The tale of Orlando’s trails is a puzzle being pieced together mile by mile, as Central Floridians increasingly look to park their cars and break out their bicycles, trading in four wheels for two.
According to BikeOrlando.net, there are more than 150 miles of paved, off-street bike paths within a 30-mile radius of downtown Orlando. The website, run by a pair of bicycle enthusiasts known only as “Mudfish” and “Bobcat,” contains the most comprehensive breakdown of trail information available online.
Those web-savvy trail enthusiasts said they’ve seen interest in biking surge in the past decade, the last three years in particular. And with that, they said, they’ve noticed a shift as local municipalities start to place increased focus on puzzling the area’s disjointed trails into a more cohesive system.
“The fact that neighborhoods are thinking about this is great,” Bobcat said. “It’s becoming part of the planning.”
From local cities and counties changing codes and increasing bike safety efforts, to neighborhood restaurants and shops catering to cycling crews, there’s plenty of trailblazing happening across the area.
A tale of trails
There are a handful of major trails traversing across the Orlando area, connecting across city lines allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to get from one place to another without having to share the road with motorists.
At the center is the Cady Way Trail, with an average ridership of 10,718 users a month, according to ridership data collected by the city of Orlando. It carries riders 7.2 miles from the Orlando Fashion Square Mall all the way east past Baldwin Park and north to Goldenrod.
“It’s a great trail,” Bobcat said.
Where the Cady Way Trail ends to the west, you can follow “sharrows” – or shared-lane markings – on neighborhood streets to connect to the Orlando Urban Trail, which runs from Lake Highland in Orlando up to Mead Garden in Winter Park.
The sharrow markings, which depict a bike with directional arrows below, were painted on to Orlando-area streets earlier this year to increase awareness of easy routes to connect the trails and also make motorists more alert of bikes sharing the road.
“Small improvements like that can have a big impact on the people who ride on the trails,” said Orlando spokesperson Cassandra Lafser.
The Cady Way Trail also provides a convenient connection through Baldwin Park up to the Lake Baldwin Loop, which circles Lake Baldwin and runs through Lake Baldwin Park. According to the city of Orlando’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Count Program, the Loop is the second most frequented trail in Orlando, trailing the ridership of the heavily-trafficked path around Lake Eola in downtown.
Riders can also take Cady Way all the way to its end in Goldenrod, cross Howell Branch Road, and connect to the Cross Seminole Trail, which boasts 23 miles of trail riding through downtown Oviedo and Winter Springs, all the way up to Big Tree Park in Longwood and through to Lake Mary.
Both the east and west sides of Orange County boast popular trailheads, not currently connected to Cady Way.
Out to the west is what many feel is the crown jewel of Central Florida trails: the West Orange Trail.
“It’s probably the most popular,” said Richard Harmic, program manager for Orange County Parks & Recreation.
The West Orange Trail runs 22 uninterrupted miles through Apopka and Winter Garden, which runs along an old rail line.
In east Orange County, the Little Econ Greenway runs 8 miles along the Little Econlockhatchee River, beginning at Jay Blanchard Park extending to Goldenrod Road. The gap between this trail and Cady Way, Harmic said, is one of the most important connections that still needs to be made to help improve the county’s bike-ability.
“You have a lot of puzzle pieces that need to fit together just right to make the connections happen,” Harmic said.
Off the beaten path
If you’re looking to bike where the asphalt ends, there are unofficial bike trails that provide shorter scenic rides across the Orlando area.
Bobcat and Mudfish from BikeOrlando.net highly recommend the 1.7-mile neighborhood Kewannee Trail in Casselberry for families looking for an easy and peaceful route.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Mudfish said. “People who live there don’t even know about it.”
The pair also recommends a bike route through Maitland, from Lake Lily Park to Maitland Community Park. With places to stop to play along the way, Mudfish said the Maitland Community Park part of the route is great for kids.
In Winter Park, Breakaway Bicycles off Park Avenue recommends riders try a route the store calls the “Winter Park Wander.” Store Manager Steven DeWitt said the route roughly follows that of the Winter Park Boat Tour, but on land. Riders can stop in the store to pick up a map of the route.
“There’s a lot of really beautiful houses out there … and traffic on the roads is pretty slow moving,” he said.
The store also offers a weekly urban mountain bike group ride. “You’re trying to have fun like you’re on a mountain bike trail, but in the city,” he said.
The closest Central Floridians can get to mountains are the hills on the trails in Clermont, or the Lake Druid Park mountain bike track, which opened late last year.
Lake Druid Park sits at the west end of the Cady Way Trail. “It’s a great location,” Bobcat said. “…And a lot of people don’t know it’s there yet.”
Mounds of red clay form three tracks, a pump track, junior pump track and single-track trail.
Where to stop
As the old adage goes: it’s not about the destination, but the journey you take to get there. But sometimes bikers like to have a destination to stop along the way as they trek along the trails.
Two of the most popular “hop off” spots are Winter Garden and Baldwin Park.
Bobcat and Mudfish recommend Baldwin Park as the most convenient place in the Orlando area to pull right off the trail to grab a bite to eat or drink. With a variety of restaurants up and down New Broad Street, riders can park their bikes at Harbor Park and easily walk wherever they’d like to go.
Winter Garden, however, Harmic said, has the most bike friendly downtown in the area. The city redeveloped its downtown around the West Orange Trail, with shops and restaurants stretching up and down Plant Street, including Plant Street Market, which is modeled after the East End Market in Audubon Park.
“That’s become a real destination area,” Harmic said.
Riding into the future
The Central Florida area wasn’t planned with bike trails in mind, Harmic said. So today, cities and counties are working to squeeze the trails in where they can, a couple miles here and a couple miles there.
“It’s a matter of budgeting and permitting,” he said.
Acquiring the land and permits necessary to connect the area’s existing trails isn’t easy, but Harmic said the ultimate goal is to have as much connectivity as possible.
“We want to give people a place to bike and roller blade and jog without having to cross too many motorways,” Harmic said.
DeWitt at Breakaway Bicycles said he’s seen improvement in the Orlando-area bike scene since he first started pedaling here in 2008.
“They have all the pieces in place,” he said. “They just need to connect them.”
The same can be said for the Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail planned to stretch 250 miles through nine counties from the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg to the Atlantic Coast in Titusville. The estimated cost to complete the trail is around $50 million.
“You could literally bike from sea to shining sea,” Mudfish said.
The Coast-to-Coast Trail’s completion could be years off, but Ian Sikonia, Orlando’s bicycle & pedestrian coordinator, is confident that trails will continue to be a top priority going forward in the Orlando area.
According to user counts from 2015, Orlando’s trails average 165,563 users a month. Sikonia said he has learned to adopt a specific philosophy as he’s worked to make Orlando more bike friendly.
“It really shows,” Sikonia said, “if you build it they will come.”