Take a week this winter and swap the cold and snow for the warm, sandy beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Described as the “Forgotten Coast,” the “Undiscovered Coast,” and “Florida as it used to be,” this tour visits some of the most pristine beaches in America, along with other coastal and inland landscapes. We’ll even carry your belongings so you can enjoy your Sunshine State getaway unburdened by gear.
We’ll camp on barrier islands among white dunes and endless beaches populated by pelicans, cormorants, and ibis. Inland we’ll witness how eons of geologic and hydrologic forces have formed sinkholes, upwelling springs, clear cool streams, and caves. We’ll also learn that Florida is not entirely flat.
So shake off the cold, grab your bike, and join us for a winter trip of terrific cycling in a place where you can walk through the white stuff barefoot and warm those frozen toes.
|Start Date:||Feb 21, 2015||End Date:||Feb 28, 2015|
|Start Location:||Panama City, FL||End Location:||Panama City, FL|
|Total Days:||8||Riding Days:||7|
|Average Daily Mileage:||47.6||Surface:||Paved|
|Riders:||13||Airport:||NW Florida Beaches (ECP)|
|Tour Leader:||Nicole Blouin, Bill White||Meals:||Shared cooking|
|Physical Difficulty:||Beginner+||Level of Support:||Van Supported|
St. Andrews State Park. We’ll meet as a group for the first time at beautiful St. Andrews State Park, situated on a peninsula overlooking Grand Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico. The 1,200-acre park, a former military reservation, is a wilderness oasis that contrasts sharply with Panama City and its parade of high-rise buildings, which march along the far side of Grand Lagoon. There’s plenty to do here, from watching the native wildlife, to taking a boat or canoe tour, or enjoying a dip in the Gulf.
St. Andrews to Falling Waters State Park, 60 miles. We’ll start our day by spinning along the sugar-colored beaches of the Gulf Coast before striking inland. Our route will take us past numerous small lakes and ponds, culminating in a hilltop campground at Falling Waters State Park. You won’t want to miss walking the well-shaded Sink Hole Trail, which leads to the 100-foot deep, 20-foot wide Falling Waters Sink (where the water goes from there, nobody knows…).
Falling Waters to Florida Caverns State Park, 25 miles. It’s a quick ride today to Marianna and the caves just outside of town, so we’ll have plenty of time to explore. Take a tour of the caverns and you’ll be awed by the stunning formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and more. You might even enjoy a swim in the Blue Hole, a pool fed by the underground waters of Florida’s common karst topography.
Florida Caverns to Torreya State Park, 47 miles. We’ll follow Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier route and cross the Chattahoochee River before heading downstream along the river’s rolling bank. Considered one of Florida’s most scenic places, Torreya State Park’s infrastructure, like that of many Florida parks, was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It is named for a rare species of Torreya tree that only grows along the bank of the Apalachicola River. You’ll want to keep your camera close at hand, as over 100 species of birds have been identified in the park.
Torreya to Ochlockonee River State Park, 60 miles. Most of today’s route is through the relatively remote Apalachicola National Forest; we’ll notice that the rivers we cross begin to widen and slow down as they approach the coast. Our campground tonight is at the junction of the Ochlockonee and Dead rivers, with nearby nature trails and swimming holes. The park could be called “Meeting of the Waters,” as the rivers here are a mix of brackish water, fresh water, and tidal-surge saltwater. Canoes are also available to paddle the lazy Ochlockonee and explore meandering bayous.
Ochlockonee to St. George Island State Park, 49 miles. It’s back to the coast today, where we’ll ride near water’s edge. Worth a stop in Carrabelle is the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum, site of a key World War II amphibious training camp; Camp Bell, as it was known during its operational years, was home to some 35,000 troops preparing for the D-Day assault. Later, we’ll cross over to a barrier island and continue to its end, where we’ll sleep amid pristine white dunes after strolling along the endless beaches, searching for shells and watching the sunset.
St. George Island to Mexico Beach, 55 miles. We’ll cross Apalachicola Bay and East Bay via two very long bridges (with wide shoulders) to historic Apalachicola, center of Florida’s “Forgotten Coast.” The city’s bevy of historic homes and other structures recall its maritime past as a major shipping port. You may want to swing in for some oysters, considered among the best in the nation, before continuing on to our campground at Mexico Beach — a small, serene town where, it is said, things move at a slower pace and the Gulf waters are warm and clean. Free of river silt and composed entirely of quartz, the beaches here are as white as cotton clouds.
Mexico Beach to St. Andrews State Park, 37 miles. We’ll close the loop today, pedaling along the coast and passing through Tyndall Air Force Base, before taking the back way through Panama City. At day’s end, our winter escape through old Florida will be over, but the memories of white-sand beaches, glorious sunshine, and top-notch cycling will keep us warm for the rest of the winter. You’ll be glad you traded snow for sand.
"The warm day that finished the tour. The folks back home in St Louis were cold!"
2014 Tour Participant
"The campsites each night were wonderful and each had something unique to offer...from seeing a waterfall plunging into a sinkhole to touring caverns to walking the white sandy beaches and experiencing the small communities nestled along the coast...every day was truly a fun adventure."
2014 Tour Participant
"The State Parks were great. Beautifully kept and great locations."
2014 Tour Participant