Lots of great photos to give you a good idea of what riding here is like!Suncoast Trail
If I were surfing the internet, looking for a place to drive or fly to in order to have a great bike touring experience, I would hope that I would happen along this review. You see, the Suncoast trail was built as a recreational trail in conjunction with the construction of the Suncoast Parkway. Most great rails to trails projects have several things in common; they pass through small towns as well as interesting terrain. This gives one plenty of opportunities to stop, look, listen and my favorite, have a few cold ones at quaint pubs. The Suncoast doesn't measure up with the best of the best - sadly it offers little if any commerce or facilities along its 42-mile length. It just can't compete with the epic rails to trails projects like the Pinellas Trail in Florida or the North Bend Rail Trail State Park in WV, just to name two. But don't despair, because it does offer is a great opportunity for a surprisingly enjoyable, interesting, at times scenic and long ride for those within a few hours drive of a trailhead.
After dropping off a car at the southern terminus, Kelli and I drove north along the Suncoast Parkway to the northern terminus. Along the way we had a great view of the trail, as it roughly parallels the parkway. Kelli mentioned that she almost didn’t want to look, wanting the trail to be a surprise when we rode it.
Before too long, we arrived at the current end of the Suncoast Parkway and the rather unpublicized current northern terminus. As I write this, the official site of the Suncoast Parkway fails to indicate the Phase II construction that ads an additional 12 miles north to SR 98. The northern terminus is just down the road to the west (left) of the exit.
Gearing up, we were ready to ride! 42 miles awaited! I honestly had expectations of a ride that would just “give us something to do on our day off”. What I didn’t expect was what immediately greeted us. The northern section of the trail is really quite beautiful. Not Spanish mountains and olive fields below beautiful mind you, but really unexpected beautiful. For a trail that runs in near proximity to a freeway, you never would have guessed that it would look like this. The sides of the trail were often raised and planted with pines, wispy wild grasses and other native Florida plantings. The trail even surprised us with rolling elevation changes and turns – two rarities in even the best Florida rail trails. The freeway wasn’t even that busy on this particular day in this area, so noise was at a minimum.
We crossed up and over a colossal bridge created for trail users to pass over SR 50. It is really nice to see our tax dollars used for something so nice! At the bottom of the bridge was the second trailhead facility heading south. We stopped for a few pictures and a bathroom break, exchanged some pleasantries with a couple of walkers and we were off again.
After a few more miles of hills, turns and nice scenery our mini-utopia ended at the Pasco County line. From this point, we encountered straight trail with only chain fence between the parkway and us. Throughout the length of this trail, there is often something interesting to look at on the side opposite the parkway – but not in this section. Old trailers, run-down houses and cow pastures were the flavor here. After a short break for a sandwich (there are many nice benches and picnic areas along the trail) we were off again.
We never did see the trailhead at Crews Lake Park just north of SR 52. It must be a short distance off of the trail. After we reached SR 52, the terrain began changing again – for the better. The trail still was close to the parkway, but now replacing the trailers and cow fields to our right were small lakes and wooded areas. It was really quite a nice change. As we transitioned into a wetlands-swamp terrain, Kelli spotted two alligators! As we passed over two “rivers” the terrain to our right was reminiscent of what I imagine to be Cambodia - very jungle-like and swampy. It doesn’t sound too attractive, but it actually was. It was yet another change in terrain. Cyprus trees draped with Spanish moss and multiple wading birds could be seen for several miles.
Somewhere around 4-miles from the southern terminus the terrain changed again – this time for the worse. The now (closer to Tampa) noisy parkway is close to the trail, over our opposite shoulder was flat undistinguishable cow pastures. We put the hammer down and blew through the last three miles.
Woohoo! We finished! Back at our car, Kelli let out an exclamation that made me think she was having a coronary! “AUUUUUUOOOOAAAAUUUGGGGHHHH”, she exclaimed while holding her hands on her cheeks much like the Home Alone kid. “What’s wrong?” I said. “I left my key in my purse in the other car!” Kelli cried out. My response was something like “awwwwww f#@k” (under my breath of course). Being an adventurer accustomed to situations where it all becomes just “POTA” (Part Of The Adventure), I said rather distraught, “Okay, let’s ride back”. 42 MORE miles awaited, and it was getting late. We probably had about an hour at most of daylight.
In a desperate attempt to salvage things, we ran through a list friends who could potentially bail us out with a ride. The list was short – and the short list was all out of town for the holiday weekend. 42 more miles…… It was making me tired already. Kelli, in a panic asked an older gentleman who had just arrived back from a ride if he would shuttle her to the northern terminus – 42 miles and around $3.50 in tolls away. To my happiness and surprise, he didn’t hesitate to offer a ride!
Long story short, I was sitting in a bar a couple of hours later having several beers with my forgetful adventure wife and enjoying every bit of our POTA.
More freeway projects should budget for the construction of multi-use trails like this.
The Suncoast Trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide Greenways and Trails System. Opened in 2001, this non-motorized paved trail was developed as part of the Suncoast Parkway. Paralleling the parkway, the trail begins in northern Hillsborough County and proceeds north through Pasco and Hernando counties, traversing suburban, agricultural and natural areas. Throughout the trail, rest/interpretive areas illustrate historical significance, emphasize transitions between ecological communities and identify native species. Among the trail’s highlights is the segment adjacent to the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve. This section crosses various rivers and creeks, including the Anclote and Pithlachascotee, and provides views of beautiful natural communities. The Suncoast Trail will eventually serve as a key regional connector, linking to other projects such as the Good Neighbor Trail, the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and the Pinellas Trail.