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Latest update: July 2020

Van Fleet State Trail

Top 10 Florida Bike Trail... Quiet Ride Through the Forest

The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail is a totally rural, 29 mile trail with one curve and no hills. The rail-trail runs on an old Seaboard Air Line Railroad right-of-way through the Green Swamp, the headwaters of the Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, Hillsborough, and Peace Rivers, and an important contributor to Florida's aquifer. Much of the trail forms the eastern boundary of the Withlacoochee State Forest. The four trailheads - at Polk City, Green Pond, Bay Lake and Mabel - are spaced almost evenly apart (9-10 miles), with parking and restrooms, but no stores along the way, so be sure to pack whatever you may need. In the future, there may be a connection to the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail. (Map link 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, Green Pond Road, Bay Lake Road, and SR 50 at Mabel (each about 10 miles apart)
Nearby points of interest: Fantasy of Flight, Withlacoochee State Forest

Bike Shops/Rentals:

N/A

Biking the Van Fleet State Trail... Comments and (Sequential) Ride Photos

This is one of the most rural trails in Florida, isolated and quiet. With its north-south orientation, the Van Fleet Trail offers lots of shade. Note: some people will not like this trail because there's nothing here but forest, pasture, and swamp. Yet, for a relaxing nature ride, there's no other trail like it in Florida and we love it. Wildlife include alligators, gopher tortoises ("gophers"), bobcats, deer, raccoons, turkey, armadillos, and snakes. (During cooler weather especially, please watch for snakes sunning on pavement.) This is a remote area, so be sure to lock-up and as always, never leave valuables in car.


Polk City Trailhead (south end, mm 0)

Parking, picnic, restroom (on trail at mm 0.5), water, small skateboard park. Located near I-4, this is the most visited Trailhead. A wide paved bike path runs along the outer perimeter of the parking area, connecting Van Fleet to the Auburndale-TECO Trail (6.5 miles one-way), especially enjoyed by road bikes looking for straightaways, open views, few road crossings, and fewer people than on Van Fleet.


Biking from Polk City Trailhead (mm 0) to Green Pond Trailhead (mm 10)

Some 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 at all. A rarity today, so enjoy.

Polk City Trailhead to "The Curve"

Riding 5 miles north from Polk City takes you to the ONLY bend in the trail. Watch a video of biking at the curve on our Facebook page.

"The Curve" to Green Pond Trailhead

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


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.


Biking from Green Pond Trailhead (mm 10) to Bay Lake Trailhead (mm 20)

This section runs through the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, a protected area important to preserving the Florida aquifer. At around the mm 12, the trail enters the Withlacoochee River watershed and you can feel the temperatures drop. Within this section you cross 3 bridges (a favorite section of the trail), spanning the start of the Withlacoochee River. Check for alligators at "The Bridges" and at a (normally wet) Wildlife Viewing Area further north towards Bay Lake Trailhead.

Green Pond Trailhead to The Bridges

The Bridges to Bay Lake Trailhead

 

 

 

Biking from Bay Lake Trailhead (mm 20) to Mabel Trailhead at SR 50 (mm 29.2)

Recently upgraded, Bay Lake Trailhead has parking, picnic, 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 Trail offers plenty of shade, especially in the morning and afternoon.

Bay Lake Trailhead

Bay Lake to Mabel Trailhead


Mabel Trailhead at SR 50 (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.

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