Cycling Our Parks
We once again welcome guest blogger and FBA’s own Board Secretary, Patty Huff
Every summer for the past 20 years, my husband and I have taken a “biking” holiday – somewhere around the U.S. or in Europe. This year it was to be Wales, but instead we drove to north Florida (with our bikes) to find some remote country roads. My sister generously offered her unoccupied vacation home as a safe haven for us to retreat. We packed up a week’s worth of groceries which included my homemade granola, yogurt and lots of pre-made salads/sandwiches for the road and our bike touring. Usually, we’re able to get away for two to four weeks; this year we had only four full days to ride and see the countryside.
Fortunately, we were staying close to the 18.6 mile Timpoochee Trail which parallels the Gulf of Mexico shoreline and Scenic Highway 30-A. The first day we wanted to explore as much as possible so we biked east through tree-lined Rosemary Beach as far as the trail would take us. On our return, we biked a bike path along South County Highway 395, continuing north across SR98 for one mile to Eden Gardens State Park with its beautiful 165 acres of moss-draped live oaks and historical 1897 mansion.
The land was originally purchased by William Henry Wesley who built his family home there (now known as the Wesley House). After Mrs. Wesley passed away in 1953, the house remained vacant for 10 years until the wealthy New York publisher Lois Maxon purchased it and the surrounding 10.5 acres for $12,500; she said “I have found my Eden.” When her health began to decline, Ms. Maxon donated the property and the 5,500 sq ft home with its elegant white columns and imposing wrap-around porch to the State of Florida. We enjoyed cycling around the grounds and having our picnic lunch overlooking Tucker Bayou. We then spent the afternoon biking around Point Washington on backcountry roads.
The next day we drove 31 miles north on US 331 to the picturesque town of DeFuniak Springs. What a pleasant and interesting settlement! One of the greatest things about biking through our small quaint towns is how much we learn about old Florida.
DeFuniak Springs was built as a gated campus for teachers, known as “The Education Resort of the South.” At its height the town welcomed up to 4,000 visitors a day arriving by train to attend the Florida Chautauqua Assembly meetings, held annually from 1885 to 1927. Chipley Park is the centerpiece of DeFuniak Springs with historic homes situated around the perfectly-round spring-fed lake. It’s relaxing to either hike or bike around Circle Drive which we did before heading north of the city along rural roads to Juniper Lake and Lake Stanley for about 20 miles before returning to town to lunch under a gazebo at the park.
At the advice of one of my nieces who recommended that we visit Conservation Park in Panama City Beach, we spent the following day cycling 19 miles to the east. This route took us back on the Timpoochee Trail to the end, then on a short bike path on SR 98 and a 7-mile section of SR 98 on a bike lane to reach Griffin Road and finally another couple of miles north to reach our destination.
The park itself has over 2,900 acres with 24 miles of hiking/biking trails, many of them rock and sand trails, and over a mile of boardwalks under the cypress trees. We had our hybrid bikes so stayed on the packed-dirt main circular 9.5-mile trek with its impressive rows of towering pine trees; a very isolated and easy off-road trail for us. Public restrooms are available at the Trail Head building with a covered picnic area where we enjoyed another homemade lunch.
Wanting to experience more of our state parks, we cycled west on our last day to Grayton Beach and beyond. We were able to avoid the crowds in Seaside by cycling through the neighborhood in the Watercolor community until we reached the Timpoochee Trail again on the far west end of Seagrove.
We continued along the least crowded section of the Trail with boardwalks overlooking lakes and views of the wetlands. We stopped to cycle around the historic district of Grayton Beach before visiting its state park in Santa Rosa. What a beautiful setting with pristine beaches and four miles of trails in the 2,000 acre state park. We cycled to the end of the park’s main road but stayed off the beaches since the parking lot was full of cars and bicycles; we were trying to distance ourselves from the crowds so we continued west along 30-A to Topsail Hill State Park at the end of the Timpoochee Trail. This park is named for its pure white dunes which resemble tall ship sails and was originally a private RV resort. We had a wonderful ride all through the preserve and found a quiet picnic area close to the shoreline to have our lunch.
This year’s bike trip was short but well worth it for the few days we had to discover several state parks we had not experienced before. Although the Timpoochee Trail can be crowded at times with runners, walkers and other cyclists, it’s nice to have a separated pathway to connect the various parks. We even missed a few in this area: Deer Lake State Park with its 1.5 mile hiking trail and Camp Helen State Park on SR 98 which offers a few hiking/biking trails, including the paved North Trail alongside Lake Powell leading to an earth-packed mile loop.
My main message is to stay safe while you get out and explore our State Parks!
For more information, visit the following websites:
Timpoochee Trail (https://www.traillink.com/trail/timpoochee-trail/)
Eden Gardens State Park (https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/eden-gardens-state-park)
DeFuniak Springs (https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/defuniak-springs.html)
Grayton Beach State Park (https://www.floridastateparks.org/graytonbeach)
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park (https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/topsail-hill-preserve-state-park)
Deer Lake State Park (https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/deer-lake-state-park)
Camp Helen State Park (https://www.floridastateparks.org/learn/trails-camp-helen)
Do you enjoy bicycle stories? Our quarterly Messenger newsletter is available online for your internet reading pleasure, just visit the FBA website Home page . Want a hard copy of our Messenger? FBA members have the Messenger delivered to their door every quarter. Join Florida Bicycle Association or visit one of our bicycle shop members to pick up a copy and use the membership form inside to join!