Last Saturday morning I had a rare opportunity to (finally) get in some two-wheeled exploration of the Tampa Bay area. With a rather long laundry list of cycling venues to choose from, I decided to break my Big Guava cycling cherry on the Suncoast Trail.
The 41 mile long Suncoast Trail is a multi-use paved recreational trail which runs adjacent to the Suncoast Parkway. Opened in 2001, this non-motorized paved trail was developed as part of the Suncoast Parkway and is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide Greenways and Trails System. 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.
It has seven points of access/trailheads throughout it’s length. I chose to start at the second trailhead located on state road 54, which is 2.5 miles in from the southern terminus. This trailheads offers abundant parking as well as easy access to Suncoast Crossings, which features restaurants, coffee shops, department stores as well as a full featured bike shop, right across the street. I was going to park at the shopping plaza, but found plenty of space at the actual trail head, which was chock full of cyclists, runners, and triathletes prepping for their day on the trail.
Not wanting to loose out on the cool morning temperature, I readied my bike in record time, and was on the trail before sunrise. The trail itself has a smooth rolling, seamless asphalt surface about as wide as a full car lane. There are two very distinct portions to the trail. The section south of State Road 50 is arrow straight, running in close proximity to the expressway, yet buffered by the landscape to mask the noise of the traffic. Only on a handful of overpasses do you actually come close enough to the traffic to notice it, all the while still being separated by a concrete barrier and fence. This section is flat, but not the “pan flat” we are used to in SW Florida, as it has a very gentle roll to it.
Upon reaching State Road 50, heralded by a rather impressive bridge, the entire complexity of the trail transforms into a meandering rolling ride through the countryside. This section of the trail is unexpectedly beautiful. For a trail that runs in near proximity to a freeway, I never would have guessed that it would look like this. The sides of the trail were often raised and planted with pines and old oak trees providing ample shade. The trail even challenges you with rolling elevation changes and turns which will keep you in your small chain ring…rarities in even the best Florida rail trails. Unfortunately the northern most terminus was under reconstruction so I was unable to reach the end, but without a doubt, the northern section of the trail is it’s crown jewel.
The Suncoast Trail is not a true rails-to-trails as say the Pinellas Trail or the Withlacoochee State Trail. The quaint towns and interesting areas that are usually found along rail trails are nonexistent here. Nonetheless it is a great and picturesque training course offering a little of everything, safely isolated from traffic allowing you to tuck your head and time trial your way through it, or just relax and enjoy the scenery. I know I’ll be doing a little of both from here on out.
Saturday, Sep 7
Route: Suncoast Trail
Ride Time: 4:24:28
Stopped Time: 33:36
Distance: 74.51 miles
Average: 16.90 mph
Fastest Speed: 35.95 mph
Cycle This Month: 158.93 miles
Cycle This Year: 3795.88 miles