Along a delightfully natural greenway corridor skimming the edge of Rotonda, the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail follows a railroad route that once terminated at Gasparilla Island.
The Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad (CH&N) transported phosphate from the mines at Mulberry on a rail line along the Peace River to the ore-loading dock at Boca Grande.
Where the town of McCall once thrived after the railroad built a depot in 1905, Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park commemorates the past.
Historic markers explain the rise and fall of McCall – named for the railroad’s general freight and passenger agent – and an old bunkhouse moved here from Placida that awaits restoration.
Open in 1999 when the trail was dedicated, the park is mile 0 for the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail.
Although there are three additional trailheads along its length, this one has the largest parking area and is at the northern terminus of the bike path.
Official mileages of this trail vary according to source. Our 7 linear miles is from our point-to-point ride between the trailheads at the north and south end.
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Location: East of Englewood
Length: 7 miles linear, 14 mile round-trip
Primary Trailhead: Mercer Trailhead at Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park
Primary Address: 1688 Gasparilla Rd, Port Charlotte
Restroom: At trailheads
Land manager: Charlotte County
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed pets permitted. Helmets required. Cyclists must yield to pedestrians. A full list of rules is posted at each trailhead.
Each termini has a flush toilet and water fountain with a dog watering basin. The intermediate trailheads have portable toilets.
Picnic tables and benches are provided at numerous spots along the route, mainly where there is a little shade.
Right out of the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park, the trail makes a sharp left turn to join the old railroad corridor.
Pass a side path on the right and continue straight through a corridor partly shaded by oaks and palms. It doesn’t take long to emerge out into the sunshine.
Mile markers count down each half mile. There are also maps with mileages at each major waypoint.
What surprised us about the beginning of the ride is that although there are houses and businesses nearby, you’re in a corridor of green and don’t notice them at all.
The first road crossing is Marathon Rd after a mile. Be sure to stop and look for traffic. A bench sits just south of the crossing.
After another quarter mile the trail crosses a canal on a bridge. The waterway provides a glimpse of houses nearby.
Stop for the crossing at Ingram Blvd after 1.8 miles. Pines dominate the edges of this linear greenway, with grapevine-draped saw palmetto creating a wall of vegetation.
Oak trees provide some dappled shade before the trail reaches its one major crossing, Rotonda Blvd East at 2.3 miles.
This is the busiest of the road crossings. It is a four-laned road with the Johnson trailhead immediately to the right after the crossing.
A portalet is provided, and a picnic bench sits in the shade of a large pine tree just beyond the trailhead.
A wall of forest flanks both sides of the path, and more trees cast shade across it. A side path takes off to the right into a neighborhood at 3 miles.
After the quiet Brig Street crossing at 3.8 miles, there are no more road crossings to contend with. From this point on, the greenway remains pretty wild up to East Coral Creek.
A side path leads off to the left at 4.7 miles to the Harness Rd trailhead. Over the next mile, the dense pine flatwoods yield to coastal habitats. A tang of salt infuses the air.
Mangroves surround both sides of the trail as it approaches the long bridge over East Coral Creek.
This beauty spot is worth lingering around for when blue skies are reflected in its broad waters. Scan the edges for herons, egrets, and roseate spoonbills.
After the creek, the trail remains flanked by dense vegetation. A warning sign about alligators gives you a heads-up that water is not far from the path.
The longest visual disruption of the route comes near its end: a chain-link fence covered in vines for more than a half mile.
That’s where the Coral Creek Club Golf Course comes right up to the edge of the trail. And that’s why this linear ride ends at a trailhead off Clubhouse Drive.
The golf course occupies the railroad right-of-way between the trailhead and the outflow of Coral Creek into Gasparilla Sound at Placida.
For cyclists who want to continue farther, there is a bike path leading 0.6 mile from this trailhead to Gasparilla Rd (SR 771). There it parallels SR 771 as a side path.
After passing the entrance to Don Pedro Island State Park and the back side of Amberjack Environmental Park, it ends 5.6 miles north of the Placida trailhead, just shy of Rotonda Blvd West.
Our turnaround, however, was here at the end of the linear trail. We took more time on the return to enjoy the Coral Creek Bridge panorama and a break at the Harness Road trailhead.
Despite it being later in the morning, more wildlife was afoot. We spotted raccoons at Coral Creek, and a pine snake at the base of a pine tree before it saw us.
John also had the surprise of being raced by a massive lizard across a bridge over a canal. Of several photos he tried to take in motion, only this one shows the size of it.
It wasn’t an iguana. After comparing it to online sources, we’ve settled on it being a Nile monitor, a lizard that definitely doesn’t belong in Florida’s wilds.
Also on the return, we discovered a side path forking off the trail to the left as we approached Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park.
A quick ride down it confirmed it as an easy way to get around a pond to the nearby Publix shopping center along SR 776.
We clocked a little over 15 miles taking the various side trips, but a 14-mile round-trip is what you’ll get following the route shown on our map.
Bicycle Center, 3795 Tamiami Trail S, Port Charlotte (941-627-6600), has rentals on hand that include use of a helmet and bike lock. Rates start at $25 per day. Open daily.
|Mercer Trailhead||1688 Gasparilla Rd||Port Charlotte|
|E. David Johnson Trailhead||Rotunda Blvd E||Rotonda West|
|Harness Road Trailhead||1 Harness Rd||Placida|
|Placida Trailhead||Clubhouse Dr||Placida|
See our video from biking the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With 380 acres of uplands and wetlands along the rim of Tippecanoe Bay, Tippecanoe Environmental Park can be explored on an extensive interconnected network of hiking trails.
Imagine your own private island: a sweep of bright white sand along the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s Don Pedro Island, a Florida State Park that is mostly offshore.
At Amberjack Environmental Park in Rotonda, a surprising meld of scrub and mangrove habitats means great birding along the high ground of the Cape Haze Peninsula