Saturday, February 4, 2017

Alafia River State Park, Florida, January 29, 2017

Alafia River State Park, Lithia, Florida, 1/29/2017.

Distance: 9.8 miles (all trails)

Elevation Gain: 800'+

Trailhead: Alafia River State Park is located at 14326 South County Road 39 (S CR 39) in Lithia, Florida.  There is a $4 fee to enter the park. Maps are available online and at the park entrance (I've also included them at the end of this report). 

Hiked with Carol today.  We chose Alafia at the advice of other hikers who've used the varied terrain it offers to train for mountain hiking.  Of particular interest to us was the offroad bike trails (maintained by SWAMP Club).

When training for mountain ascents and descents, Florida residents have to get creative. Alafia River Park is an old phosphate mining site, complete with craters and berms adjacent to soft green pools. We wanted the ups and downs these trails offered; we needed to get our legs in shape for mountain hiking.

At 8 a.m. we arrived at the park and pulled into an empty parking lot.  It had been raining since dawn, not the best conditions for offroad biking but to us that meant the trails would be quiet. On went the rain pants and rain coats (good move as there was one incline where I slipped and was covered in sand, clay and wet).

We started on the bike trail by the restrooms  - heading toward Gatorback and then to Shellys Loop. Boardwalks, pavers and concrete planks provide traction and reduce erosion on the bike trails.

The clay surface requires extra effort!

I had my GPS with me and occasionally we'd stop and check our cumulative elevation gain and distance, and the park map to see which interesting trail was coming up. 

SWAMP Club posted maps throughout the park.

We enjoyed the scenery and the challenge of the very wet trails.  The phosphate pools look so serene and we were wowed by the fields of ferns.

Our goal was to hit the hilliest, most challenging trails - double black diamonds -  for the best workout. We zigzagged, diverted to other trails and paths, checked out this and that hill, stopped to goof off under the fruit trees and to watch an armadillo before heading to Rabbit Ears.

The park has bike, hike and equestrian trails.

Neon green creek.

Many of the advanced trails are not open to hikers, as they are single track and one-way with no place to escape should a bike come screaming down the path. (If I was riding on a "bikes-only" trail, I would be unhappy to find a hiker on it.) 

These trails have much character and if the park wasn't so deserted on this cold, rainy morning, we wouldn't have considered being on them.  In fact, we avoided them - for a while anyway, until we were sure they were empty. Then like naughty girls we ducked into an "exit," heading opposite traffic, carefully checking any blind corner or hump to be certain we wouldn't wind up smashing into an unsuspecting cyclist. There were none, thankfully.

Moonscape is one of the trails not open to hikers.

The large, lush ferns made us feel small.

After Moonscape we headed back to our starting point (the parking lot) and decided to behave ourselves on Old Agrico, the park's official hiking trail.

We found this trail just as lovely as the bike trails, and with a little challenge (especially since we made sport of going offtrail to run up a bump or two to get the extra gain and exercise). 

After a short jaunt on River Loop and Rock Garden, we returned to our cars.  We both agreed that this was one of the best hikes we've done here as far as terrain and scenery.

Our crazy route!

Bike trails.

Hiking trail map.