In 1888 the first train on the Orange Belt Railroad arrived in St. Petersburg, Fla. Now — one hundred years later — a rails-to-trails conversion of that same railroad corridor into a protected recreational trail is in the works. The greenway is open for visitors who would use it for walking, hiking, skating, bicycling or scooting along on Segways. With tens of thousands of users each month, this is fast becoming a popular urban trail. Named after a former Pinellas County administrator, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail extends from cosmopolitan St. Petersburg in the south to the quaint community of Tarpon Springs in the north. Along the way it passes through residential neighborhoods, sleepy seaside towns, busy metropolitan areas, sugarlike sand beaches and many other attractions. More than 40 miles long, the Pinellas Trail offers spurs and connections with other bike-and-hike routes to even more recreational opportunities, and numerous campgrounds provide the perfect headquarters from which to enjoy this wonderful path.
Pinellas Trail Section One: St. Petersburg to Bay Pines
The official starting point is Demens Landing Park on First Avenue South in St. Petersburg. Before hitting the trail, bike along the waterfront on Bayshore Drive. This is part of the North Bay Trail and is situated between two yacht basins. To the north, you’ll pass a series of parks and breathtaking views of the marina. The Museum of History can be found at the entrance to the pier. Aviation enthusiasts will enjoy a full-size working replica of the Benoist airboat — considered to have been the start of the world’s first commercial airline in 1914. A great view of the bay is found at the iconic inverted pier. Visit before it is torn down and replaced with a new design; construction starts in June 2013.
South on Bayshore, the trail takes you past sailboats, the Mahaffey Theater, and the Dali Museum. Architecture on the latter is downright stunning; stop in for a docent-led tour to view an extensive collection of the surrealist’s work. Children enjoy playing at the adjacent aviation-themed playground. Adults rest at picnic tables and watch small aircraft land at Albert Whitted Airport.
Back on First Avenue South, the trail threads you through downtown St. Pete. A dedicated trail lane, situated between the sidewalk and the parking lane, protects trail-users from traffic.
Large groups of racing-short-clad bicycle groups fancy this area. Keep an ear out for the “on the left” warning that signals they’ll be zooming by. Dozens of shops and restaurants line the streets; you can’t go hungry here. Even though this is the busiest urban section, there are many wildlife sightings. Flocks of lime green parakeets fly from towering palms to impressive gumbo-limbo trees. The trail practically touches Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Grab some tickets and watch somebody blast a homerun. The next few miles are not so picturesque; the trail winds through industrial neighborhoods. Advisories have been posted to exercise caution when scheduling hours of travel.
Next, you pass by the towns of Gulfport, South Pasadena and Tyrone. Convenience stores, bike shops and family-style diners are plentiful. Feola’s Pizza, on the southwest corner of the trail and Fifth Avenue North, is a local favorite. Mile 10 takes travelers across Boca Ciega Bay via Cross Bayou Bridge — solely for trail users. The sunshine sparkles on blue waters, as pelicans and gulls swoop overhead. Turn right on 95th Street North to visit the KOA Campground — only a stone’s throw off the trail. Mangrove-lined waterfront campsites are the perfect backdrop for some well-deserved rest.
Pinellas Trail Section Two: Seminole to Dunedin
The linear park runs through well-kept residential neighborhoods — but don’t be surprised to see roosters and hens running wild. A must-stop detour happens at 102nd Avenue; turn left and take the sidewalk several blocks west to Walsingham County Park. Weave through paved trails thick with palmetto, live oaks and Spanish moss. Next, enter the Florida Botanical Gardens. Stroll along mosaic-tile pathways through acres of lush tropical flowers and trees — all identified with markers. Continue into Heritage Village, a living history museum showcasing 28 structures. These last three amazing attractions are absolutely free. The busy city of Largo is next along the trail. Large trees overhang the trail and make for a shaded ride. Stop at the Amish Country Store just west of the trail to sample a Pennsylvania Dutch meat sandwich.
Through Clearwater, the trail system changes a bit. In some places, instead of the separate trail previously enjoyed, it now runs alongside the road on a widened sidewalk.
When it does revert back to its own dedicated trail, there are many intersections with no stop signs for automobiles. So be extra carefully about traffic. There are vibrant trailside murals on this stretch.
One of America’s most walkable small cities, Dunedin, is next. The trail runs right through the middle of town. Cozy cafés and charming boutiques create a Rockwellian atmosphere. Head west on Main Street to Clearwater Harbor to find a marina full of boats, restaurants, a seafood market and Edgewater Park. If you’re on the trail on Friday or Saturday, stop at a trailside stand called Eli’s Bar-B-Que. Picnic under shade trees and dine on awesome grilled pork, chicken and sausages.
Pinellas Trail Section Three: North Dunedin to Tarpon Springs
Hammock Park lies a mile north of downtown Dunedin. You can walk on crushed shell pathways through the butterfly garden; 35 different species are found there. Another mile and you’re at the Honeymoon Island trail spur — be sure to take it. The trail runs along the south side of the causeway; you’re met with cool ocean breezes, a gorgeous beach and inviting Gulf waters. Jump in for a swim or rent a kayak or sailboat. The 2.5-mile causeway leads out to the island. There you’ll find virgin pine forests, great shelling opportunities and birding hotspots — roseate spoonbills are quite common. Back on the trail, there’s a beautiful aerial view of Smith Bayou on the overpass bridge at Orange Street. If you explore Honeymoon Island all day long, rest at nearby Sherwood Forest RV Resort.
Take a right on Tampa Road; it’s also just a stone’s throw off trail. Be sure to check out the trailside osprey nest at Florida Street. Continuing up toward Crystal Beach, the trail allows for more wide open, pleasant rural views. The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary can be seen (and visited) from the trail; take a right on Valley Street. Scrumptious Florida strawberries, tomatoes and citrus are found at a produce stand north of Klosterman Road between US Alternate 19 and the trail.
Heading into Tarpon Springs, one would be remiss not to visit the sponge docks. Turn left on Live Oak; it becomes Dodecanese Boulevard. This colorful community has a long history of sponge diving, and exhibitions are given daily. There are boat rides, sponge novelties and dozens of lively restaurants offering everything from rich baklava to belly dancing. If you are looking for a quieter conclusion to the trail, you can find it by taking the Elfers Spur to North Anclote River Nature Park. There you can picnic among eagles, bromeliads and the serene tidal stream.
The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail offers fantastic places to explore, multiple recreational opportunities and a number of nearby RV campgrounds. Pack up the trailer, visit a couple of trailside campgrounds and pedal, skate or walk your way through gorgeous and inviting Pinellas County, Fla.
Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail Nuts ‘n’ Bolts
• Open during daylight hours only.
• No fee.
• Pets must be kept on a 6-foot leash.
• Skaters and cyclists use bicycle lanes and give audible warning when passing.
• Motorized and nonmotorized wheelchairs use pedestrian lanes.
• Motorized bicycles and vehicles are prohibited.
• Age 16 and under must wear a helmet.
• Amenities include bike racks, restrooms, vehicle parking, storm shelters, restaurants, shops and water fountains. An online map/guide detailing amenities can be found at www.pinellascounty.org/trailgd. Hard copies are available at area bicycle shops and chambers of commerce.
• Yellow decals adhere to trail surface every 200 feet. They provide locations in case of an emergency.
• Ten overpasses and several underpasses allow trail-goers to travel above or underneath traffic at busy intersections.
• Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses allow single-seat, two-wheeled bikes.
• Buses provide a great alternative to backtracking the trail. Loading instructions and bus routes are found at www.psta.net.
Easy Pinella Trail Campgrounds
Numerous campgrounds are located along the trail; here are some recommendations.
Madeira Beach KOA