In addition to a poppin’ downtown scene, did you know St. Pete has nature? Get your blades, kayaks, and canines ready, ’cause here’s the lowdown on the best nature and fitness trails in the area.
- The Pinellas Trail
The PT is 38.2 miles of trail running entirely within—you guessed it—Pinellas County. The trailheads are in Tarpon Springs and south St. Pete, but you can hop on anywhere along the way. The trail is all pavement, with occasional overpasses above roads that are a real bitch to go up and super fun to go down–I guess that’s a Floridian’s perspective on hills. It’s mostly shaded, running alongside small neighborhoods, but some parts get a little sketchy to do alone, especially at night. Still, a fun way to get out for runners, bladers, bikers, and skaters. Dogs are welcome, and it’s free!
- Skyway Trail
The ST is technically the latest addition to the Pinellas Trail, but parts of it are so nice it deserves its own category. The trail branches off the PT around 34th Ave S and 43rd Street and runs east, opening up into the epic Clam Bayou—a protected natural estuary that will have you wondering how you missed the time machine. The trail runs past Twin Brooks golf course on 22nd Ave S and up towards 7th Ave S where it merges with the PT once again. From there, you can take it south towards Pinellas Point and, erm, the Skyway (think shady, freshly paved bike lanes and bike paths, and the intermittent overpass along the way)—or north to downtown. Did someone say brunch??
- Weedon Island
WI is a nature preserve by the St. Pete side of Gandy Bridge. The trails themselves are dirt paths through mostly mangrove woods with occasional boardwalks and lookout towers. It’s a nice place to hike and run, and there are even launch points along the way for kayaking and paddle boarding. Although the actual preserve would be tough for people on wheels, leading up to the trailhead is a beautiful swath of road that’s relatively quiet, which makes a killer longboarding, cycling, or blading spot. Pets welcome and freee.
- Boyd Hill
Boyd Hill is located in south St. Pete towards the end of 9th street. It’s also a nature preserve, and it’s the only place on here that is not pet friendly. It’s one to see, covering 245 acres and three miles of trails through mangrove forests, woods, and sawgrass. Be on the lookout for deer, coyotes, tortoises, and osprey. It has picnic areas and, erm, playgrounds, and the ranger center has an aviary attached where you can see some pretty sweet hawks. The whole thing runs around Lake Maggiore, which you can take canoes and kayaks on with park permission. Although beware of gators. Chomp. Sometimes the rangers even do night hikes, where they will lead you through the preserve and point out constellations, night sounds, and nocturnal animals. Admission is $3, and the park is closed on Mondays.
- Fort DeSoto
Ft. DeSoto is a nature preserve built around an old Spanish colonial naval fort. The fort itself is underwhelming, but with the $5 park admission you have access to two pristine beaches (one ranked among America’s top 10 beaches), a kayak rental and access to mangrove islands, fishing piers, cookout pits, a dog park and dog beach, and 12 miles of paved trail. There’s just one gift shop/snack bar, which is a refreshment from the beach bars and Spring Breakers cluttering St. Pete Beach. Here, you can rent four-person bikes and other strange looking means of exercise. There are launch spots for those who already have a kayak or paddle board, as well, and it’s possible to explore little islands and open water all the way past Shell Key. FDS even has campgrounds, which need to be reserved in advance or at the station. The park closes at sundown.
- Puryear Park
Puryear Park, home to about a thousand kids’ soccer leagues and at least half that many playgrounds, also has some pretty sweet perks for those who have already graduated middle school. For one, there’s a dirt trail measuring a little over one mile that runs around the perimeter of the park. It’s relatively quiet, with water fountains along the way and intermittent paved areas. Careful not to venture too far from the trail, though, or to use it alone after dark, as some homeless folk have come to claim the mangroves in the back of the park as their home, and you may just stumble upon a dilapidated couch or some used condoms. Sweet. As an added bonus, though, Puryear also has clay tennis courts and concrete squash courts to the north side of the park—all free. Score! The park is on 57th Ave N and just off of 1st street.
- Crescent Lake
Crescent Lake Park, so called because of the crescent-shaped lake occupying its center, is a quaint little patch of nature located off 22nd Ave N and 4th Street (behind Panera Bread and Outback Steakhouse). There are multiple sidewalks running around its perimeter, the longest of which is about 1.5 miles around. It’s narrow, though, and frequented by dog walkers and strollers, so it’d probably be obnoxious to take a bike on—also may be a little uneven for blading or skating. Still, it’s a great place for a run or walk, with pleasant views of the lake and huge, ancient trees, and excellent bird watching—but don’t piss off the geese. There is also ample green space for throwing a Frisbee, picnicking, or an intimate day with Fido. Bonus: the park has clay tennis courts at the back, a big ol’ playground (we’re not judging…), and plenty of benches for ruminating.