Get outdoors with locals on Tampa Bay area bicycle trails

Local residents and tourists are hitting Tampa Bay area bike trails more than ever it seems, and there are plenty of great reasons why this is happening. 

For more than a decade, community and state leaders have been improving existing greenways and trails as well as building new ones that cater to recreational weekend bikers and diehard cycling enthusiasts alike. 

These trails range from short, off-road paths to paved courses sweeping the lengths of entire counties. 

While there are dozens of fantastic places to blaze along on your bike, here’s a list of six excellent bike trails and parks, and why local cyclists of various skill levels enjoy them. 

Upper Tampa Bay Trail

The Upper Tampa Bay Trail winds through picturesque woodlands in northwest Hillsborough County, stretching from a point near Memorial Highway and Montague Street in Westchase northward past Ehrlich Road to Peterson Road Park. Upper Tampa Bay Trail offers restrooms, an ADA-accessible picnic area, and enclaves designated for fishing and watching birds, so this trail is perfect for taking little breaks during a ride. 

“I ride here often because the location is so convenient,” says avid bicyclist Laura Ritzko. 

The trail’s 7-mile length may be ideal for newer cyclists and those who enjoy taking shorter, more leisurely jaunts. However, those who prefer long-distance rides might want to saddle up on another trail. 

“In order to get a decent ride in, I have to ride [Upper Tampa Bay Trail] end to end several times,” Ritzko adds.

Plans are in the works to build an 8-mile-long connection with the Suncoast Trail, which meanders through Pasco and Hernando counties. 

Suncoast Trail

This 41-mile path offers one of the best opportunities for Tampa Bay-area bikers to enjoy some long-range cycling.

But it’s much more than simply a paved bike path paralleling much of the Suncoast Parkway – it’s a nature-friendly trail that winds through some of the most beautiful woodland and agricultural landscaping in West Central Florida. Rest areas and signage pay homage to the trail’s history and help to ecologically integrate the path with its natural environs. 

Ritzko, who loves the path’s long length, warns the popular trail can get crowded in the early morning hours. But she’s enthralled with other aspects of the trail, including the Suncoast’s paved extension to Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in western Pasco County. 

“I love this section, and I always ride it when I’m [on] the Suncoast Trail,” Ritzko says. “The Starkey Trail ends at a picnic pavilion with restrooms and water fountains, and I usually stop there before heading back,” she explains. 

The Suncoast Trail also offers several trailheads, providing convenient access for bikers residing throughout the region. 

Pinellas Trail

The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, often referred to simply as the Pinellas Trail, is a 47-mile-long path that connects Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. This award-winning linear park, which was developed along an abandoned railway corridor, is one of the most popular greenspaces in all of Pinellas County. The trail’s convenient location frequently lures bicyclist Shawn Stapleton. 

“I live just a block or so from the trail, so it’s a natural, safe place for me to exercise.” 

Stapleton, who averages nine to 12 miles per ride, also enjoys the aesthetics of the trail. 

“The trees and shrubbery are trimmed, and the asphalt is in good shape.” 

Additionally, there are several bike rental shops located within close proximity of the Pinellas Trail, and amenities include rest stops with restrooms and drinks, parking plazas and scenic side stops designated for nature viewing. 

Courtney Campbell Trail

The Courtney Campbell bike trail provides pedestrians and bicyclists with breathtaking views of Tampa Bay. The path is being built in two phases, with the first 5-mile path spanning from Rocky Point to the Hillsborough/Pinellas County line. The next phase, which is slated to open later in 2015, will add four more miles to the trail and link up with Bayshore Boulevard in Clearwater. 

“I have ridden the Courtney Campbell Trail several times – at least a half dozen now – and love it!” exclaims Stapleton. 

The path features a 45-foot-high bridge and connects to Ben T. Davis Beach, Cypress Point Park, and Skyway Park.

“The scenic nature of the trail is second-to-none, and the bridge is constructed in such a way that it’s navigable even for a guy like me, who is still working on getting in shape,” adds Stapleton. 

Fort De Soto Park

Five interconnected islands make up Fort De Soto Park, a 1,136-acre paradise located south of mainland St. Petersburg that’s perfect for nature lovers. The park may be famous for its award-winning beach and historic, 19th-century fort, but it’s also an ideal place to enjoy a bike ride. 

Katya Weikel, who describes herself as a recreational bicyclist, says she loves the beach, which is one reason she’s drawn to the Fort De Soto trail. 

“You can smell the sea breeze as it hits your face there,” she remarks. 

In some places at Fort De Soto, the paved path is just a few dozen yards from the shoreline, creating an atmosphere that, as Weikel says, can help inspire someone to get on their bike and hit the trail. 

“For people who may not be turned onto biking on a typical trail, Fort De Soto is a great place to start – especially for someone who doesn’t want a difficult path,” Weikel adds. 

Fort De Soto offers 6.8 miles of paved trails, which take bikers through much of the park. The grounds also offer restrooms, drink and snack concessions, and bike rentals. While a $5 daily parking fee is collected from all who enter Fort De Soto Park by motor vehicle, entry is free to those who pass the pay booth on their bicycles.

Flatwoods Park

Flatwoods Park in Thonotosassa offers a taste of the wilderness just a stone’s throw from Tampa’s urban scene. The park offers a 7-mile paved, multiuse trail that winds through woodlands and provides plenty of opportunities for nature watchers to catch a glimpse of birds and other small animals. The park, situated off Morris Bridge Road, has a 2-mile paved extension that connects the main loop path with Bruce B. Downs Road in the vicinity of the Hunter’s Green neighborhood. 

While Flatwoods Park offers paved trails, it also has some off-road paths to challenge riders like Ritzko, who enjoys biking on more rugged terrain. 

“This is the only place I’ve ridden my beautiful mountain bike since I moved to Florida,” says the former Philadelphian. 

Along with paved and off-road trails, the 5,400-acre park offers picnic shelters, grills, and a restroom facility.

Before you go riding

No matter what Tampa Bay area bike trails you plan to navigate, there are some basic rules and rider etiquette that will help make the cruise safer for you and more enjoyable for those you’re sharing the path with. These guidelines include: 
  • Following the speed limit – Riding a bike doesn’t provide immunity from speed laws. Virtually all paths have speed limits. In the City of Tampa, for example, bike trails have a 15-mph speed limit unless otherwise posted. 
  • Riding responsibly – Ride with the flow of traffic and cycle in a predictable pattern. So, avoid weaving, frequent stops and other maneuvers that may make it difficult for other bikers to enjoy the trail.
  • Abiding by the same rules as motorists – This custom particularly applies to bicyclists who prefer road paths; if you’re sharing the road with motorists, be sure to stop at red lights and yield to pedestrians. 

For more information about trail etiquette, check out the safety and education page on the City of Tampa’s greenway and trails website

Further information about Tampa Bay area trails, trail maps, and more can be found at TrailLink.  

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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