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Latest update: May 2023

Van Fleet State Trail... Florida

A 'Top 10' Florida Bike Trail... E-Z Map, 70+ Photos

The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail is a totally rural, 29-mile paved bike trail, with one curve, no hills, and lots of shade. It runs on an old Seaboard Railroad railbed through the Green Swamp, a major contributor to the Florida aquifer. Much of the trail forms the eastern boundary of the Withlacoochee State Forest. There are 4 trailheads almost evenly spaced: Polk City (MM 0), Green Pond (MM 10), Bay Lake (MM 20) and Mabel (MM 29.2). No shops along the ride, so be sure to pack whatever you may need. (Map and photos below.)

Van Fleet Trail

Map link...
General James A. Van Fleet State Trail


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Location: Polk, Lake, Sumter Counties
End Points: Polk City to Mabel, FL (Rte. 50)
Mileage: 29.2 miles
Surface: Asphalt, 12'
Trailheads: Polk City (MM 0), Green Pond Road (MM 10), Bay Lake Road (MM 20), and off SR 50 at Mabel (MM 29)
Nearby points of interest: Fantasy of Flight, Withlacoochee State Forest

Bike Shops/Rentals:

N/A

 Page Summary:

  1. Biking the Van Fleet State Trail
  2. South Section... MM 0 to MM 10
    - Polk City Trailhead, "The Curve"
  3. Middle Section... MM 10 to MM 20
    - Green Pond Trailhead, "The Bridges"
  4. North Section... MM 20 to MM 29.2
    - Bay Lake Trailhead, Mabel Trailhead
  5. Wildlife Along the Van Fleet State Trail
    - Various wildlife, baby wildlife
  6. Polk City Trail (Van Fleet Trail extension)
    - Connects to Auburndale TECO Trail
  7. More Information and Resources

Biking the Van Fleet State Trail... Comments and Photos

We rate Van Fleet as a FL Top 10 Trail, due to length, peacefulness (little to no road noise!), wildlife, and natural beauty. With its north-south orientation, the Van Fleet State Trail also offers lots of shade. **Disclaimer: some people will not like this trail - because (1) it's almost perfectly straight and (2) there's nothing here but forest, pasture, and swamp. Yet, for a quiet ride through nature, there's no other trail like it in the State of Florida and we love it. Wildlife include gopher tortoises ("gophers"), alligators (mainly at "The Bridges"), bobcats, deer, raccoons, turkey, armadillos, and snakes. (*During cool weather, please watch for snakes sunning on the pavement.) This is a remote area, so be sure to lock-up and as always, never leave valuables in the car.

South Section... Polk City (MM 0) to Green Pond Trailhead (MM 10)

This section includes views of open pasture, then - like so much of the trail - the ride becomes more tree-lined, offering plenty of shade during morning and afternoon hours. Notice as you ride north, the hum of road noise gradually lessens. Then after a couple of miles, you may notice - there's no road noise - a rarity today, so enjoy.

Polk City Trailhead

Parking, picnic, restroom (on trail at MM 0.5), and water. Located near I-4, this is the most visited Trailhead. Freedom Park is located adjacent, with playground, picnic, and restrooms (locked at dusk). A wide paved bike path runs along the outer perimeter of the parking area to the Polk City Trail (more below), connecting Van Fleet Trail to the Auburndale TECO Trail.


Polk City Trailhead to "The Curve"

Riding 5 miles north from Polk City takes you to the ONLY bend in the trail. This section passes extensive pastureland, with many cattle - including one that "escaped" onto the trail.

Biking the Curve (video)


"The Curve" to Green Pond Trailhead

The trail then crosses Deen Still Rd. (only main road crossing on Trail), through the woods to the tiny hamlet of Poyner, then 1 mile to the Green Pond Trailhead.

Middle Section... Green Pond Trailhead (MM 10) to Bay Lake Trailhead (MM 20)

This section runs through the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, a protected area critical to preserving the Florida aquifer and headwaters of the Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, Hillsborough, and Peace Rivers. Nearing MM 12, the trail enters the Withlacoochee River watershed and you can feel the temperatures drop. Within this section you cross 3 short bridges (a favorite section of the trail), spanning the start of the Withlacoochee River. Check for alligators at "The Bridges" and at a Wildlife Viewing Area further north towards Bay Lake Trailhead.

Green Pond Trailhead

Parking, covered picnic table, water and restrooms (just north of lot). We like to park at the Green Pond Trailhead (MM 10). This gives us biking options in both directions. "The Bridges" area (MM 12-13) is always a favorite. Plus during pop-up thunderstorm season (warmer months), this allows us to stay closer to shelter and refreshments. A Citizens Patrol station is also located at Green Pond.


Green Pond Trailhead to The Bridges

The Bridges to Bay Lake Trailhead

 

 

North Section... Bay Lake Trailhead (MM 20) to Mabel Trailhead (MM 29.2)

The Bay Lake Trailhead has parking, picnic table, restrooms, and water. This Trailhead is the most remote. Here, the Trail is almost entirely within, and often forms the boundary of the Withlacoochee State Forest. Mostly tree-lined, this section of the Van Fleet State Trail offers plenty of shade, especially in the morning and afternoon. At the north end of the Van Fleet Trail, a future connection to the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail is planned.

Bay Lake Trailhead (MM 20)

Bay Lake Trailhead to Mabel Trailhead


Mabel Trailhead off Hwy 50 (MM 29.2, north end)

Northern trailhead is just off SR 50. Parking, covered picnic tables, restrooms, water.

Wildlife Along the Van Fleet State Trail

Tortoises, Snakes, Deer, Alligators, and more

We often see wildlife when biking Green Pond to Bay Lake, at "The Bridges" (MM 12-13) and a Wildlife Viewing Area (near MM 16).

Babies of the Van Fleet State Trail

Maybe because it was springtime, we were struck by the large number of baby animals along the trail one day.


Battling Tortoises at Bay Lake Trailhead

Polk City Trail (via extension from Van Fleet Trail)
Connects to the Auburndale TECO Trail

Starting from the Polk City Trailhead (MM 0), follow the paved path southward around the parking lot and go under SR 33. Here, the Polk City Trail begins and runs next to CR 655 for about 1.75 miles, where it becomes the Auburndale TECO Trail at the Auburndale city limits (Mt Olive Rd). While next to a roadway, this short trail contains some nice features. (1) The trail surface here is smooth - less worn than the Van Fleet trail, so ideal for skates and boards. (2) A fitness course is located about 1/4 mile from the start. (3.) Most of the Polk City Trail is shaded by tree canopy. (4) There are comparatively few bikers on the trail, so it's a good place for kids to bike. The only downside is road noise. After passing under I-4, the trail merges seamlessly with the Auburndale TECO Trail at Mt. Olive Road.

Note: Some sites include this trail as part of the Auburndale TECO Trail, but a sign leaving the Polk City Trailhead welcomes you to the "Polk City Trail," so we now list it separately.

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