Is It Possible for Mountain Bike in Florida? There’s no way!

Disney World, golf courses, and white sand beaches are well-known in Florida, but mountain biking? The Alafia River State Park, located near suburban Hillsborough County, is a picturesque jewel not far from Tampa. The park and nearby areas were strips mined for phosphates until the 1960s, resulting in some of the state’s most dramatic elevation shifts.

The territory remained mostly undeveloped in the decades after that, allowing native flora and fauna to reclaim the land. Strip mining has left tall ridgelines that drop into green, murky marshes. Deer, turtles, rabbits, hawks, fish, and alligators increased over time, eventually becoming protected by the state park system. It ultimately became the Alafia MTB Trail System’s home.

In the 1990s, a group of certifiably insane mountain bikers led by Wes Eubank stood on these ridgelines and saw single track slashing up and down ridgelines and darting along the swamp’s edge when others saw wetlands with enormous alligators. They dragged tools and materials into the marshes for the next two decades to carve out world-class single-track trails. Trail bosses have changed over the years, each passing on their knowledge and experience to aid in advancing the trail system and developing the local mountain biking community.

In 2017, local firefighter Angelo “Geo” Giambrone took over as trail master and founded the Alafia Trail Crew (ATC). He built partnerships with Friends of Alafia, a group tasked with maintaining, preserving, and promoting the state park and the park management to establish further a safe and fun mountain biking journey for riders of all abilities. Most importantly, this diverse group developed a close-knit family that looks out for one another and contributes to the sport’s advancement for future riders.

The good news is that the Alafia mountain bike paths are accessible all year. The bad news is that the Alafia mountain bike tracks are accessible all year. Natural trail features are always under attack from hot, humid summers, rainy hurricane seasons, and dry winters, so they take a hammering. ATC and the rider community volunteer every day to build drainage systems, repair trail damage, and create new features because the park has an average of 1,200 riders on Sundays alone.

Geo taking a group of Boy Scouts into the swamp to build a 40-foot bridge, families cleaning trails after a storm with rakes and loppers, and seasoned trail builders bench cutting a new path by hand along the side of a ridgeline are all typical sights. Ron Haertlein and the construction team redesigned the Sand Pine path to accommodate adapted bikes and provide a two-mile XC-style circuit snaking past oak trees and palmettos to challenge these athletes. Building and maintaining trails require a village, and the Alafia MTB community understands this.

A 30-foot gap leap over the swamp is one of the park’s more spectacular features. A fast-flowing downhill segment with a sequence of rollers and smaller jumps gets you ready to take on the ominous-looking green swamp. Before launching, savvy riders will look for alligator eyes staring up through the green moss. The Swamp Gap Jump is hard for the faint of heart, but for the more experienced riders, it is one of Alafia’s favorite jump lines.

The First Responder Games are an annual Olympic-style tournament held in Florida. Thousands of police, fire, paramedics, EMTs, military and federal agents from across the country attend the multi-sport event. Soccer, flag football, ice hockey, fishing, archery, golf, softball, volleyball, bowling, billiards, darts, cycling, and other sports are available. In 2019, the MTB-style cycling event was held at Alafia MTB trails. Many races have been held in Alafia River State Park over the years, but none quite like the First Responder Games.

The MTB paths have a limited footprint, adding to their unique character. The principal trailheads begin at the main parking lot and branch out into the park, producing a hub-and-spoke pattern, eliminating the need for chair lifts and transport vehicles. Within 30 seconds, riders exit their automobiles and are on the trails, and they can be on the Gwazi Berm playground in less than a minute. Blue routes wind their way around the park, with more complex Black courses branching off to challenge riders’ abilities. Twenty-six trails, ranging from beginner to expert, are just minutes away from the parking lot.

Riders may spend an entire day bouncing between their favorite trails and refueling with friends at their parking lot base camp. Riders may find an explanation of the tracks, a rating system, and a list of all trails ordered from simplest to most difficult on a map near the main parking area. Riders may plan their ride and view footage of all the tracks on the website before arriving at the park. Riders are encouraged to use the website to make proposals for additional trail features or report maintenance issues.

Alafia River State Park features all of the amenities you’d expect from a well-kept state park, including a full-service mountain bike shop right at the trailhead. The shop rents out anything from short-travel XC bikes to long-travel enduro bikes. If you break a chain or have a flat, the bike store can get you back on the path in no time. The park manager recently installed a water purifying system for the fountain, and riders may now have cool, clean water in their bottles and Camelbacks.

You can ride mountain bikes in Florida all year, but the best time to do it is in the late fall and early winter. While most North America is blanketed in snow, and many bike parks have converted to ski resorts, Alafia Trails is having its finest riding season yet, with pleasant temps and ideal single-track conditions. Take the family to Disney World, a beach vacation, or a round of golf on some of the world’s top courses, but leave room in your luggage for your bike gear because you won’t want to miss a unique MTB experience at Alafia MTB trails.