Playing outdoors in the Tampa Bay sunshine can be a joy, especially for those who love hiking and biking. In the greater Tampa area, there is a host of trails designed especially to ensure the safety of hikers and cyclists (joggers and skaters, too) and to provide them with excellent views of some of the area's most picturesque and bucolic sights.
The best time for riding your bike or hiking in the Tampa area is during the fall, winter, and spring, when the temperatures are comfortable and the heat and humidity aren't too high. However, you should still bring plenty of water and perhaps even a rain poncho or some other sort of inclement weather protection if you're setting out on a trail that might take a few hours to traverse. It's also best to travel with a buddy or two, in case of emergency.
Here is a list of several of Tampa Bay's best trails for visitors who enjoy hiking and biking.
Some road bikers in the area think the Upper Tampa Bay Trail is Tampa's best kept secret, but the word is getting out about this 8-mile long paved trail that provides breathtaking scenery and excellent first-class facilities along the way.
Located in residential northwest Tampa, this rails-to-trails pathway starts at Old Memorial Highway (though many people start at the Waters Ave. trailhead because it's easier to find) and heads north along the Channel A canal and ends at Peterson Road Park. Plans to extend the trail to the southern terminus of the Suncoast Trail on Lutz-Lake Fern Road are still being considered and the city hopes such plans might be completed by 2010.
The Upper Tampa Bay Trail boasts gentle curves and slight grades, which is quite unusual for central Florida bike trails. Hand rails were constructed at most road crossings and pretty wooden bridges provide a good place to stop and enjoy the scenery. Parts of the trail, however, follow an abandoned railroad corridor and are straight but still scenic, with the end of the path traveling through a very rural area.
Quality places to stop for food and refreshment are plentiful along this trail, which is multi-use and also frequented by hikers and roller bladers.
Opened in 2001, this 41.3 mile non-motorized paved trail spans Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando Counties and the towns of Tampa, New Port Richey, Land O' Lakes, and Brooksville.
The Suncoast Trail parallels the Suncoast Parkway and traverses mostly suburban and agricultural areas. Seven major trailheads are situated along the way though more are planned. Rest areas are located along the length of the trail and you'll also find a number of signs that indicate the historical significance of the area, emphasize transitions between ecological communities, and identify native species. The area near Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park is especially scenic.
There is hope that the Suncoast Trail will eventually be a connector trail, linking to other projects such as the proposed Good Neighbor Trail, the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and the Pinellas Trail.
Considered one of the best urban trails in the southeast, the 37-mile paved Pinellas Trail stretches from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg, also passing near the cities of Clearwater and Dunedin. It includes some of the Tampa area's most beautiful parks and boasts stunning coastal scenery regardless of the time of year.
Created along an abandoned railroad corridor, an estimated 90,000 people use this trail each month. Some walk or jog while others ride their bikes or skate. Regardless of how you travel, however, this trail is the perfect way to explore the area. There are plenty of benches, water fountains, and rest areas situated along the way, making it a very comfortable trail to traverse. Eight overpasses put you above the traffic and make it easy to cross some crowded roads, but pedestrians should be aware that this trail still crosses several very busy intersections.