Before You Go:
PLEASE NOTE: I have seen several searches concerning biking across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is part of a controlled access roadway. Bicyclists and Pedestrians are not allowed to cross the Sunshine Skyway Bridge additionally, stopping for sightseeing or for an non-emergency is prohibited.
If this post seems slightly different than you originally remember, it is due to my Web Hosting company deciding to upgrade my site and losing my last post! I’ve tried to recreate the original post as closely as possible to the original.
This entire trip isn’t very long (approximately 12 mile loop) and you could, depending upon your tolerance for sun, get by without sunscreen. Sunglasses, though, are recommended since a good part of the middle portion of the ride in along water’s edge. Also, depending upon your spirit of adventure, you might want to apply insect repellant if you decide to explore some of the more marshy areas that line this ride.
There doesn’t appear to be a recognized trailhead for the Skyway Trail so I decided to start from nearby Maximo Park which is nestled near Boca Ciega Bay. If you follow Interstate 275 and take the 54th Avenue South exit or head east on 54th Avenue South off of US 19, you will head south on 31st Street South and then west onto Pinellas Point Drive South. Pinellas Point Drive ends at the entrance to Maximo Park.
Heading to the entrance of Maximo Park, head east out of the entrance. Continue east underneath the US 19/I-275 overpass. While I didn’t see any signs designating the beginning of the Skyway Trail, I make the assumption that it begins on the east side of Skyway Lane which runs parallel to the eastern side of the US 19/I-275 corridor.
The trail will continue along Skyway Lane for a short distance and will then cross to the north side of the Lane and the trail, itself, will continue adjacent to the US 19/I-275 right-of-way.
Other than a short incline up to the North Skyway Fishing Pier, the only climb along this trail is over the Dick Misener Bridge. At you reach the apex, you will get your first view of the distant Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
The Skyway Trail is not a heavily used trail. I’ve never seen any of the cycling clubs from St. Petersburg traveling along the trail. For the most part, it seems to be populated mostly by casual cyclists and the occassional jogger.
Heading further south along the trail, you will encounter a second bridge. I didn’t see a name posted for this bridge. If there is one, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section and I will update the post with the information. There is only a mild rise with this bridge but, it is a bridge nonetheless, so I felt compelled to take pictures. If you stop at the mid-point of the bridge and peer over the side, you will probably find comorants with their wings spread or pelicans take a respite before trolling the waters of Tampa Bay for fish.
You will encounter a stand of Australian Pines as you continue south. Be careful through this area. The pines roots have grown beneath the trail surface and have made for quite the bumpy ride.
Along the entire length of this trail, wading birds abound. The are many opportunities to view Herons, snowy egrets, wood storks and various other species of wading birds as they hunt and fish along the shallows of Tampa Bay.
The Skyway Trail portion of this ride is relatively short. The trail itself is only 2.5 miles long. At its southern terminus, you will cross a pair of concrete barricades and will continue on an access road.
Once you get onto the access road, you encounter more recreational users. Some just out to enjoy the water, others out to do their shoreline fishing. All along the route, you will see recreational boaters plying the waters of Tampa Bay.
As you travel south, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge looms ever larger on the horizon. Some of the best views of the bridge is at the point where the south access road turns west to head underneath another US 19/I-275 overpass.
Once you pass underneath the overpass, make a hard left. On your right you will see the North Skyway Rest Area. If you continue north a short way, you will see signage with pointers toward the fishing pier to the north and the park area to your south.
Heading north, you will reach the North Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier. Depending on the attendant, they may or may not charge you an entrance fee. The pier itself does offer fine views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Since this is a recreational fishing pier, be alert for tossed fishing hooks.
Heading back from the fishing pier, you will see the North Sunshine Skyway Rest Area to your northeast and the shores of Tampa Bay to your northwest. Along the shoreline, there is a marker dedicated to the building of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. You will also find a momunent to the USS Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn. The Blackthorn collided with another ship beneath the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in January of 1980 and 20 lives here lost in the collision.
The Sunshine Skyway Rest Area is a good place to take a rest (as the name implies) and take in the sights along the shore. It is a good vantage point to view tankers as they ply the waters of Tampa Bay. It also offers excellent views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the North Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier.
Heading north out of the rest area, I decided to take a short trip north along the western access road that runs parallel to the US 19/I-275 corridor. It ends in a turnabout forcing a return along the route you just traveled.
It is worth the short trip out to this point to view some of the plantlife that is common along this route. Seagrapes, flowering plants, brackens anchored to sun bleached tree trunks and other unknown plant species are common along the southern portion of this ride.
In this spot, if you look west and north, you will see views of distant Fort DeSoto housed on Mullet Key, the bridge connecting Mullet Key to Tierra Verde and the Pinellas Bayway which connects the barrier beaches to the Pinellas County peninsula.
If you head toward the shoreline proper, you will encounter the rich variety of birdlife that populates this area. The morning I was there, snowy egrets and great blue heron lined the shoreline while pelicans sailed and dived, above and beneath the waters of Tampa Bay.
Retracing my route back to the north, I stopped (because of my affinity for bridges) and made the short hike down to the shoreline to take a final shot of one of the several bridges that line the way.
As you reach the apex of the Dick Misener Bridge, you might want to take the opportunity to stop and take in the view of downtown St. Petersburg. It also offers a panoramic view of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to the south.
Finally, returning to Maximo Park, I took the opportunity to explore this small park nestled along one of the channels leading into Boca Ciega Bay. If you head toward the western periphery of the park, you will be able to see a nice view of the Dick Misener Bridge you passed over during your ride south. Gazing west, you can also see the boats anchored out in the channel.
Going north to make a circuit of the park (you can either go on foot or there are biking paths that criss cross the park), you will encounter an overlook tower in the southwest corner of the park. It offers great views of the shoreline and boating channel.
On the north edge of the park, there are small boat launches and, across the channel you will catch a glimpse of the Eckerd College Campus as it shares the channel with the park. You can usually catch pelicans resting along the boat launches or, perhaps, waiting on a handout from a passing fisherman.
Maximo Park also offers a Disc Golf Course, Picnic Pavillions and a gazebo all at no charge to the public. All in all, the ride itself is only 12 miles but the ride offers up a rich wealth of flora and fauna and unparalleled views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the surrounding waters of Tampa Bay. Happy Trails!!