32.5 miles (Asphalt)
Rating: 9 (out of 10)
110 Road/Driveway Crossings (1-way)
756 People Encountered (Both Ways)
Pros: Wow. Check out the number of people encountered. The difference between Nature Coast Trail and West Orange Trail was like night versus day. The West Orange trail had plenty of nice trail stations offering a wide variety of amenities. Never had a worry about not having a restroom along the trail available for use. I felt safe leaving the bicycle unlocked while taking a restroom break. Killarney Station even had a bicycle shop in it. South Lake Trail had no car barrier posts and West Orange Trail used center of trail posts sparingly. I felt very safe on the trail with the exception of when going through Apopka. No dogs chases. Food and drink was available along the route. There were even some igloo water coolers on the trail. Did not see any litter which is remarkable for such a busy trail. Trail had painted center lines where needed to keep riders to the right. Bicycle rentals were available. Picnic tables and benches provided rest areas along the trail. There were maps at trail stations. Busy intersections had pedestrian buttons to aid in crossings. Many intersections had a railing for bicyclists to hold so they could remain seated and feet clipped in on the bicycle while waiting to cross. The trail right-of-way was so well maintained it often looked like a botanical garden. The asphalt trail was an astonishing 14 feet wide most of the time. The number of driveway/road crossings was quite low with about half the crossings being in the busy Apopka area. The scenery along the trail changes often and was so varied that that I couldn't wait to see what was around the next corner. The beauty in some sections is beyond belief. There were several intersecting trails like the Lulu Trail and Handcock Road Trail to explore.
Cons: This trail is not the typical straight and flat rails-to-trails type ride. There are plenty of twists and turns along the trail and there were some short hills with steep 5-10 percent grades which might be a hinder to those not in shape. Did not see any camping along the trail. There were irritating 1-2 inch concrete curb bumps at some intersections making it necessary to either jump the bicycle over the bumps or slow down. I did not feel safe in downtown Apopka where churches had burglar bars on their windows. No lodging was seen along the trail but there had to have been some in the nearby towns. The number of people using this trail was the most I've ever seen on a trail and as such required patience to get around the people jams most notable near trail stations and in downtown Winter Garden. There were minor root bumps and occasional asphalt cracking but they did not present any hazards to safe riding. If I were to ride this trail again, it would be only up to south Apopka so as to avoid riding along the busy Clarcona Road, through the slums of Apopka and along the final section of the trail in north Apopka which is but a wide sidewalk crossing a multitude of driveways and roads. One disappointment was the trail which skirts along the south and east side of huge Lake Apopka never got close enough to the lake for riders to see. In hindsight, there was the Machete Trail off the Oakland Nature Preserve which had a trail to the lake. Plus not far from the West Orange Trail about a mile and a half northwest of the large Forest Lake Golf Club is Magnolia Park where the Lake Apopka Loop Trail starts and that loop trail goes for a significant distance along the upper part of Lake Apopka.
Viewpoint: In a nutshell, YES, I would love to ride this trail again with the exception of the last 1-2 miles of the trail in upper Apopka. The beauty of this smooth wide well maintained trail along with there being plenty of safe trailhead stations explains why about 2 million people use the trail each year. There was too much to explore in this area and not enough time to do it so I'll just have to go back and spend more quality bicycle riding time in this area.
The downloadable GPS track of the South Lake Trail and the West Orange Trail can be found here:
Click on any thumbnail below to bring up a larger view photo gallery with commentary.