So if you're planning a trip to the Orlando, Florida area and looking for a place to go riding while you are there, one great place to check out is the West Orange Trail. As a 22-mile former railway now converted to a trail for cyclists and pedestrians, it's a wonderful way to see the "real" Florida, away from the saccharine tourist sites. There are several segments that are particularly worthwhile, and several segments that you'd be recommended to skip if you are short on time. Here's the real scoop on the trail as I found it on a recent ride.
Flat, Flat, Flat
If you don't like hills, the West Orange Trail is the perfect route for you. For most of its 22-miles, this paved path -- which is operated by the Orange County (Florida) Department of Parks and Recreation (407-654-1108) -- is flat, flat, flat, as it follows the route of the former Orange Belt Line through several old Florida farming towns, including Oakland, Winter Garden, Ocoee and Apopka.
I started at Killarney Station, the anchor park at the east end of the trail located at 17914 State Road 438 Winter Garden, FL 34787. As you know, it's not always easy to find a bike when you travel, but the good news is that West Orange Bikes and Blades is there to offer rental service including road bikes, comfort bikes, tandems and bikes for kids. They have a terrific, friendly staff and rates are reasonable for hourly, daily and even weekly periods. Contact via website or by phone at (407) 877-0600).
Just a few short strokes of the pedals down the trail from Killarney Station you'll come through the most charming part of the trail, the little town of Oakland, Florida. The place is absolutely beautiful, with massive live oak trees draped with Spanish Moss, quaint little houses, mostly unpaved roads and free-range chickens walking alongside the path. You'll enjoy a quiet trip through some woods after that, then the action picks up a bit as the trail winds through some newer subdivisions; goes past a number of parks along the way that offer restrooms and water and spends a couple miles following the perimeter of a large golf course.
The trail also passes several schools in its 22 miles, so depending on the time of day you are out, you might find yourself alongside kids on BMX bikes headed to school or moms walking clumps of youngsters down the trail to class.
Although the trail continues past Apopka, it is basically a broad sidewalk next to a busy four-lane road with frequent entrances to fast food places, grocery stores, gas stations, and the like. Unless you have a burning desire to ride the entire path just for the sake of getting it done, you can eliminate the 1.5 mile segment north of the park and high school in Apopka -- basically everything north of Lake McCoy Drive, where the trail moves alongside CR435/North Park Avenue and not feel like you've missed anything.
Lots of Local Charm and Color
If you're interested in learning more about the history of this area, the Winter Garden Heritage Museum is located just off the trail in a former depot. This area was packed with agriculture, and the museum describes the region's past producing and shipping oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and other crops.
Food and Support Along the Way
There are at a minimum three places to rent bikes or get service on the West Orange Trail. In addition to West Orange Bikes and Blades, other shops along the way are available to help with rentals or service/repair on your bike. Winter Garden Wheel Works (407-287-5363)is right on the trail in downtown Winter Garden. On the north/west end Spin City Cycles at 515 North Park Avenue is available for you too. (Related article: How to Work With a Bike Shop)
And though food can be a little scarce between Killarney Station and Winter Garden, it's only five miles and the shops and restaurants and little eating spots that line the brick streets of Winter Garden will surely provide the fuel you need. The next ten miles or so will be a bit thin with choices but again in Apopka things look up as there are plenty of fast food and convenience store options to ensure you won't starve. Related article: What to Look for in a Bike Trail
If you go east from Killarney Station (i.e., away from the West Orange Trail) you'll find yourself on a 1.5 mile spur that connects you to the South Lake Minneola Trail. This section is nicely shaded, and unlike the straight and flat West Orange Trail features some short hills and curvy sections.
Look Sharp at these Points
Between Winter Garden and Apopka, the trail splits at CR435/N. Apopka/Vineland Rd/Clarcona Rd and again, markings aren't clear. Going straight ahead/to the north will put you on a spur that ends not long after at Clarcona Horsemen's Park. Cyclists going through will need to make a hard right turn at that junction instead, but again, it's not real clear which path a person should take. I had to get the map and study a bit, and even then I wasn't completely sure at first if I was headed the right way. You'll know you've found the right spot as the trail here passes through a beautiful shaded tree canopy that seems to go on and on.
The final sketchy section of the trail occurs where the West Orange Trail just sort of ends, but no body bothers to tell you. North of Apopka, once a person passes the park and school complex, the trail is basically a broad sidewalk next to North Park Street. Although it ends after about a mile at Welch Street, no signage announces that fact, and I continued on a sidewalk for about another two miles before realizing I was no longer on the trail. Not a big deal, but I had timed my trip for 45 miles (~22 out/back) not 50 miles.