People are excited looking forward to the time the the St Johns River-to-Sea Loop will be complete. The question we are asked most often is “Where can we ride NOW on the St Johns River-to-Sea Loop staying mostly on off-road trails?” That is the question we set out to answer. One of the easiest and most pleasant rides is that from DeBary to Osteen. This is an especially appealing ride because it is easily accessed from Orlando by taking the SunRail to DeBary Station. You can take your bike on the train for no charge and it’s very easy to roll on and off the train. Once arriving at DeBary, either by SunRail or other means, the route to Osteen is nearly all on off-road trail and is a highly recommended route.
There are several places to cross Highway 17 with a light, either at Highbanks Avenue if arriving from the north or, if arriving from the south or by SunRail, at Dirkson Drive. On our southbound trip we crossed at Highbanks and wandered through pleasant, shaded DeBary roads to DeBary Hall, where we picked up the connector trail to the Spring-to-Spring segment of the St Johns River-to-Sea Loop/Coast-to-Coast Trail.
From here the route to Osteen is a lovely all off-road trail – the Spring-to-Spring segment becomes the East Central Florida Railtrail at Green Springs. Green Springs is worth a journey or a detour for itself – a glorious setting of huge oaks, sparkling clear brooks (actually babbling! A rarity in Florida) and the amazing, incredible Green Spring. There are plenty of picnic tables and barbeque grills scattered all around the park so it’s a wonderful stop for a picnic or as a destination on its own. (we didn’t know this and stopped a mile too soon for our snack at the historic town of Enterprise which was also interesting but not as calming and scenic as Green Spring Park.)
At the entrance to Green Spring park we met another cyclist who also preferred riding on trails – often making the loop around Lake Monroe. He was also eager for the SJR2C to provide a safe route to the Blue Spring segment and frustrated with the lack of connection to that beautiful part of the trail.
The route from DeBary to Osteen is one of the crown jewels of the Florida Coast-to-Coast/St Johns River-to-Sea Loop trail network. It is not marked as such yet, but plans are in the works for wayfinding signs. The trail is gorgeous, mostly through deep woods under shady oaks, with plenty of wildlife and pools along the way. Just east Garfield Road there is a very complete bike repair station. There is also an interesting historic marker describing the “Lost Black Community” of Garfield.
The trail crosses Highway 415 at Osteen via a wonderful overpass. Once across, at the base of the overpass, to reach the Sunshine Ranch we took a right turn and made our way back to Highway 415.
Osteen as a Trail Hub
Osteen is at the intersection of some very important trails, and will one day become a hub for bike travelers. The Coast-to-Coast/St Johns River-to-Sea Loop will extend from DeBary, through Osteen and on to Maytown where the SJR2C branches south to Titusville or north to Edgewater. At the moment the trail extends about 3 miles beyond Osteen to where it comes to an abrupt halt at Guise Road. When complete the options for cycling excursions will multiply – the Titusville branch continues on through Titusville to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, and then up to Edgewater, following the route of East Coast Greenway which extends from Key West north to Maine. Once complete, a very pleasant day loop could include Titusville, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Canaveral National Seashore, Oak Hill, Edgewater and back to Osteen.
A trail is as good as the things it connects…. The trails through Osteen will connect to a staggering array of “things”… to St Augustine, Palatka, DeLand, DeBary, and Titusville via the SJR2C, to Orlando (either via the SR 415 Trail or via SunRail to Sanford or DeBary), to the space center, to an astounding variety of Florida’s finest parks and springs, to Key West and Maine via the East Coast Greenway, and to St Pete (and the beautiful Withlacoochee trail) via the Coast-to-Coast. It would not surprise me if Osteen, and the Sunshine Ranch, look a lot different in a few years due to the influx of cyclers.
The town of Osteen
Right now Osteen offers two restaurants and a couple of convenience stores strung out along SR 415. We ate all our meals at the local “Place to Go” in Osteen – the Osteen Diner. It was very busy! When we arrived we had a very late lunch there. Then after a ride to explore the area and the connecting trails, we had desert of bread pudding and ice cream. It’s is a charming restaurant with a very country atmosphere, a varied menu and very friendly staff. We had a good and very inexpensive breakfast in the morning. One of the best things about it from my point of view (given the way my morning started) was the very pleasant and comfortable restrooms - two of each so I didn’t have to feel guilty about taking too long to reassemble myself. The restaurant does not (yet) provide a bike rack – something we will be discussing with them.
From Osteen you can return by the same route to DeBary, or you can continue around Lake Monroe and return via Sanford. This is a wonderful ride with fabulous views of Lake Monroe as well as the charming lakefront town of Sanford, but it does include many on-road sections so not recommended for children.