The Suncoast Trail is a co-located multi-use path next to the Suncoast Parkway. It stretches the entire length of the Parkway, 42 miles, and has numerous trailhead/access points. Some of the trailheads are well done. Others leave a lot to be desired.
We (Pepper and I) haven’t ridden the entire trail yet, but we have traveled two segments. On our first trip we started from the southern most trailhead at Lutz Lake Fern Road, in Northern Hillsborough county, The facilities there are spartan: porta-potties and water coolers.
The trail itself is new, so the pavement is in excellent condition. It starts off a few hundred feet to the west of the Parkway, but soon it works itself closer to the roadway. There is still a buffer zone between you and the motor vehicles, but this is not a peaceful bicycle path through the woods. You are ridding next to a highway, and the traffic noise is noticeable.
But for a right-of-way trail, it is a surprisingly nice ride. There are sections that have trees and other vegetation between you and the roadway, providing a drop in the traffic noise. It doesn’t go away, but it does fade a bit. There are rest benches placed along the trail, so you can take break from the saddle.
We made it to the junction of the trail and Starkey Park on our first outing. Starkey Park lured us down and we did not make it any further north that day,. The terrain on that six or seven mile section of the Suncoast Trail is flat. There wasn’t any noticeable rise in elevation other than road and easement design. The trailhead at S.R. 54 was much like the one at Lutz Lake Fern Road, porta-potties and water coolers. We can only hope these are interim measures.
On our next trip, I decided to pick up the trail on S.R. 52, which is about six miles north of the Starkey Park junction. Unfortunately, that section of S.R. 52 is under construction, and the trailhead does not have ready access to the trail that I could see. The trailhead itself is a small dirt lot with a single porta-potty. We consulted our Greenways & Trails print, and proceeded to the trailhead at Crew Lake Park.
Our print stated we could access the Suncoast Trail from within the park, but again, we could not find ready access. Crews Lake Park is on the east side of the Suncoast Parkway, the opposite side as the trail. The only access I could see was over a narrow two-lane bridge (no sidewalk, no bike lane, no emergency lane, nothing.)
Determined to find a better trailhead, we headed north. The next listed trailhead was at Anderson Snow Park, in Hernando County. As we drove north on the parkway, I viewed the trail on my left. It was generally next to the parkway, with little or no screening by vegetative means. It was also predominantly flat. I was grateful to find Anderson Snow Park was on the same side of the parkway as the trail, and that it has full facilities. Restrooms, water, parking and easy and ready access from within the park.
Given the view of the trail from our drive up, we rode north from there, and I was impressed with the layout of this section of the trail. More vegetative buffers, curves and changes in elevation broke up the monotony of the trail. At times I could almost forget I was riding next to a highway. But the most impressive aspect was the trailhead at S.R. 50.
A covered pavilion with six picnic tables, water fountains that issued cold and evidently filtered water, restrooms and plenty of parking. The crowning touch was the trail bridge over S.R. 50. This is the standard to which all trailheads should be held.
Due to our difficultly in finding a suitable trailhead, we were unable to ride as long or as far as we wished. With the afternoon temperature climbing, and the clouds building for the afternoon thunderstorms, we returned to Anderson Snow after a twenty mile round trip.
Hopefully, once construction on S.R. 54 is complete, a better facility and access will be available there. For now though, I cannot recommend starting from there. My choice would be Anderson Snow, or the trailhead at S.R. 50. Both have full facilities and safe access to the trail. We have not been to the trailhead at U.S 98, but the Greenways and Trails site states that there is only parking there.