Well here goes my first travel post. Hope you guys enjoy and maybe you will visit our great state with your bike soon. Cilla, wife, and I enjoy using our Rialta to travel and explore bicycle paths (mainly Rails to Trails) around the country. The latest trip took us to a few Southern Florida areas. Our usual routine includes a 20 or 30 mile bike ride in the morning before the temperature gets high and a drive of no more than 4 hours or so.
We had reservations starting on Nov. 25th for three days at Bahia Honda State Park
on Bahia Honda Key, about 35 miles out of Key West. This is the closest state park to Key West, but there are several private parks closer. We find that Florida State Parks are some of the best in the country and much better than private ones for our needs, price being just one of those qualities. Next we were going to spend a few days at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
on Key Largo. The plan was to bike sections of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
, a 106.5 mile trail that goes from Key Largo to Key West.
With our area enjoying some of the coolest weather recorded for this time of year on November 24, we skipped riding in the morning on our local trail and drove to Oscar Scherer State Park
in Osprey . (near Venice) to access the Legacy Trail and the Venetian Waterway Park Trai
l for a 24 mile bike ride. Then we drove further south to Naples and stayed at Rock Creek RV Park. http://www.rockcreekrv.com
. The first thing we noticed was the park is right across the street from the local airport and is one of those places where the office is somewhere toward the middle of the facility. However, the planes stopped just before dark and all was well. If we had had more time to plan this leg we would have stayed in one of the state parks a little closer to our next destination which was to ride at Shark Valley
in Everglades National Park. This is a 15 mile loop on the tram trail. There are super views of the Everglades and local wildlife, including an observation tower with restrooms halfway along the loop. It does make one wonder as you pass alligators sunning themselves on the trail. We were glad to have a bike and not be on foot. There is a tram for those wishing to see the sights that way. The afternoon was spend driving to Bahia Honda Key. The key is very close to Big Pine Key the only place where Key Deer live. Once we got checked in we had a chance to enjoy great views. This park is a must see if in the area. There is a wonderful nature center, kayking, beaches (though we are not beach people) and 4 miles of paths to ride our bikes on. It is very close to the Oversea Highway, as are all the campgrounds in the Keys.
This is the trail to the observation tower at Shark Valley. The ride was super. What a great way to see the glades. If you just show up you can rent a beater for the ride. As with most of Florida the trail was flat but still the scenery was fantastic.
While we had to dodge a few gators on the trail, this guy was there next to the door of the Rialta when we returned.
For day three of our trip we drove into Key West. There is very little parking on the island and parking an RV on Key West streets will get you a nice $50.00 ticket. There are several private lots near the city, but they are quite expensive. Great parking can be found at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. It's located at the Southern end of the key and a good place for a picnic and tour the historic fort. This year there is construction on North Roosevelt Drive, but a rig as small as the Rialta will not have any problem. The best way around the city is to either use a bike (there are many bike rental places) or walk. Key West is indeed a very bike friendly community. Another place to find free RV parking is along Smathers Beach on South Roosevelt Drive. The overseas trail manager emailed me the best bike route around the whole key, which is about 18 miles of flat bike path with some parts on the bike lanes. Please remember that Florida is FLAT, so even if you haven't ridden a bike in a long time it's quite easy here. Cilla and I are a little too old to enjoy some of what Key West has to offer, but that didn't stop us from having a great time. Our next door neighbor at home was once the mayor of Key West and filled us in on a few good places to visit and eat, but there are a variety to choose from. There are many places to see once in town but don't miss the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory on Duval Street. We returned to the state park late in the afternoon and rode the parks trails to add another 8 miles to our daily total. By dark we didn't have any problems going to sleep.
Day four was mostly a replay of day 3. We stopped along the bike trail to take a photo with the giant labeled buoy which marks the southernmost point in the US (90 miles from Cuba). It's a tourist attraction so there was a line, but worth waiting for a perfect photo op. We did a little walking around the town (more tourists of course) and there are lots of different goods for sale. After returning to the campground we walked though the park's butterfly garden and to base of the historic Bahia Honda Bridge, then visited the Bahai Honda Nature center..
This picture pretty much sums it up.
For day five we needed to drive back to Key Largo. On the way we stopped at the old seven mile bridge on Knight's Key in the city of Marathon. We rode our bikes to Pigeon Key Historic District
(they offer tours too) and over part of the old bridge itself as pelicans flew around us, then continued on the oversea highway trail to the other end of Knight's Key. While riding the trail we passed the Sea Turtle Hospital
in Marathon and took the tour. In the past we have visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island and enjoyed it, but, they are small potatoes compared to the one in FL. This rescue and rehabilitation facility was formally a motel and the swimming pool is now used for the recovering sea turtles. The tour is almost 2 hours long and VERY informative. If you have any interest in nature and sea turtles this is a MUST stop. Check it out. After the tour we continued to Key Largo for the next couple of days and stayed at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. It's one of the best parks we have been to. Their nature center is better than a lot of private ones and includes an educational aquarium. There are opportunities to swim, kayak, scuba and snorkel. The only down side for us was that even though this part of the Oversea Highway has the most developed off road bike trails, it's mostly a large sidewalk right beside US (not my favorite place to ride). However we did enjoy getting off the main trail to ride around the Key Largo Hammock Botanical Garden Park
and we could do our food shopping using our bikes instead of moving the Rialta during our stay.
Here we are at the Sea Turtle Hospital.
This is the part of Old Number 7 that is still open to bikes and walkers. It's two miles into the sea. On the left is the Atlantic and the right is the Gulf of Mexico.
The bridge ends at Pigeon Key which we didn't get to tour. It will be on our next trip.
On our last day in the Keys we decided we would drive back to the Everglades to ride at Shark Valley ride again and then continue on to Koreshan State Historic Site http://www.floridastateparks.org/koreshan/default.cfm
for that night. However, the weather wasn't with us and it was raining at Shark Valley. Cilla pulled out some of our trail guides and started reading about other trails within our driving time. She mentioned Sanibel Island, which I remembered from an article in Motorhome a few years ago. So after a call to Periwinkle Park Campground (the only RV park on the island) http://www.sanibelcamping.com
to find a campsite, off we went. This is a great park, so don't believe the reviews on the web. There are two things to be aware of however, as they do not allow dogs (they have an variety of birds and animals on exhibit) and they do not take credit cards.
For the next two days we had the time of our lives. The Rialta stayed parked as the whole island is best traveled by bike. While they do not have a true rail trail, there is paved, flat off road biking all over the island. A not-to-miss stop is the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling/
. For those of you with a Senior Pass it's a freebee and for all others it's worth every penny and then some. Wildlife drive is fantastic. However, until next spring when they repave the road it's a little bumpy on a bike. Cilla and I enjoyed seeing real snow birds because the refuge is the winter home of many white pelicans. During our stay at Sanibel we were planning our return trip. For food we only had to ride about 2 miles to the best place on the island IMHO, The Island Cow http://www.sanibelislandcow.com
. For us it's a new favorite place to dine. It's hard to beat the food, great service, reasonable prices, location and ambiance. However there's a variety of restaurants all over the island and most are excellent. There's a wonderful Sunday morning farmer's market by City hall and two excellent grocery stores. Sanibel is simply beautiful and only only one third of it is developed. It's a great place for the beach, shelling, golf, tennis, boating and biking (26 miles of connected trail) and truly intermodal. What a way to end a trip, but sadly we had to head home to a doctor's office waiting room.
The "real snowbirds" of Sanibel Island are white pelicans.
"Again with the gators"- However, I guess Sanibel gators are more trouble as we never saw any signs like this at Shark Valley where they are all over the path.
On the way back to Dunnellon we spent two more days back at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey to camp and ride the trails again. During the 12 days we were gone, the Rialta traveled 1234 miles, averaged 17.4 mpg and had zero problems. We rode 374 miles on our bikes and have already decided to return again next year. After only two years in our adopted state, we have only begun to enjoy all that Florida has to offer.