Monday, April 20, 2009

Biking Florida's Munson Hills Mountain Bike Trail

The Munson Hills Off-Road Bicycle Trail offers a scenic and challenging ride through some of the most varied terrain in the Apalachicola National Forest of Florida's panhandle, the largest of Florida's three national forests at 571,088 acres. This rare environment represents sand dunes from a shoreline formed here a million years ago. The sandhills form a foundation for a towering longleaf pine forest sporadically intermixed with sinkhole ponds and wetlands. The bike trail often dips down into the sandhills through hammock ecosystems of oak, cherry, sassafras and other hardwoods, but the climbs are gentle. The local white "Sugar Sand" is encountered frequently, but the few deeper sand areas are short in length, so if you keep your eyes open and your pedals turning, you'll be fine.

You reach the trailhead from the Tallahassee - St. Marks Trail parking area located just south of Tallahassee, Florida. Take Monroe Street/Woodville Highway/State Route 363 south of the town, and then just south of Capital Circle (US Highway 319) is the large parking lot. Ride the paved trail a mile or so south and you'll find the well-marked entrance to the Apalachicola National Forest -- a singletrack to the mountain bike trailhead. (There is no car access here -- you must bike from the lot mentioned above.)

Here you'll find a kiosk with a map showing the 2 loops and their short-cut and connector trails (photo below - click to enlarge.) The Twilight Loop is a second trail here.

The loop pictured above on the right is the Munson Hills Loop and is advertised as a challenging 7.5 miles in length. If you take the cutoff, the ride is 4.5 miles long. The left loop is called the Twilight Loop and is 9.5 miles long and my report is found here.
The lovely longleaf pine forest stretches before you and offers long, beautiful views as seen here...

... and the denser hardwood sections offer occasional variety of scenery...

The loops and cutoff trails are well marked with signs...

... and all connector trails have white blazes on the trees, while the loop trails sport blue blazes. A double blaze warns of a turn. The trail is scenic and is labeled as "challenging," probably due to the sand areas and the multiple ascents to high areas (though this is Florida, so we're not talking huge elevation gains!)

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