Living in Dunnellon while the Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway was built, Sandra had a hands-on role maintaining the section between the Pruitt and Ross Prairie trailheads for a number of years. Pruitt was the westernmost trailhead for nearly 15 years before the new paved Dunnellon Trail section opened a couple years ago, with trailheads at Bridges Rd and Blue Run Park.
On trips to the area to see family and to check out the new trail as it evolved, we started to notice another evolution too, behind the Sonic on US 41. As the walls went up, we said, “well how about that! It’s a hotel!” Now Dunnellon has a few nice little mom and pop motels that we’ve recommended to hikers on the Florida Trail – this is a trail town, after all – but when the Marion County VCB put the call out for a hotel to put us up for a couple days while we were doing trail research for them on this side of the county, the brand-new Comfort Suites welcomed us in.
The exterior stonework lent a clue: the lobby is centered around a big fireplace, which may seem a little odd for Florida but will be very welcome on those chilly days that are so good for hiking in the winter. Big windows let the sunshine in across the common areas, including the big dining area, a nice place to hang out with friends.
The room surprised us: it was quite spacious, living up to the “Suites” portion of the name, with a couch that doubles as a sleeper sofa in its own nook. And yes, the king bed was a welcome comfort after hours of hiking and biking. We had plenty of room to spread our equipment out, sort things out, and get work done between our visits to nearby trails, most of them on or near the Cross Florida Greenway. Rainbow Springs had some hurricane damage that day, so we only took a short walk there before working our way towards Santos. However, this is the closest place you can stay to Rainbow Springs without being in the campground itself.
It’s a very new property, so it’s still kind of quiet. We don’t doubt it will get quite busy in summer when people come to play along the Rainbow River. There are special spaces in the parking lot (with power) for guests with RVs and boats who want to keep their rigs powered while they sleep in more comfort. Pets are welcome.
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Here’s where you can hike, bike, and paddle near the Comfort Suites in Dunnellon. Florida Trail hikers take note: this is the closest lodging to the Walmart and grocery stores, if you are in Dunnellon to resupply. They welcome dogs, have an on-site laundry, and several restaurants are within a very short walk.
- Buck Island Pond Trail- Looping around a cypress-lined pond in the midst of pine flatwoods northwest of Dunnellon, the Buck Island Pond Trail at Goethe State Forest has quite a few interesting features, including a pitcher plant bog.
- Dunnellon Trail- Expanding access to the Cross Florida Greenway across the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon, the Dunnellon Trail provides a new destination for cyclists and hikers to explore the cypress-lined river floodplain.
- Florida Trail, Cross Florida Greenway- A prime destination for backpacking and day hiking near Ocala, the Florida Trail, Cross Florida Greenway stretches 30 miles between Dunnellon and Silver Springs.
- Florida Trail, Pruitt- Switchbacks, scrambles, and a smattering of history - the Pruitt section of the Florida Trail along the Cross Florida Greenway is one of Central Florida's more fascinating hiking destinations.
- Florida Trail, Pruitt to Ross Prairie- Scrambling up and over the historic diggings of the failed Cross Florida Barge Canal, the Florida Trail between Pruitt trailhead and Ross Prairie tunnels through dense hardwoods
- Florida Trail, Ross Prairie to SW 49th Ave- Along this stretch of the Florida Trail through sandhills and scrub, you'll scramble over more historic diggings and see fern-draped limestone boulders scattered through the forest
- Holly Hammock Hiking Trail- A 2.4 mile loop showing off the habitat diversity of Ross Prairie State Forest, this easy hike provides scenic panoramas across the prairie on a mostly shaded trail.
- Lake Osprey Trail- Circling Lake Osprey, the wheelchair-accessible Lake Osprey Trail at Oscar Scherer State Park offers an exploration of the uplands surrounding the artesian-spring-fed waters.
- Oxbow Trail- With two loops along an oxbow in the Withlacoochee River, the Oxbow Trail is the northernmost trail in Withlacoochee State Forest and a scenic short walk.
- Rainbow Springs Sandhill Trail- The Sandhill Trail at Rainbow Springs State Park leads hikers into rolling terrain punctuated with ravines created by mining and restored by nature, and offers a new perspective on the Rainbow River
- Rainbow Springs State Park- A place of beauty that morphed from phosphate pits to botanical attraction over the course of a century, Rainbow Springs State Park cradles one of Florida's most beautiful first-magnitude springs and the river it creates in a wrap of shady forests and gardens.
- Ross Prairie Loop- A 3.5-mile loop using blue-blazed connectors and the Florida Trail to circle Ross Prairie, the Ross Prairie Loop shows off the beauty of this prairie on the Cross Florida Greenway.
Our thanks to Comfort Suites in Dunnellon for providing a complimentary stay while we researched hiking trails in the area.