Picture of cyclists riding the Overseas Heritage Trail

Cyclists ride the Overseas Heritage Trail, a multiuse bicycle and pedestrian trail that, when complete, will stretch from Key Largo to Key West, following the footprint of the historic Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West extension.

Photograph by Steven Martine, National Geographic Travel

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Florida’s expanding network of multiuse recreational trails provides safe passage for cyclists who want to avoid sharing the road with motorized vehicles. Choose a paved pathway and start pedaling to roll along the state’s bike-friendly flat terrain and gently rolling hills.

Withlacoochee State Trail, Inverness

On this 46-mile pathway, the section you choose will determine your view: Horse farms dot the southern end, cypress swamps and shady oaks fill the middle, and pine trees and scrub oaks line the upper portions. Bike the new 2.5-mile Dunnellon Trail extension on the northern end to cross the Withlacoochee River and parallel the crystalline spring waters of the Rainbow River.

Blackwater Heritage State Trail, Milton

Pedal back in time to the early 1900s, when this 8.1-mile rail-to-trail was part of the Florida and Alabama Railroad built to haul lumber from the surrounding longleaf pine forests to a sawmill in Bagdad, Florida. “The lumber camps that were stops along the route became the first towns in the area,” says Blackwater River State Park manager Ferlain Hoover. “When the rail line shut down in the 1930s, it wasn’t long before the United States Navy reopened it to build Whiting Field, a training facility for World War II pilots.”

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, Key Largo to Craig Key

When complete, this multiuse bicycle and pedestrian trail will stretch 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West along the U.S. 1 Highway corridor, following the footprint of the historic Florida East Coast Railway’s Key West extension. The current trail totals more than 70 miles and is divided into segments that include several historic railroad bridges. To pedal the longest, continuous section of paved trail, start at Mile Marker 106 at Key Largo and bike south to Mile Marker 72 at Islamorada. Highlights of this Upper Keys section include John Pennekamp Coral Reef State ParkWindley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, and, if the weather cooperates, a light breeze at your back.

TRAVEL TIPS

What to Bring: Sections of each trail have few facilities. For safety's sake, tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return; wear sunscreen and a bike helmet; and pack water, snacks, a cell phone, a trail map, and bug spray.

Practical Tip: The Florida Bicycle Association maintains a list of bike shops across the state. Call or visit a local shop for information about bike rentals and repairs.

Best Bet: October is the best month to photograph blooming native flowers on the Blackwater Heritage State Trail.

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