Withlacoochee State Trail
Part #1 of 3
The Withlacoochee State Trail (WST), managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Greenways & Trails, is the longest rail-trail in Florida, extending 46 miles from just south of Dunnellon in Citrus Springs to its southern terminus in the City of Trilby. The WST is a 12-foot wide, paved trail with an adjacent unpaved equestrian trail along portions of the paved trail. Like most rail-trails in Florida, the WST is generally flat, offering an easy ride for all skill levels.
The WST is named for an Indian word meaning "crooked river." One of the trail's most prominent natural features results from its intersection in several locations with the nearby Withlacoochee River's floodplain, which, along with scenic Lake Henderson and the Tsala-Apopka chain of lakes, attracts many species of birds. As it winds through six distinct natural communities, the WST offers rich opportunities for viewing wildlife.
The WST traverses three counties (Citrus, Hernando and Pasco) and offers an enjoyable, varied journey through small towns, ranches and natural communities. As it makes its way south from Citrus Springs to Trilby, the Trail seems to lead visitors back through time. The WST's northern trailhead is situated next to a modern, suburban setting while halfway down the Trail visitors have access to small towns that reflect the comfortable lifestyles of some forty years ago. As they approach the southern end of the Trail, visitors can drift yet another step back in time as the quaint, historic town of Trilby stands in peaceful contrast to the relatively nearby bustling atmosphere of Central Florida.
In the late 1800s, an increase in phosphate mining activity in the area convinced railroad entrepreneur Henry Plant to extend his existing rail line from Tampa to Croom northward to Inverness to join Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad, thus completing the Plant System's West Coast Route. The Plant System eventually became the Atlantic Coast Line in 1902, the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967, and finally, CSX Transportation in 1980.
Due to a decline in railroad use beginning in the 1960s, service was abandoned and tracks removed on many thousands of miles of rail corridor nationwide. In December of 1989, CSX Transportation sold their 46 miles of right-of-way between Gulf Junction (Citrus Springs) and Owensboro Junction, six miles north of Dade City, to the State of Florida to establish the Withlacoochee State Trail. The corridor was one of the first purchased under the Florida Rails to Trails Program. The route where rail passengers on the Southland and the West Coast Champion once traveled is now enjoyed by more than 300,000 hikers, bikers, skaters and horseback riders each year.
Reminders of the Trail's historic railroad activity include cement mileage and whistle markers, the Lake Henderson Trestle and the privately owned Inverness Depot which was built in 1982. The Trail's extremely dedicated citizen support organization, Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee, relocated and restored a 1925 caboose for the Inverness trailhead. The red caboose now serves as a symbolic, welcoming landmark which volunteers hope will ultimately house a small museum of railroad memorabilia. The group has also enhanced the Trail with the installation of a 20-station health and fitness circuit near the Inverness trailhead and interpretive signage highlighting points of interest and natural resources along the Trail.
Parking and Trail Access
The trail follows Hwy 41 throughout much of its length. There are numerous access points and or trailheads near the towns of Brooksville, Citrus Springs, Dade City, Dunnellon, Floral City, Hernando, Inverness, Istachatta, Nobleton, and Trilby.
Gulf Junction Trailhead
2233 West Magenta Drive
Citrus Springs, FL 34434
Northern terminus. Ample parking, covered picnic tables and restrooms.
South Citrus Springs Trailhead
64 West Citrus Springs Blvd
Citrus Springs, FL 34434
Ample parking, restrooms, drinking water and picnic tables.
24580 North Florida Avenue
Inverness, FL 34442
Parking, picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and bike racks.
315 North Apopka Avenue
Inverness, FL 34450
Ample parking, restrooms, covered picnic tables, drinking water, Suncoast Bike shop and rentals, 20-station health and fitness circuit, Liberty and Wallace Brook Parks and their amenities along Lake Henderson.
Floral City Trailhead
East Orange Avenue
Floral City, FL
Limited parking, drinking water, covered gazebo, Hampton's Edge Bike shop and rentals, quaint retail shops and eateries within walking distance.
Ridge Manor Trailhead
6410 Croom Rital Road
Ridge Manor, FL 33523
Ample parking, restrooms, and covered picnic tables.
37444 Trilby Road
Dade City, FL 33523
Owensboro Junction Trailhead
19755 US Highway 301
Dade City, FL 33523
Southern terminus. Ample parking and covered picnic table.
Notes - I traveled the first leg of this trail the first Sunday in October 2014 in the early AM beginning at the southern terminus (Owensboro Junction Trailhead) and worked my way north to East Floral Park Drive. The trail proved popular and there were a good many solo riders and groups on the path, the great majority of which were friendly and courteous riders. On my second outing (October 17th, a Friday) I began my ride at East Floral Park Drive and ended at the northern terminus in Citrus Springs. During this outing there much fewer riders on the trail.
Withlacoochee State Trail map and information (PDF).