Monday, February 27, 2017

Biking Florida's Croom Mountain Biking Trails


The Croom Off-Road Bike Trail is in Florida's Withlacoochee State Forest near Brookside in Hernando County. There are two mountain bike loops, the yellow loop of 12 miles and the blue loop of 32 miles. Red trails serve as crossovers to the other loop or as shortcuts, allowing riders to bike shorter or longer distances. A total of 55 miles of trails exist here. 

The main trailhead is at Tucker Hill fire tower. There is a $2 per person per day charge for using this facility (or an annual pass) but there are two more smaller parking areas farther east on Croom Road you can use without charge. A map of the loops is at the bottom of this post.

In addition to the two biking trails, there are also designated hiking and equestrian trails. Hikers may use any of the three types of trails. All are cautioned to use care when you come to a place where trails cross.





These all-weather trails wind through central Florida's longleaf pine and scrub oak rolling hillsides, with hardwood hammocks as well as cypress ponds on occasion.






Occasional patches of loose (and sometimes deep) "sugar sand" occur on the trails. Slow down and take care. I as a 71 year old do not like having to muscle through these patches. I appreciate the efforts at the Appalachicola NF trails where they trucked in red clay to cover their areas of loose sand.



The trails are well marked with colored paint circles or rectangle signs indication the yellow of blue trails, as well as the red trails that connect the trails or provide "shortcuts."




Here's a closeup of the metal signage used to identify the trails...




These trails were designed, constructed, and maintained by the stalwart members of SWAMP, the SouthWest Association Mountain bike Peddlers. and they obviously have a sense of humor and a bit of whimsy. I spotted this attached to a tree on the yellow loop and checked out the various ornamentation attached to it.








Intersections are well marked with signage and maps...




Here's a blowup of the map and a link to download it...


Biking Florida's Cross Florida Greenway Trails

The Cross Florida Greenway Trail has several trailheads. I parked by the Land Bridge trailhead which is connected by trails to the Santos trails. (This is an updated post from the original I posted in 2009.) If you are curious what a "land bridge" looks like from on the bridge and from the expressway, see the last 2 photos of this post.

The address of this trailhead is 12555 SW 16th Avenue if you want to use your GPS to locate it. It is just off I-75 exit 341.



There are "blue" (intermediate difficulty) and "yellow" (easier trails) with the difference in difficulty probably due to the blue trails having numerous short sandy sections, a number of brief ups and downs, a multitude of very tight turns, and lots of narrow passages between trees, often only a few inches wider than your handlebars -- all of which added to the enjoyment of the outing. Here's Ellen heading back up after a downhill in the Canal Diggings section...




... and another uphill later...





Here's Bob as we bike a yellow trail. The yellow trail makes a loop from the Land Bridge Trailhead to the next section west, the Christmas section.







Then the blue trail (called Nayl's Trail) takes you farther west after you go under 49th Avenue, and this area, called Shangri La, traverses trickier terrain and even has this wooden "roller coaster" construction to get you through a gnarly section.





As is obvious, the scenery is drop-dead gorgeous and despite it being Saturday, we had the place nearly to ourselves (perhaps due to the bike race just a few miles east on the trail.) A loud rustling we heard was this armadillo that scampered (he thinks) out of sight off the trail, though only his head is in the hole...





The Land Bridge -- so-named because it has land and landscaping atop it to allow bike riders, hikers on the Florida Trail, equestrians, and wildlife to safely cross I-75 -- is seen here from the interstate. Notice the trees and bushes in place of traffic on top...




...and here's a look down from the bridge onto the expressway...




The Cross Florida Greenway Trail is named for conservationist Marjorie Harris Carr, Florida's first female wildlife technician, whose efforts led to creation Of Paynes Prairie Preserve and whose lengthy battle stopped the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, a mammoth, multi-million dollar project to traverse central Florida that threatened the area's ecosystem.

For trailhead info and maps, see here.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Biking Florida's Munson Hills Mountain Bike Loops

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.

Updated in 2017: The Twilight Trail still has numerous sections with loose "sugar" sand, but the Munson Hills loop has had extensive work done on it, namely the addition of red clay to harden the areas with loose sand. This loop has also had dozens of moguls added, probably to bury roots that had broken through the surface, but also to add more excitement to the ride and allow the speedy riders to "catch some air" as they fly off the peaks of the moguls. (It was fun, even for this 71 year old.)

You can park in the Tallahassee - St. Marks State 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. Several years ago, a new trail was built from this lot through the woods to the Munson Hill Loop. The new trail is marked as "Paper Cup" Trail and is depicted in the map below as the uppermost trail near the top right. The Munson Hills Loop is the upper loop, and the Twilight Loop is the lower loop. The West and East Connector Loops allow a huge loop of about 15 miles.

In several places you'll find a kiosk with a map showing the 2 loops and their short-cut and connector trails seen below.  The Twilight Loop is a bottom trail here. I suggest you use your phone camera to get this photo and then you can refer to the photo as you bike.





The Munson Hills Loop and is advertised as a challenging 9.0 miles in length. If you take the cutoff, the ride is 4.5 miles long. The lower 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...



There are numerous places where the trail provides minimal clearance between trees, so good balance and steering skill are prerequisites. If you are squeamish, slow down or walk the bike through tight spots. It might be a long walk back to your vehicle.





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!)

My final day in Florida in 2017, I was once again in the Tallahassee area so I again biked the loops. The scenery had changed, though, due to a huge prescribed burn the previous day, some of which was still smoldering as seen below...


Fire is an important component of these slash pine forests, so I wasn't annoyed by the "new" look, realizing the health of the ecosystem was the goal. Unfortunately, some of the sign posts on the loops were also charred and in some cases unreadable.