Rediscover Orlando: Pedal Your Way to Fitness
Top bicycle trails make it easy and fun.
Bicycling is a low-impact workout that helps build muscular strength and endurance. It helps loosen your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and hips, resulting in better flexibility over time. Add to that an improved mental outlook that reduces anxiety and depression and you have to ask: Why doesn’t everyone pedal away on a bicycle?
In Orlando, it’s an easy way to stay fit because there’s an abundance of trails, from urban treks to wilderness pathways, designed for both cycling and walking. Jerome Washington knows the bicycle routes well. He spends hours sharing information about his favorite trails with customers at Orange Cycle bicycle shop in College Park where he works.
“The most popular is Cady Way. It’s an unused railroad track that was paved over,” he says of the urban trail near downtown Orlando. “And you’ll never have to share the road with a car.” Pick up the 7.5-mile trail at Fashion Square Mall and ride it to the 2.5-mile loop that meanders around Lake Baldwin or to the end at Aloma Avenue and Howell Branch Road. For those who want to go farther, it connects to the Cross Seminole Trail, which boasts a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail, and travels 23 miles to Lake Mary, where it meets the Seminole Wekiva Trail.
Washington’s favorite longer ride is the multi-use West Orlando Trail. Pedal its 22 miles from the Ocoee area to Apopka. Start at Killarney Station (the end point on old State Road 50), travel to tiny Oakland and stroll the Oakland Nature Preserve, before riding to historic downtown Winter Garden for lunch or a pick-me-up at Axum Coffee. Along the route are stations where you can park and join the trail, find restrooms, water fountains, park benches, and even a nearby bicycle shop for rentals and repairs. Washington warns that the wide paved path can get quite busy on weekends.
Another urban trail that scores big with cyclists is the 20-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail. Phil Card, an outdoors enthusiast who heads up the Trail Homies Meetup group, counts it as one of his favorites because it’s 12 feet across and a good portion of it has a beautiful canopy of trees overhead. A highlight on this trail is a long section where local artist Jeff Sonksen painted the fences. “I like that they [the county] allowed a local artist to paint fence sections. One is of famous people with inspiring quotes; the other section is paintings of animals—spotted leopard, mountain goat, whale—some endangered,” says Card.
Off-Road Wilderness Trails
When it comes to off-road trails, Washington highly recommends the 15-mile Lake Apopka Loop, which he describes as a wilderness trail where alligators bask in the sun just feet from the path’s edge. Bird life abounds with great blue herons wading on the shore and ospreys soaring above. “There’s no better off-road trail; it’s just gorgeous,” he says, adding that the lake is home to hundreds of gators and sightings definitely add a thrill to the ride. A portion of the road is hard-packed gravel, making it ideal for folks who ride gravel bikes outfitted with wider tires for improved traction on less-traveled dirt and gravel roads. Washington points out that there is very little shade on this trail so be prepared or come on a cooler or cloudy day.
A great place for mountain biking is the Little Big Econ State Forest. Card especially enjoys the 2.8-mile Flagler Trail, which connects to the Outback Loop and at one point meets the Econlockhatchee River. Small alligators can be spotted as well as the occasional 10-footer. For those who want to combine birding with a bicycle ride in the forest, Card says, “The best time is from the first light when the birds come out and start feeding till about 9:30 or 10:30. That’s when they are most active.”
More off-road trails can be found in Wekiwa Springs State Park. Bicyclists, hikers and equestrians share various trails through shady hardwood hammocks, river swamp and open sand hills studded with longleaf pines. Early morning sightings of white-tailed deer are common, and with a keen eye you can spot Sherman’s fox squirrels, a larger species with a masked face.
The park’s 8-mile Red Blaze Trail is popular with cyclists up for a challenge; however, Card points out that it has a lot of sugar sand that you have to dodge. If you want an easy leisurely route, hop on the park’s paved main road, offering stretches of shade and sun. And if you work up a sweat, you can always take a plunge in the 72-degree crystal-clear waters of the springs.
Whether you’re a cyclist or hiker, Card recommends walking the Wet-to-Dry Trail. “It’s right up next to the springs area on a boardwalk. It shows how the habitat goes from dry to wet and it’s covered by a high canopy,” he says.
A bonus for mountain bikers is the brand-new Mountain Bike Skills Course that recently opened in Lake Mary at the Markham Woods Trailhead, which connects to the Seminole Wekiva Trail. Its rollers, bumps, and berm turns are designed to help both beginners and experienced riders improve their skills. After a drill, the nearby unpaved mountain bike trail offers a serious workout for those up to it.
When out riding, remember to stay hydrated and use sunscreen. The Florida heat can creep up on you real fast. Cyclists should watch for potholes and debris, and on off-road trails pay attention to tree roots. For safety, it’s always good to have a rearview mirror to see what’s behind you without turning your body and swerving. Attach it to your helmet. And of course, wearing a helmet goes without saying, but never use headphones or ear buds. Listen to the wind and birdsong instead.