A county-by-county guide for family bicycling outings

Highlights of just a few of the bicycling opportunities available in South Florida, focusing on areas where riders have very little or no interaction with automobiles.

Once upon a time, my husband and I looked forward to getting up early on the weekends and joining a group of like-minded souls for a 30- to 40-mile bicycle journey through the streets of South Florida. At the time, it seemed that bicycling was a hobby we would never give up. Then came the pregnancies and the children.

While we still participate in an occasional biking event, those long rides alongside speeding traffic no longer seem practical, with or without the kids. So these days, we are "changing gears" and downshifting to a more family-friendly style of biking that can include our two boys, ages 2 and 5.

I was thrilled to discover that there are, indeed, some wonderful biking routes throughout South Florida that families can enjoy away from the busy roads. From scenic parks to jaunts through the Everglades and beachside paths, there are biking adventures to suit every family and every skill level. There are even several popular mountain bike trails around for "extreme" families who prefer a little more action.

For maps and more detailed information on other paths and areas suitable for bike rides, consult the bicycle coordinator in your county.

And before going on any bicycle ride, make sure every member of the family is prepared. All bicycles and any children's carriers should be checked to make sure they are secure and in good working condition. Remember to bring along an extra tube and repair kit for flat tires, and a first-aid kit, as well as plenty of water and snacks. Review Florida's bicycle laws (available in most bike shops), and be aware that the bicycles are considered vehicles. That means that all of the regulations in the state's vehicular code, unless they specifically mention "motor vehicles," apply to bicycles. And finally, wear your helmet. A helmet is required for children under 16, but it's a good idea for everyone.

Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County's Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator Wendell Phillips is the first to admit that Palm Beach is a "tough county" when it comes to bicycling.

"We are a very automobile-oriented society. We have wonderful roadways with six to eight lanes and few stops, allowing people to go very fast. For bicyclists and pedestrians, the streets are inherently dangerous. There is lots of traffic, particularly in the [tourist] season," he said.

Still, there are several picturesque parks and areas that Phillips recommends for cycling. And things are improving in the county, he added, with more bike lanes being added as streets are refurbished. In addition, work has begun on the new Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, a 110-mile paved trail that will circle the top of the dike around Lake Okeechobee. Sections of the trail are expected to open by 2005.

In the meantime, you might want to sample some of these Palm Beach County spots:

  • John Prince Park at Congress Avenue and Sixth Avenue South in Lake Worth (adjacent to Palm Beach Junior College): This 727-acre park includes a five-mile paved bicycle path that takes you around scenic Lake Osborne. Before or after your ride, you'll find plenty of other activities within the park, including batting cages, miniature golf, tennis courts, sailboat rentals and lots of picnic sites.
  • Okeeheelee Park, 7715 Forest Hill Blvd. (Forest Hill Boulevard at the turnpike), West Palm Beach: "A very good place to go with children," Phillips says. You can explore this 900-acre park on a six-mile paved bike path that winds around the lake past nature trails, picnic areas and the equestrian complex. The park also offers a separate BMX bicycle track. Plus you'll find a nature center, tennis and racquetball courts, fishing, athletic fields and a competitive water skiing area.
  • Dyer Park, Haverhill Road and the Beeline Highway, West Palm Beach: What was once a landfill is now "an interesting little park," Phillips says, offering diverse biking trails, particularly for mountain bikers. More casual bikers will enjoy the unpaved path that runs along the perimeter of the park through naturally wooded areas. There is also canoeing, soccer, and a model airplane flying field within the park.
  • Palm Beach Lake Trail, starts at the Lake Worth Inlet in the city of Palm Beach: You will travel past the back yards of stylish Palm Beach mansions, the Breakers Hotel, the upscale shops of Worth Avenue, and the Flagler mansion/museum on this four-mile trail that is closed to traffic. You have the option of returning on the trail or making a loop via North County Road and Ocean Boulevard (these streets include traffic), for a total 11-mile trip.
  • A1A riding: Of course, everyone loves to ride along the beach. That's one of the reasons that Phillips says he is able to suggest some sections of A1A for more experienced riders. Since so many people bicycle along A1A, motorists are accustomed to seeing them. It may not be the best choice for families with younger children who need to use sidewalks, however, since sidewalk riding can be dangerous. A couple of good stretches that include bike lanes are five miles in Boca Raton, between Camino Real and Lake Worth Road, and farther north from Southern Boulevard up through Juno Beach and Jupiter.Broward CountyFor family-style bike rides in Broward, visiting a county park may be your best bet."We have a lot of parks that offer good biking away from traffic," said Broward County Bicycle Coordinator Mark Horowitz. "Certain ones have more activities for children than others."For instance, T-Y Park, 3300 N. Park Road in Hollywood, and C.B. Smith Park, 900 Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines, offer water slides, playgrounds and paddleboat rentals. In addition, both Markham Park, 16001 State Road 84 in Sunrise, and Quiet Waters Park, 6601 Powerline Road in Deerfield Beach, offer mountain-bike trails.If you are interested in watching some serious cyclists traveling at astounding speeds, Broward also boasts Florida's first velodrome within Brian Piccolo Park, 9050 Sheridan St., Cooper City.For more experienced riders who prefer a little longer ride than what the parks offer, the Broward County Bicycle Suitability Map (available in bike shops) is a must-have. In addition to outlining the best and worst areas for biking according to the amount of interaction with traffic, it also provides loads of helpful information and safety tips for cyclists.Cycling enthusiasts will be happy to know that Broward County also has some exciting plans for the future that will provide for more bike-only paths."Recognizing the need for more bicycle paths in the county, we are developing an extensive greenway network - off-road paths that run parallel to streets," Horowitz said. "We have identified over 400 miles in five different corridors along Dixie Highway that could serve as greenways."Horowitz said he hopes to see the project get funded and under way within the next few years.For now, some other bicycle adventures for consideration include:
  • Davie's trail system, beginning at Tree Tops Park, 3900 SW 100th Ave. in Davie: For a ride through nature-filled Davie, pick up the paved bike trail that starts at the north end of Tree Tops Park (behind the main building toward the back of the park). While it is primarily off-road, you may encounter some sidewalks and a little traffic, Horowitz says. The path will take you to Pine Island Ridge. Those with fat-tire bikes who want to continue can meander around this unpaved portion and rejoin the paved bike path up to Robbin's Lodge, a park filled with exotic trees from around the world (approximately a four-mile ride, one way).
  • West Lake Park, 751 Sheridan St., Hollywood, to the Hollywood Broadwalk: From West Lake Park, take the sidewalk, which is uninterrupted until A1A. Then cross A1A (carefully) to get to North Beach Park, where you can pick up the Hollywood Broadwalk, a paved stretch that runs alongside the beach. Of course, if you have wee ones, or young ones who haven't quite mastered their cycling skills, you can simply begin your ride at North Beach Park. Since the Broadwalk can get crowded, you may want to avoid peak tourist times.
  • Markham Park, the Everglades Conservation Levee: In addition to its popular mountain-bike trails, Markham Park also has an access point for riders (with fat-tire bikes) to cruise along the conservation levee that borders an expanse of Everglades wetlands. Go west on the trail near the park entrance that runs parallel to the New River Canal. Walk your bike around the concrete barriers (there to keep automobiles out) and then enjoy a ride amid the rare sites and sounds of the Everglades.Miami-Dade CountyMiami-Dade may be the last place you would expect to be particularly bicycle-friendly. However, there happens to be "tons of great opportunities here," says Miami-Dade's bicycle coordinator, David Henderson.Did you know that Homestead established the nation's first bikeway in 1962 and earned the official title of "City of Bicycles"?The county is also leading the way in the development of greenways for bicyclists and pedestrians. Some sections of the South Dade Greenway Network, a 194-mile organized system of 10 interconnecting trails, are already open and many more are under way. Two of the trails currently open to bikers and hikers include the Southern Glades Trail, a 13-mile unpaved off-road trail that runs through the state-owned Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area, and the Everglades Trail, an unpaved, back-country trail that parallels Everglades National Park. There are no facilities of any kind along these trails, so it's doubly important that you come prepared (the brochure advises you to bring a cell phone).In the North Dade Greenways project, there are an additional 24 trails proposed. More information about the greenway trails, as well as a Miami-Dade County bicycle suitability map and much more information about cycling options in the area, is available through Henderson's office.Among Miami's popular parks for paved paths and mountain-biking trails are Oleta River State Recreational Area, a 993-acre state park located at 3400 NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach, and Amelia Earhart Park, 401 E. 65th St., Miami For family outings, Henderson suggests the following:
  • Crandon Park, 4000 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne: "The best family-oriented place for biking is Crandon Park," said Henderson. "It has a beautiful beach and several miles of trails." Highlights include Crandon Gardens, the former Crandon Park Zoo, which is filled with natural foliage and plenty of iguanas.
  • Tropical Park, 7900 SW 40th St. (Bird Road), Miami: Families can ride along paved trails through this 275-acre park with an equestrian center, gardens, ball fields, fishing and paddleboat rentals.
  • Old Cutler Bike Path: There are several existing long trails that run parallel to Old Cutler Road, from Cocoplum Circle (Southwest 72 Street) to Southwest 216th Street. One portion that is "a lot of fun" for families takes you through Matheson Hammock Park, 9610 Old Cutler Road, and behind Fairchild Tropical Gardens.
  • Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, off U.S. 441, 35 miles west of Miami: Make sure to steer clear of the alligators that will likely be lying beside the wide, paved path that makes a 15-mile loop through the park. At the seven-mile point, you will come to a 65-foot observation tower. "You'll find out why they originally called this the `for-everglades,'" said park ranger Katie Bliss. "It seems to go on forever and ever." Throughout the park, you will also have a great chance of spotting wildlife, including turtles and a wide variety of birds. Bliss reminds families to bring their own water and food and to make sure they stop and move to the side to let any passing vehicles go by (bikers and walkers share the pathway with a touring tram and other park vehicles). The park is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bike rentals end at 3 p.m. and all rented bikes must be back by 4 p.m. (bring your own bikes for more flexibility). Ranger-led bike tours are available through April 15; call a week ahead to reserve, 305-221-8776.
  • Key Biscayne Heritage Bike Trip: Children must be at least 12 years old to participate in this unique bike tour, which takes you on a 12-mile trip to explore and learn about the history and natural wonders of Key Biscayne. It begins at the Crandon Visitors and Nature Center in Crandon Park. The $25 per person charge includes bike and helmet rental. For dates and more information, call 305-365-3018.Monroe CountyAaah, the Keys. Everyone in South Florida escapes to this tropical paradise now and then. Next time you go, bring along the bikes because there are some terrific paths you may not have known about. Many of the trails are part of the Overseas Heritage Trail, which when complete, will run from Key Largo to Key West.Elizabeth Holloway, Monroe County's bicycle/pedestrian planner, suggests some of these biking trails for families:
  • Key Largo - Overseas Heritage Trail, mile-marker (MM) 106 to MM 92: From John Pennekamp State Park, you can pick up this trail, which runs adjacent to the highway for 14 miles. The trail does have two roadway crossings. The scenery varies from native hammock to commercial storefronts.
  • Long Key - Overseas Heritage Trail, MM 68.5 to MM 63: "A great trip for kids," says Holloway. This five-mile trip takes you toward Long Key State Park and offers some beautiful views along the way.
  • The Old Railroad Bridge - next to the Seven Mile Bridge (MM 47): The old bridge is closed to traffic but open to bicyclists and pedestrians. While you're riding you can see "lots of stuff in the water," Holloway says.
  • Upper Sugarloaf Key - Crane Boulevard Trail, MM 19.5: This one involves some street riding in a low-traffic area. From MM 19.5, at the Sugarloaf School, turn north onto Crane Boulevard (Gulf side). At the end of the road is a gate that leads to a wildlife refuge open to the public. It features a path that winds through woods and native hammock.Ellen Wolfson Valladares is a freelance writer and mother of two. She lives in Weston.
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