, president of the Tallahassee Mountain Bike Association. “Look for Sherman's fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, [and] red-cockaded woodpeckers, as well as more common wildlife such as deer and turkey.”
Croom Tract, Withlacoochee State Forest, Brooksville
Croom Tract’s 50 miles of easy to advanced all-weather trails offers a remote wilderness biking experience for mountain bikers of any level. For newer, intermediate-level riders: a 12-mile loop through live oak thickets and oak hammocks. For seasoned riders: steep climbs and daring drop-offs in an abandoned lime pit. “The Croom Tract trails offer a wonderful wilderness experience if you pay close attention to the natural signs around you,” says Lita Nell Hart, recreation administrator for the Florida Forest Service. “Watch for butterflies, deer, quail, squirrels, bobcats, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and migratory and nonmigratory birds.”
Shark Valley Tram Road, Everglades National Park
This isn’t off-road and the terrain is flat, but pedaling a 15-mile loop through the Everglades definitely qualifies as a wild ride. The route is the same one used by Shark Valley Tram Tours (bikers ride in the opposite direction), and provides up-close views of alligators, herons, snakes, and other wildlife. Rental bikes are available on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 8:30 a.m. Allow two to three hours to complete the loop, including a rest stop midway at the observation tower.
Practical Tip: Time your ride to be off the trail by sundown (or park closing time), and know your surroundings. Since remote trails may not have cell service, print out a trail map in advance or pick one up at the trailhead, ranger station, or visitor center.
Safety Warning: The Croom Tract is part of the Croom Wildlife Management Area, where hunting occurs seasonally. Check trailhead kiosks and/or visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website for hunting dates and details.
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