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Updated: 12/28/2012

Top 10... Van Fleet State Trail

Van Fleet TrailVan Fleet Trail

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 headwater of Florida's aquifer. While crossing three bridges over the headwaters of the Withlacoochee River, check for alligators. Gopher tortoises ("gophers"), bobcats, deer, raccoons, armadillos, and other wildlife can also be seen. Be sure to bring plenty of liquids and food. There are restrooms at the Polk City, Green Pond Road, and Mabel trailheads, but no other facilities. (More photos and map below.)


View Larger Map
End Points: Polk City to Mabel
Mileage: 29 miles
Surface: Asphalt, 12'
Location: Polk, Lake, Sumter Counties
Trailheads: Polk City, Green Pond Road, Bay Lake Road, and SR 50 at Mabel (each about 10 miles apart). (See map, left)
Nearby Points of Interest: Fantasy of Flight, Withlacoochee State Forest

THE BEST TRAIL SECTIONS TO RIDE... and additional comments by MUDFISH

This is the most rural trail in Florida, isolated and quiet. Some won't like it 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. From a little north of Green Pond Road to Mabel (19 miles), the trail forms or runs just inside the eastern boundary of the Withlacoochee State Forest. There are no paved crossings for 19 miles, just a few forest access roads.

I recommend parking at the Green Pond Trailhead and riding north about 5 miles. Within this section, you cross 3 bridges spanning the start of the Withlacoochee River. Riding 5 miles south of Green Pond takes you to the ONLY bend in the trail. Aside from the tiny hamlet of Poyner (1 mi. south of Green Pond Rd.), this 10 mile section is mostly tree-lined, offering plenty of shade during the mornings and afternoons/eves. I also recommend parking at the Mabel Trailhead (Rt. 50) and riding south to Bay Lake Rd (9 mi.). This is a another tree-lined section of the trail, entirely within the Withlacoochee State Forest.

The only sections of the trail with little shade are the first 5 miles north of Polk City Trailhead and the first 5 miles south of the Bay Lake Trailhead. Note: the Bay Lake Trailhead is isolated and seldom used, so for security reasons, I recommend not parking there. (I've never heard of any break-ins, but yours could be the only vehicle parked there all day.)

BOBCAT'S PHOTO GALLERY along the Van Fleet State Trail (hover over photo for larger view)

At Polk City (South) Trailhead and Northbound to Green Pond
Trailhead has parking, restrooms, picnic, water
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Polk City Trailhead Start of the trail
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Connector to hiking/off-road biking trail At The Curve (only bend on the trail)
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Cattle at the curve Cypress swamp view
at a rest station
Crossing at Deen Still Road - this is the busiest intersection Between Deen Still and Poyner Roads Approaching crossing at Poyner Road
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Bridge approaching  Green Pond Crossing at Green Pond Road to the Trailhead Green Pond Road Trailhead
At the Green Pond Trailhead
Parking, picnic, restrooms, water
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Picnic pavilion Mr. Joe Cool dog
at the Trailhead
Ranchland across
from trailhead
Green Pond Trailhead to Bay Lake
This section runs through the Green Swamp  Wilderness Preserve, a protected area important to preserving the Florida aquifer. At around the 12 mile marker, the trail enters the Withlacoochee River watershed (marked by three bridges) and you can feel the temperatures drop.
The northern section is largely un-shaded.
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"800" marks the miles to Richmond, Virginia, along the Seaboard Air Line Railroad Three bridges cross the start of the Withlacoochee River, (a recommended section of the Trail).
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This was a rescued horse, nice story! A big gator ("Billie") rules the waterhole at the middle bridge Jogger Bobcat was taken with this - a mirror image in the dark water at the middle bridge of the trees above Gators can often be seen at this waterhole
Bay Lake to Mabel Trailhead
A nine mile section entirely within and forming the boundary of the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Shadiest section of trail, especially in the late afternoon.
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Bay Lake Trailhead - parking only Crossing Bay Lake Road
 
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Recumbent riders Sandhill cranes     Approaching Mabel
Mabel (North) Trailhead
Parking, picnic, restrooms, water
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Wildlife on the Van Fleet Trail
The best wildlife viewing is between Green Pond and Bay Lake
alligator, Van Fleet Trailbaby alligator, Van Fleet Trail tortoise, Van Fleet Trailbaby armadillo, Van Fleet Trail deer, Van Fleet Trailbaby tortoise, Van Fleet Trail snake, Van Fleet Trailbig tortoise, bike Van Fleet butterflies, Van Fleet Trailbig tortoise, bike Van Fleet
Gators can be seen at the Bridges Tortoise going home This deer didn't notice us, we got really close Snakes are often seen Butterflies
baby alligator, Van Fleet Trailbaby alligator, Van Fleet Trail baby armadillo, Van Fleet Trailbaby armadillo, Van Fleet Trail baby tortoise, Van Fleet Trailbaby tortoise, Van Fleet Trail big tortoise, bike Van Fleetbig tortoise, bike Van Fleet
Maybe it was the springtime, we were struck by the large number of baby animals along the trail one day For comparison, water bottle with
baby tortoise vs. adult tortoise
Auburndale-TECO Trail
The Auburndale-TECO Trail runs 6.5 miles from the Van Fleet State Trail's Polk City Trailhead to Lake Myrtle in Auburndale. Open vistas and fewer people make this a nice extension for faster road bikes. The northern section south of the Polk City trailhead is the most shady section. The middle portion runs along power lines with little shade and at first parallels a road (set back with a wide buffer), before turning off the road and going through a largely rural area. At the south end in Auburndale, the trail leaves the power lines and runs through Myrtle Park to the end at Denton Avenue.
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Southern end trail at Denton Avenue, Auburndale Through Myrtle Park area Along the power line; there are benches marking the trail every 1/2 mile Rural view This is as close to the road as it gets
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I-4 bridge Another rural view Start of shady, relaxed section Approaching Polk City Trailhead, Van Fleet Trail Polk City Trailhead

See more photos of the Auburndale-TECO Trail on our Facebook page

More information on the Van Fleet Trail (links open in a new window):

- Florida State Parks - Van Fleet State Trail
- Florida State Parks - Van Fleet State Trail (.pdf)
- About General James A. Van Fleet

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