For off-road cycling, there is no better destination in Florida than the intricate web of technical bike trails built at Santos along the Cross Florida Greenway by the Ocala Mountain Bike Association.
You’ll never be bored riding here. Coded for difficulty, the trail system offers unending ways to loop through the forest using inner loops and cross-paths that span across two primary loops, at Santos and “The Other Side,” now known as Vortex.
These trails, in turn, hook up to a greater network of singletrack that stretches across the Greenway all the way to the Pruitt trailhead near Dunnellon.
From our own rides and reconaissance plus reading the OMBA map for the Santos-Vortex area, we estimate about 20 miles of tightly twisted singletrack (and a tiny amount of doubletrack) inside the two beginner loops in this part of the Cross Florida Greenway between SE 80th Street and SE 95th Street.
Length: Roughly 20-mile trail network connecting to 80+ miles
Address: 3080 SE 80th St, Ocala
Fees / Permits: Free
Restroom: Restrooms at Santos Trailhead
Land Manager: Office of Greenways & Trails
Open 8 AM until sunset daily. Helmets are required for all riders.
A picnic area and bike wash stations are at the trailhead. Restrooms are down a short path to the hiking trailhead. The Santos Campground adjoins that trailhead, and makes a nice base camp for exploring these trails.
Use caution that you don’t ride right up on a slower rider or pedestrian. Cyclists of all experience levels use these trails, and the bike paths are also open to hikers.
As with all off-road trails, avoid riding after heavy rains so as to not damage the trail surface, especially at the Vortex Dirt Jumps and the Santos Pump Track.
The trailhead is just west of US 27/301/441 in Santos – halfway between Ocala and Belleview – along SE 80th Street. Skip the first turn-in at the campground and continue past Greenway Cycle to the second entrance on the left. The long entrance road snakes back to the parking area adjoining the Santos Trails entrance and the skills area.
If you plan to focus on riding the Vortex section, there is a secondary trailhead that provides direct access to it. To find it, pass by the Santos trailhead entrances and continue up to SE 25th Ave. Turn left. After the road becomes canopied when you enter the Greenway, look for a sign directing you to the right for the Vortex trailhead.
The trail system at Santos is designed in a series of concentric loops. The deeper into the loops you go, the tougher the trails are. This is largely due to the terrain of this area.
Limestone pits used long ago as local quarries, as well as natural sinkholes – many with surface limestone and some with caves in them – provide the unexpected changes in terrain and rugged surfaces on the difficult trails.
Trails should be generally ridden clockwise. The singletrack is narrow in many places, and some spots have little visibility around curves.
Signage helps you determine the difficulty of the trails at Santos. Yellow is easiest, blue is intermediate, and red is difficult. Symbols on the signs at trail intersections also spell out their difficulty to you.
Pine Tree Trail
As you ride out through the archway to access the trail system, keep left to ride clockwise. You immediately join the Pine Tree Trail. This is the 2.8-mile outer loop of the Santos side of the trail system and is rated for beginners.
It is a flat, gentle ride and wider than most of the rest of the trails. After you pass the turnoffs for Dr. Ruth and Cowbone (both intermediate), the northeast corner of the loop, formerly pastureland, takes you through a lot of grassy areas.
You can shorten the ride significantly by using the Shorty Trail, which cuts across the loop west so you end up with less than a mile loop back around to the trailhead.
Just south of Shorty, a side trail called the Neighborhood Trail leads 0.9 mile east to US 441 and the Santos Bike Shop, where you can pick up snacks and drinks while looking at their gear and newer mountain bikes.
The south end of the Pine Tree Trail has a more open feel, since the oak forest has a very open understory.
Just past the incoming Dr. Ruth Trail is a double-track leading west called Blue Highway. It’s the most direct route to the road crossing to the Vortex section, if riding there is your goal.
Otherwise, stick with the Pine Tree Trail through the pine forest, crossing the Florida Trail (orange blazed footpath) twice before you reach the southwest corner of the Santos section.
At the T intersection, there is a extension of this trail leading down to a kiosk and road crossing used by the Florida Trail as well as equestrians and cyclists. It connects to the Vortex parking area across the road.
Turning north at this T, the Pine Tree Trail parallels SE 25th Ave. It’s not a busy road but you can hear sporadic traffic along it. The equestrian trail parallels the bike path.
Coming up to the junction with Blue Highway, you see a sign marked “The Other Side.” That’s the primary trail crossing for the loop around the Vortex section.
Keep riding north, and you’ll come across quite a few trail crossings and junctions in quick succession, all from intermediate level trails until you come up to Shorty, the connector near the top of the loop.
The final segment of the Pine Tree Trail up to the trailhead arcs to the right out of the open understory into an area with dense vegetation along the edges of the trail, with nowhere to easily stand aside or pass.
The closest difficult-rated ride to the trailhead is the Sinkhole Trail, which you access by taking the turnoff for the Dr. Ruth trail to its starting point.
As the name implies, it leads you down into a deep sinkhole through a series of very tight curves along the sloping forested hillside.
Surface limestone juts through the singletrack in places, which leads you over it intentionally near the bottom.
What goes down must come back up, so it’s a bit of a climb out of this deeply shaded sinkhole as well. It comes to a T intersection with the Marshmallow Trail, which in turn connects to the Pine Tree Trail.
It’s a 1.7-mile ride including the connector pieces of the Pine Tree Trail to get you there and back to the trailhead.
If you plan to try any of the skills features at Santos – which can be found on the intermediate and difficult trails, as well as optional side journeys off the beginner trails – take a spin around the Skills Area at the trailhead.
The boardwalks are in a tight loop which will also provide some practice for you to deal with the tight turns found on the intermediate and difficult trails.
For practice on whoop-de-doos, the Santos Pump Track adjoins the trailhead. At Vortex, the Dirt Jumps let you practice going airborne and landing safely.
We haven’t ridden the Vortex section yet, but we’ve walked on some of its trails in search of geocaches. There’s a very good reason it’s labeled the “Extreme Mountain Bike Section” on certain maps.
It’s the pits. Known as the Freeride Area, this former limestone quarry has extremely steep sides that some of the trails descend. There is also a cave in the very bottom.
For your safety, a qualifier leads into the Freeride Area. If you can wrangle this technical challenge, OMBA figures you can handle the quarry. If you can’t, do yourself a favor and be a spectator until you know you won’t hurt yourself.
Like the Pine Tree Trail, the Vortex section has its own gentle loop circling the edge of all of the more difficult trails. It’s called the Dog Bone Trail.
This 2.2-mile loop can be accessed either of the road crossing from the Pine Tree Trail or from the Vortex trailhead.
A shorter loop, the Puppy Loop, is just north of the Vortex trailhead. This is a good one to get the kids acquainted with riding off road.
At the southwest corner of the Dog Bone Trail, a connector trail leads towards Spider Kingdom, the first of a chain of off-road loops stretching from here to Dunnellon.
The orange line is the Florida Trail through Santos, and the blue line is the paved Cross Florida Greenway Bike Path. The red lines mark the loops and side trails that we’ve done. The inner trails are dotted in purple.
Our articles about the Santos Trails
Our slides from riding Santos
Nearby Outdoor Destinations
Other nearby trails where you can ride
Find out more about the Santos Trails from the trail maintaining organization that built and maintains them, the Ocala Mountain Bike Association
Official OMBA Trail Map (PDF) Official Website