INVERNESS — Cruising the Withlacoochee State Trail on a cool Sunday morning, not another rider in sight, it is safe to say Florida's longest paved trail is the best-kept secret on the North Suncoast.
Locals know and love this bike path. But for this city slicker from the major metropolitan area of Greater Tampa Bay, this is a dream come true. Head here on a weekday, and it might seem as if you have all 46 miles to yourself.
The trail is ideal for triathletes and competitive cyclists looking for a long, hard training ride. For families, especially those looking for a "nature" ride, the Withlacoochee State Trail is must-see as well.
You can thank railroad magnate Henry Plant for clearing the land that eventually became the trail. Work started in the late 1800s, and ownership changed several times over the years. In 1989, CSX sold the right-away from Citrus Springs to Owensboro Junction, 6 miles north of Dade City, to the State of Florida.
The old railroad was one of the first corridors of its kind to be purchased by the Florida Rails to Trails Program and converted for recreational use. This trail is generally flat, but a handful of hills keep it interesting.
The trail is well-marked, and there are numerous places to stop and visit some local history, including the Inverness Depot, which was built in 1892.
Also, be sure to leave time for some great side trips — hiking the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest, paddling the Withlacoochee River Canoe Trail or checking out the history at nearby Fort Cooper State Park.