I recommend the Withlacoochee State Trail in central Florida. It’s 46 miles of paved goodness! My husband and I rode it in both directions on a three-day adventure in February 2014.
We started out by driving to the Crooked River Campground, in the Withlacoochee State Forest, and setting up our tent and eating some lunch. The campground is located within the Silver Lake Recreation Area at mile marker 9 of the trail. We spent the afternoon riding the 9 miles to the southern end and back up to our campsite. We saw a lot of gopher tortoise holes, one actual gopher tortoise, and very few people, even at the campground. Quite a rainstorm hit that evening, including hail. We ended up eating the cold, precooked dinner we had brought from home, in our car. It was actually quite good cold!
The next morning was chilly; and, we discovered to our horror, we had forgotten to bring coffee! We ate a quick breakfast, stashed the camping gear in the car, packed up the bikes with our necessities, and parked our car in an okayed overnight spot. Then we headed north on the trail in search of the holy cuppa joe. Not too far away, situated near the trail, was the tiny town of Nobelton. We made a beeline for it. We found two restaurants: River Rats, which we later heard is very good, and the Riverside Café, which we went to because it looked warmer. We lingered over their delicious coffee.
We rode back to the trail and continued north through swampy woodlands full of cypress trees, pine forest, and small horse ranches. It was very scenic. We stopped for some trailside bakery treats in Floral City and browsed in the nearby bike shop, Hampton’s Edge. They have a lot of recumbents.
The weather stayed cloudy and chilly, so we decided to try to find some soup in Inverness and warm up our cold hands. I'm so glad we found a great little Italian bakery/deli/café called Little Italy there. Great soup, and the pizza was some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s at 124 North Apopka Avenue, only a block or two away from the trail.
We continued onward and eventually arrived at the northern trailhead, which is just south of Dunnellon. As I had neglected to find out in advance how to get from this point to Dunnellon, and there was no one around to ask, we just headed north and east until we found US 41. This included a short hike along some train tracks ("All part of the fun, darling!"). The highway was busy, but had wide berm, except on the bridge, which had a sidewalk. Our destination was the Angler’s Resort, an older, circa 1957, motel/bait-and-tackle/boat rental/restaurant/tiki bar place. The motel building was very clean and comfortable, but run down. They are planning to tear down the old motel part and rebuild later this year. My husband loved the fact that the motel office was located in the tackle shop.
The next morning we had a delightful breakfast at Carmela’s right next door. Then we loaded up the bikes and rode south, back to the Crooked River Campground at Silver Lake. The sun was in full force this day, and even though the temperature was only a little bit higher, it felt much, much warmer out. This time we stopped at The Ferris Groves farm stand in Floral City for a strawberry milkshake and some fresh orange juice. There is a path leading right up to it from the bike trail. We also enjoyed relaxing at the park along the trail in Inverness.
Back at the campground, we set up the tent, cooked our dinner, and relaxed. I would enjoy doing this ride again someday!
Tip for this adventure: Don’t miss the Little Italy bakery/deli/cafe in Inverness.
Favorite bike shop: Cycle Path Bicycles in Athens, Ohio.