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Gasparilla Island is a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Gasparilla Sound/Charlotte Harbor. The Boca Grande Rail Trail - considered Florida's first rail-trail - runs the length of the island on an old Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railway right of way. Wide, flat and nicely landscaped in spots, this is a pleasant ride for recreational bikers on cruisers, but probably not so much for road bikers - be aware, golf carts share the trail - most are courteous of bikers. Parking can be a challenge in town or at the State Park, but with a bicycle, the entire island is easily accessible. Limited shade, bring sunscreen. The only bridge onto the Island is the Boca Grande Causeway, toll required, but worth a ride for a taste of an older, more gracious Florida. Note: check out the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail on mainland side. (Map link and photos below.)
Map link - Boca Grande Rail Trail
Location: Charlotte and Lee Counties
Mileage: 6 miles
Surface: Asphalt, 6-9'
Nearby points of interest: Gasparilla Island State Park, Port Boca Grande Lighthouse & Museum, Rear Range Lighthouse, Gasparilla Inn & Club
Support and Advocacy:
Barrier Island Parks Society
Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association (GICIA)
(The path is privately owned and maintained by the GICIA, funded by a $5 million endowment)
Starting at the Causeway, the trail follows Gasparilla Road into Boca Grande. A jogging path parallels the trail in this section, ending at 5th St. near the Gasparilla Inn. At this point (about the midpoint of the trail), the trail continues along E. Railroad Ave. through the Village Center at Boca Grande with its shops and restaurants. The Gasparilla Inn Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Inn dates from 1911 and is one of the largest surviving resort hotels in Florida. The old railroad depot was restored and houses restaurants, shops and offices.
The rail-trail ends at 1st Street, but the trail continues west to Gulf Blvd. and then south, passing the Rear Range (Gasparilla Island) Lighthouse (1881, relocated here from Delaware in 1927). There are several access points to the beach, some with parking. The trail to the south narrows, ending at Belcher Road (entrance to Gasparilla Island State Park) - continue on the main park road to Port Boca Grande Lighthouse (1890) and museum. The State Park (fee) has parking, restrooms, picnic facilities, beach, showers, nature trails, and the Lighthouse Museum & Visitor Center.
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