This route and photos are brought to you by Dora Suarez, aka Dora the Graveling Explorer.
She was one of the winners of our 2021 5-star Route Challenge and became a Gravel Bike Adventures' Ambassador for us in 2022!
Lake Apopka is a scenic gravel trail in Central Florida which is popular with cyclists, hikers, bird watchers and nature lovers. Expect beautiful scenery and the opportunity to see lots of tropical birds, mammals such as otters, and some large and small reptiles!
I have ridden in the Lake Apopka area at least 3-times, and of the various routes ridden, this one remains my favorite because it's nearly ALL gravel. The route starts/ends at Magnolia Park and rides to the Green Mountain Scenic Overlook Trailhead and back. (There IS a loop option that is mixed surfaces including road, paved bike trails and a much smaller percentage of gravel.)
Lake Apopka is not far from the hustle & bustle of Orlando and the world of theme parks- about a 4-hour drive from South Florida. When I visit Lake Apopka, I enjoy staying with friends or at an Airbnb near downtown historic Winter Garden, a charming town with lots of restaurants, quaint shops and easy access to the West-Orange Rail-Trail.
This is Florida, so expect sun, heat and little to no shelter or shade. To avoid excess sun & heat, it's always recommend to start your ride as soon as trails are open in the early morning. Dora also recommends a hydration pack as well as gloves, sun sleeves, and MTB style helmet with a visor or cycling cap.
Do this ride if you are looking for a nearly all gravel, flat trail that is great for most cyclists, including beginners. Expect beautiful Florida scenery and the opportunity to see lots wildlife!
Magnolia Park, where this ride starts, has bathrooms and ample parking. There are two parking lots. The west lot is adjacent to the Lake and is where I would suggest to park first if possible. The west lot is smaller and limited, so if this area is full, park across the street at the main lot.
The trailhead you'll be using for this route is accessed from the smaller west parking lot and can be found at the north end just past the park main office. (The trail starts out paved and follows along the main road for a short jaunt until you reach the gravel trail.)
There are no food resupply options on the route, so pack enough water and snacks for your ride. You will find some shelters that can provide a shady break, and upon arrival at the mid-way point (at the Green Mountain Scenic Overlook trailhead) you will find bathrooms and a water refill station.
The trails are exposed and often windy so keep that in mind. Flat terrain means constant pedaling, and head-winds or cross-winds can increase difficulty. (The majority of the climbing happens all at once- right around the turn around point.)
A little history: Lake Apopka in the 40's was a fishing paradise, known for bass fishing and a community of fish camps that populated its shorelines. Throughout the years, the discharge of agriculture nutrient rich water escalated to a chronic algae bloom which shut down the lake's recreational usage. Fast forward to to the mid 90's when the St Johns River Water Management District began work to restore the wetland and marsh areas and today thanks to ongoing conservation work we have this beautiful vibrant eco-system that is flourishing. You can learn more on their website.
Dora recommends and loves her Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H tires for her gravel riding because it handles Florida's rock, limestone, dirt and sand very well.
Magnolia park also offers RV & tent camping which can be an option for lodging. To reserve an individual campsite, visit Camping & Environmental Education and click "Online Camping Reservations."
After your ride, it is worth the short drive to the nearby town of Winter Garden. There are numerous restaurants in the historic downtown area. Some that I enjoyed during a recent visit are listed below and all located off the West-Orange Rail Trail on Plant Street:
Rosallie's French Cafe
NY Bagel Deli & Pizza
The Whole Enchilada Mexican Grill & Bar
Plant Street Market & Crooked Can Brewery
Also, if you are in town on a Saturday, check-out the local farmer's market which runs Saturday's from 8a-2p
I’m Dora the Graveling Explorer from Miami, Florida. My passion for cycling started in 2015, just before I turned 50, when I joined Miami’s Everglades Bicycle Club. I started road cycling with EBC where I learned and established the foundation for safe riding skills in groups and solo adventures. EBC set me on course, they inspired me to give back to the community where I served as a Ride Leader, Ride-Leader trainer and board-member from 2016-2019. In that time, the acquisition of a MTB led me to seek and explore off-road adventures. By February 2020, I discovered a passion for gravel cycling and purchased my 2020 Topstone Cannondale 105. Little did we know the world was about to change! My bike has provided me the opportunity to meet amazing like mind gravelers and inspired me to create and build Dora and the Graveling Explorers, a community where I can share routes and adventures to inspire all, especially, more women + families to go on bike adventures.
So if your adventure’s bring you South, look me up and let’s explore!