Aldin Mathews, Assistant Park Manager
Although the Gen. James A. Van Fleet State Trail is a paved rail-trail, it is also considered the most rural, or remote trail in Florida. It runs through the Green Swamp, the headwaters for some of Florida’s most popular rivers including the Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Peace. Landscapes change dramatically from the southern end in Polk City to the northern tip on Highway 50 in Sumter County at the designated neighborhood of Mabel.
Habitats vary from cedar-laden, green-flecked swamps of the Green Swamp and Withlacoochee State Forest to former citrus lands and cattle ranches, with pines and hardwoods in between. With only one curve in its 29.2 miles, you can choose to go slow and view the multitude of wildlife or enjoy it at a brisk pace. Most of the trail is shaded by the rich variety of trees and in the spring and fall, wildflowers abound.
Along the way, you may have the opportunity to view a variety of wildlife including alligators, turkey, deer, gopher tortoises, rabbits and even Sherman’s Fox Squirrel. Snakes of every variety also enjoy the warmth of the pavement, so ride and walk with awareness and enjoy those things you may not see in your own back yard. Livestock can also be seen as you pass by pastures of cattle, goats and even Alpacas. The Alpaca farm is located 1.5 miles north of the Polk City trail head.
Amenities include restrooms and pavilions at each of the four trail heads including Polk City (restroom is 1/2 mile north of trail head), Green Pond, Bay Lake and Mabel. Please be sure to bring insect repellant, drinking water and sunblock so that you can better enjoy the Real Florida.
Please note that during Hurricane Irma (September 2017), hundreds of trees were blown down over the trail. Although every effort was made to remove all fallen trees and associated hazards, please be aware that you may still encounter newly fallen trees, hanging limbs and uneven surfaces. Please use the trail at your own risk.
We hope to see you out on the trail soon!