With this post, I will be adding any useful links I’ve come across while researching these trails. Wisely, I am placing the links at the end of the post to entice you, dear reader, to read through the entire post.
Before you go:
The Upper Tampa Bay Trail is a mix of open and shaded areas. Bring the usual accoutrements: a pair of sunglasses, sunscreen and as always, I advocate wearing a helmet and padded gloves (to help cushioning while bearing the weight upon your palms during the ride).
Finding the southern terminus of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail is no easy task. Since I was unfamiliar with this area of Hillsborough County, Florida, I decided to consult Google Maps to find the Memorial Trailhead . If you click on the hyperlinked “Memorial Trailhead” to the left (look for the blue icon), it will get you right to the area I started this trek. Please note that you need to have Google Maps installed in order to use the hyperlink.
Heading from Tampa, go west on Hillsborough Avenue, make a right onto Montague Street (you will be heading in a northeasterly direction). You will come to a traffic circle. Make a right onto Memorial Highway (heading east). As Memorial Highway begins to curve and turn into Pistol Range Road, you will see a small parking area. This is the Memorial trailhead for the southern terminus of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail.
The Upper Tampa Bay Trail is a mixed-use trail and, judging from the morning I rode this trail, a very popular and well-used trail. Hillsborough County has done a great job with this trail. It even has a few switchbacks built in around the Waters Avenue underpass.
The trail follows, in its southern half, the western side of a canal that was built as part of a flood control project. All along the length of this trail, there is a good mix of open grassy areas and tree canopied shaded areas. It does seem that more thought went into the southern portion of the trail but this could be due to the wide easement. There is one issue with the trail toward the north end which I will get to later in this post.
Arriving at the Memorial Highway Trailhead around 8:30 in the morning, I was lucky to get the last parking spot. The parking area is somewhat smallish and, when I returned several hours later, there were a few open spots but it was still at least 3/4 full. If you follow Pistol Range Road north, I believe the Waters Avenue trailhead isn’t too far from this trailhead but, I believe, it falls in line with several other trailheads in Hillsborough County. Be prepared to pay $2.00 to park at the facility. I believe the same holds true of the Wilsky Avenue Trailhead.
Striking out from the Memorial Highway Trailhead, you will head off to the northeast through a generally open grassy area. To your east will be the first of several bridges that connect to neighborhoods that border on the eastern side of the canal. The first of these connects to Memorial Highway (bisected by the Channel A Canal).
Leaving the bridge to the south, you will come upon Alonso High School on your right and, as you go further north, the trail takes a turn more towards the east as it approaches West Waters Avenue. A crossing with traffic control signals has been built to cross busy West Waters. Taking this route, you will loop in and around the the Upper Tampa Bay Trail park that houses water, restrooms and even some meeting rooms. The main building is set upon a hill that overlooks the canal and has benches to take in the view and, perhaps, relax.
If you stay on the main trail and don’t take the side excursion across West Waters, in a nice touch, the planners decided on an underpass for the trail instead of bringing the trail to road level and forcing either a climb over West Waters or a stop at a traffic controlled intersection.
Also a nice touch, because of the wide right of way, the planners didn’t follow a straight arrow path but, instead, built in a serpentine pattern between West Waters and Sheldon Road. Sheldon Road is the first traffic controlled crossing along the trail. The morning I rode this trail, the traffic along this road didn’t seem to be especially heavy and it wasn’t too long a wait for the light to change and I was on my way again. Still heading almost due east, the trail starts to sweep toward the northeast once you leave Sheldon Road behind.
This section is more heavily forested than the portion south of Sheldon Road. Continuing north, you will come across the second bridge heading off to the east that connects to a neighborhood on the eastern side of the canal. Taking that side trail will lead you to Drycreek Drive. It is worth the little side trip just to enjoy the ride through this little wooded area.
Just north of the Drycreek Bridge, is a manmade falls that I imagine are part of the flood control project. It is a nice area for a rest and, the morning I was there, there was a water station and benches and was serving as an informal meeting center.
Continuing on our northeast trek, the canal meanders a bit and there is a bridge crossing just before you reach a railroad underpass and then the West Linebaugh Avenue underpass. The area is a little tricky as you head downhill to pass under the railroad and the underpass at West Linebaugh. There are some blind spots so you should exercise caution through this area. The bikeway is also very narrow at this point. There are designated lanes through this section and I strongly recommend that you stay in your lane to avoid a colission with anyone coming from the north.
Once you pass north of West Linebaugh Avenue, you will be heading almost due north and then take a turn toward the northwest around a closed landfill. Circling around the western periphery of the landfill, you will eventually turn to the northeast and finally the east.
In an odd bit of design, the trail forms a t-intersection with the Wilsky spur coming up from the south. To continue on the trail proper, you will make a 90 degree turn to the left (heading north). I did take the oportunity to ride along the eastern periphery of the landfill that forms the Wilsky/Linebaugh spur. It offers some fine view on some wetlands that appear to the east as you travel south toward either Linebaugh or Wilsky. The Wilsky Boulevard trailhead offers water and restrooms.
Back on the main trail, you will cross a wooden bridge and, at this point, you will probably start to hear the traffic as the trail approaches and runs parallel with the Veteran’s Expressway. This is a nicely wooded part of the trail and, having left the canal behind, is now running along an abandoned railroad bed.
The portion of the trail north of the t-intersection is very heavily used. The morning I was there, several biking clubs, joggers, in-line skaters and a troop from a dog obedience school were vying for space. Make sure to make your presence known as you approach casual trail-goers and joggers from behind.
Approaching Citrus Park, you will encounter the only overpass along this trail and the only true climb. On the north side of the overpass, you will ride parallel to Gunn Highway. There are quite a few driveway crossings along this portion so be sure to exercise caution.
This leads to my least favorite portion of this ride. You eventually have to cross Ehrlich Road where it intersects with Gunn Highway. You make a left turn and travel west along Ehrlich Road to the traffic light at the intersection of Gunny High & Ehrlich Road. You then travel back east along the northern sidewalk along Ehrlich road and then make a left back onto the trail proper to head north again. I’m not sure what led to this design but it really serves as a barrier between both sides of the trail. It seems most cyclists turn around and head back south at this point rather than deal with trying to cross Ehrlich Road. I did see some cyclists coming from the east but I’m not sure where they were crossing Ehrlich and if, perchance, there was an easier crossing further along Ehrlich. If anyone knows a tip for this area, please post your comments and they will be greatly appreciated.
The hurdle of crossing Ehrlich Road behind, the trail heads to slightly west of due north through tree shaded neighborhoods and, further on, it seems to get into farily rural areas of northwestern Hillsborough County. Perhaps another reason for the lack of traffic along this part of the trail is because the trail doesn’t go very far once you pass Ehrlich Road. The trail comes to an end at a park along Peterson Road. There are restroms and a water fountain in the park.
From the research I’ve done, once right-of-ways are granted, this trail will be extended to connect to the Suncoast Trail. Once that is done, I am hoping the planners will re-think the crossing at Ehrlich Road. Overall, this was a beautifully maintained trail and, speaking to the southern portion, very will thought out with a solid design plan. I would definitely recommend this trail for anyone looking to feel like they are biking through a wilderness area although they are biking through a very urban corridor. Well done Hillsborough County!