Friday, November 9, 2012

Withlacoochee State Trail

For those who love spending time outside, the rails-to-trails movement is one of the most positive developments of the last quarter century. And fortunately for us, our region is home to one of that movement’s crowning achievements.

The Withlacoochee State Trail starts in Pasco County and runs north all the way through Hernando County, continuing into Citrus County before coming to an end after 46 miles. Bicyclists are its most common users, seeing as how it is twelve feet wide and paved with a mixture of asphalt and recycled tire rubber, but hikers should also make a point to get out and enjoy it. One of the trail’s main assets is that it takes you through every aspect of rural Florida -- not just deep woods, but also the open, rolling countryside that is home to cattle ranches and small towns:

The beginning is in Trilby, a Faulkneresque dot on the map (population 419) where the trail passes beside this quaint post office:

After about five miles the Withlacoochee utilizes the bridge pictured below to cross over State Road 50. On the opposite side sits the extremely popular Ridge Manor Trailhead.

Three miles further north, the trail passes the entrance to Silver Lake Recreation Area and proceeds to enter the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest. Many users consider Croom to be the prettiest and most tranquil section of the entire trail. Here are a couple pictures I took while walking there last Sunday:

Wildlife viewing can be very productive on the Withlacoochee. In the morning, late afternoon, and evening it is common to see deer munching on trailside grass, and in spring and summer it is almost impossible to spend any time here without seeing swallow-tailed kites soaring overhead. Back in 2003, I incorporated Withlacoochee walks into my recovery from surgery, and on almost every visit during that time, I saw the same barred owl perched in one tree or another just north of the Ridge Manor Trailhead.

Trailside amenities, which include covered picnic tables and clean restroom facilities, are another positive feature of the Withlacoochee. Most people will agree that relieving one’s self in the brush is much less ideal than doing so in here:

I have not walked the trail’s farthest miles north of Hernando, i.e., the ones that extend beyond what most people would consider the Tampa Bay area. Those miles are surely worth experiencing, but from what I understand, some of them run fairly close to U.S. 41 and therefore might not seem as wild as the Pasco and Hernando sections. It is also worth noting that the northernmost miles pass through the towns of Istachatta, Floral City, Inverness, and Citrus Springs. An alluring sign in the woods just south of Floral City states: “Shamrock Inn – Good Food – Cold Beer – Next Left.”

To reach the Withlacoochee’s southernmost access points, take exit 293 from I-75 and drive east for 2.6 miles. Then, turn left onto Pasco County Road 575 and continue six miles to Trilby. This route is so winding and hilly you might find yourself wondering if you got transported to Northern Georgia or Western Maryland or some other non-Florida locale.

In Trilby, there is parking for a few vehicles at the spot where the trail crosses the road next to the post office pictured above, about a mile north of the trail’s actual beginning. If you want to start from the actual beginning, keep driving past the post office, turn right at the flashing light, and continue until you see the trailhead on your right.

To reach the Ridge Manor Trailhead, take exit 301 from I-75, drive east for a mile on State Road 50, and turn left onto Croom Rital Road. The trailhead will be on your right and is very obvious because of its ample parking lot. FYI, its facilities are considerably more immaculate than those at the first two trailheads.

For what it’s worth, however, my personal favorite place to hop on the Withlacoochee is at a spot on Croom Rital Road several miles north of the Ridge Manor Trailhead. If you just keep driving, you will enter the borders of the state forest and come to my preferred trailhead at a spot where the road turns left and is crossed by the trail. There is parking for a few cars both before and after the crossing.

Happy Trails!

Update, 11/19/12: Less than two weeks ago the "facilities" at the trailhead by the Trilby post office consisted of a port-a-let. But yesterday, when I walked from there to the Ridge Manor Trailhead, the port-a-let was while Ridge Manor continues to be kind of a lap of luxury with flush toilets, hot water sinks, and multiple picnic tables, the Trilby post office trailhead has gone from being one of modest facilities to one of no facilities. I will let you know if that ever changes.


  1. Rail trails are great things - and I'm always surprised at just how extensive the networks were before they were closed down by the car. I wonder if the price of oil will ever cause then to be opened up again.

    Stewart M - Australia

  2. We have the "rails to trails" movement in Utah, too. It's a great way to find room for urban paths.
    I love the quaint post office and the pic with the wildflowers.

  3. What gorgeous pictures!! It is such a joy to be in the wilderness and spend time with nature. Would love to spend some quiet time there, the captures are very inviting.