Before You Go:
There are numerous signs along the trail that water is limited but, until you get up to the Hernando County portion of the trail, I found the reverse to true. There are quite a few stocked water spots along the trail in both Hillsborough and Pasco county. This most southern section of the trail is the flattest and, as you progress north, the terrain gets hillier.
I’ve tried to break the rides up into 20 mile loops. In this section, I’ve included the Starkey Wilderness Bike Trail which, if the rider chooses to add this portion, will bring the ride total up to 35 miles. It is well worth the added effort to add this fine trail to the itinerary.
There isn’t a lot of shade along this trail so bring along your sunglasses and apply sunscreen if you are doing this during the mid-day hours. Early morning and early evening riders should be fine without sunscreen.
If you choose to start at the Lutz Lake Fern Road trailhead, be prepared to pay $2.00 to park at the trailhead. The pay kiosk is located at the eastern side of the parking lot. Place your money in the green envelope and remember to tear off the hangtag before sealing the envelope.
From the north or south, if you don’t mind paying the tolls, you can take the Suncoast Parkway (Hwy 589) and exit at Lutz Lake Fern Road. Head west and the trailhead is on the north side of Lutz Lake Fern Road.
To avoid the Suncoast Parkway tolls, from the east, you can take Dale Mabry Highway (Hwy 597) either north or south (depending on your location) and head west on Lutz Lake Fern Road. The trailhead is on the north side of Lutz Lake Fern Road just after the Suncoast Parkway underpass.
From the west in Pinellas County, you can take Country Road 611 (East Lake Road North) to County Road 582 (Keystone Road). Keystone Road turns into Tarpon Springs Road once you pass the Hillsborough County line. The road deadends at Gunny Highway. Head north a short distance on Gunn Highway. At the first traffic signal, head east on Lutz Lake Fern Road. The trailhead is on the north side of the road just before the Suncoast Parkway underpass. You will have to make a U-turn at the traffic light for the northbound on-ramp to the Suncoast Parkway.
This is the flattest portion of the 42 mile long trail. The only real rises along this section are the approaches to the bridges. All along this trail, the eastern side will be shared with the Suncoast Parkway. The ever present noise of vehicles can be an annoyance but, after a short time, you will find you tune out the road noise. And, there are times, in the early morning hours when there is a break in the traffic and you can actually hear the woodland sounds from the forests that will line the western side of the trail.
Because this is not a rail-trail and was created as part of the Suncoast Parkway master plan, it is not a trail that is arrow straight and the designers did have the sense to add in some light curves into their planning for the trail. At times, the trail will curve a short way away from the Parkway and pass around a stand of trees or a small pond.
The trail doesn’t stay in Hillsborough very long. After about a mile into the ride, you will cross into Pasco county.
The only road you will cross in the ten miles of this portion of the Suncoast Trail will occur about 2 miles into the ride. You will cross Highway 54. This is a VERY busy thoroughfare so please be cautious through this area!
Other than the crossing at Highway 54, the scenery will not change a lot. Bridge crossings (Five Mile Creek, Anclote River, etc.), the occassional apartment complex. But, for the most part, you will travel pass woodlands on the west side and the ever-present Suncoast Parkway on the your east side.
Once you pass the Toll Plaza (one of many along the Suncoast Parkway – I think it is $5.25 to travel the entire length of the Parkway via car), you will pass the Starkey Wilderness Trail entrance. I chose to bypass the trail on my way north to the 10 mile marker.
As mentioned, I made my way to the turnaround at the 10 mile marker and made my way south to the entrance to the Starkey Wildnerness Trail. All in all, I must confess to enjoying the Starkey Trail more than the Suncoast Trail.
The eastern end of the trail is mostly through pine forest but you will see cypress stands in the distance along both sides of the trail.
I was fortunate enough, the morning I rode the trail, to witness two bucks feeding along the trail and they allowed me close enough to take some photos of them feeding. The pictures below do not do these fine animals justice.
The middle portion of the trail is more wet and seems to be in a water basin of sorts. Both sides of the trail are lined with cypress stands, bogs and creeks. This portion of the trail also offers a nice canopy of shade during the intensely humid summer months.
As you come out of the wetland area, you will encounter a high tension powerline easement. It is a gentle slope from here as you climb out of the wetland areas toward higher ground.
The length of the designated trail in the Starkey Wilderness is 6.5 miles. But, at the gates that mark the end of the 6.5 mile portion, the trail continues on to the west in what looks like a newly paved section. I took this out to Starskey Boulevard which added about another 1.5 miles to the ride.
Heading back, there is a facility about 1/2 mile east of the gates with restrooms, parking and water fountains.
Heading back east along the trail and then south once back on the Suncoast Trail, you soon retrace your steps past the Highway 54 trailhead and back into Hillsborough County to the Lutz Lake Fern Road Trailhead.
Another fine ride in west central Florida. Well worth the visit if only to visit the Starskey Wilderness Trail. The trail is well maintained and, at least along this portion, there is water stations along the trail. The ever present traffic noise along the Suncoast Parkway can be an annoyance but it is still worth this minor defect to experience the great rewards of being outdoors, wind in your face and spinning along the pavement.
Happy Trails ~