In October of 2016, we embarked on our first major road trip since the start of Take The Highway.
We visited some friends in Dallas and had planned to do so since the summer. Do we fly there? Drive there? Take Amtrak there?
We crunched numbers and decided driving was the way to go. We rented a vehicle, which I will review later in the article.
As a big fan of secondary highways, the best route to take was along the west coast of Florida, into the Big Bend region, and into Tallahassee from the southeast.
Brooksville is a city in Hernando County, un-Florida-like in its hilly terrain.
It’s the crossroads of US Highways 41 and 98, as well as coast-to-coast State Road 50. Compared to downtown Brooksville, taking US Highway 41 from Tampa to US Highway 98 is a little more flat.
Highway 98 is diagonal in much of its orientation, and the stretch from Brooksville to Chassahowitzka is no exception. Not to mention, the first sign of hills!
US Highway 98 meets US Highway 19 near the little burg of Chassahowitzka in southern Citrus County.
Not much here, other than a newer Publix shopping center. Great place if you want a dark, dark sky a little over an hour outside of Tampa. Great fishing awaits as well on the Chassahowitzka River.
US Highway 19/98 Concurrency
US Highways 19 and 98 share a roadway for 126 miles, and through parts of five counties (Citrus, Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, and Taylor).
Along it, a few larger towns are spaced far apart. From north of Crystal River, it’s mostly made up of small communities with just a handful of residents.
Almost all of these places had a motel in the 1950s. Most of these motels, although still standing, have been long abandoned with Interstate 75 serving as a preferred alternate. It’s a true passage back in time.
The first significant stop along 19/98 is Homosassa Springs. Although not technically an incorporated city, it is a census-designated place of almost 14,000 people.
There are a few gas stations, a grocery store, drug stores, a new Walmart Supercenter, and several restaurants.
To the west of US Highway 19 is the town of Homosassa, with a population of 2,600 people.
Not long after exiting Homosassa Springs is the City of Crystal River.
Crystal River has its own airport, situated on the south side of town on 19/98.
19/98 becomes six lanes through much of town, with more stores and restaurants.
Gas stations, though, are all on the west side of US Highway 19. As a guy who prefers gas stops to be on the right side of the road, I was disappointed and surprised by this.
Attractions in Crystal River are plentiful, concentrated around the river, the springs, the manatees, and fishing.
Cross Florida Barge Canal
A tall bridge crosses over what was intended to be the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The Canal was constructed in 1964, but currently only goes about 10 miles inland to the west end of Lake Rousseau.
A four lane bridge was built only a few years ago after years of a two lane bridge which bottle-necked at both ends.
Other excavated, but dry portions of the canal east of this point are known as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. It was due in part to the efforts of activist Marjorie Harris Carr that the construction project was stopped in 1971. The project was considered officially dead in 1991.
After crossing the Withlacoochee River just north of the barge canal, the next town is Inglis. It’s a smaller town on the banks of the Withlacoochee River with a handful of stores and mom-and-pop restaurants.
The Road Ahead
From here, 19/98 begins to be a monotonous drive with a few small burgs along the way.
One of those little towns, Otter Creek, is at the intersection of State Road 24. The historic fishing village of Cedar Key is 22 miles west on State Road 24.
With a population of about 2,300, Chiefland isn’t glitzy or glamorous but serves as a welcome place after lots and lots and lots of open highway.
The Chiefland McDonald’s is on the right side of the road (again, preferable to me) going north. The recently remodeled store serves as a great place to take a bathroom break and grab a hot cup of coffee.
This city offers a few gas stations, restaurants, as well as the 1950s era Cadillac Motel.
The Nature Coast State Trail also crosses through town, crossing 19/98 before paralling the highway from Chiefland to Cross City.
Coming out of town on the west side, the highway briefly hugs the Suwannee River, providing scenic views of the river.
Like many of the small towns along this stretch, Old Town has a few gas stations, restaurants, and stores. The grocery store in town is a Hitchcock’s Market, a north-central Florida chain with 10 stores, all in smaller towns.
The City of Cross City is the county seat of Dixie County and has a little over 1,700 residents.
There are a handful of both mom-and-pop and chain type restaurants, motels, and stores in town.
State Road 351 crosses 19/98 in the middle of town, before continuing south to the fishing village of Horseshoe Beach.
As you roll out of Cross City, you’ll find the community of Shamrock, a company town created by the Putnam Lumber Company.
Putnam Lumber Company owned a hotel in town. The Putnam Lodge, completed in 1928, is the area’s restaurant and lodging destination. The inn sits back from the road, but drivers are greeted by an iron and brick fence that runs along 19/98. After being closed for an extended period of time, it was reopened and returned back to its old glorious past.
If you need gas, be sure to get it before leaving town.
The Road Ahead — Part 2
The drive between Shamrock and Perry is 40 miles, and is the most desolate stretch of highway.
The community of Tennille had a Sunoco, but that store has apparently recently closed. Same goes for a tavern at the intersection with State Road 51. State Road 51 going south ends up in the world-famous scalloping village of Steinhatchee.
Forest continues to dot the landscape, mostly pine flatlands. Traffic is light, but don’t count out the occasional logging truck as tree farms are aplenty up here.
The community of Salem has businesses that are mostly abandoned but still has one country store (no gasoline), a post office, and a church.
The conversation has come up before: Why is Perry (population a little over 7,000) listed on road signs in St. Petersburg? Perry is a control city designated by the Florida Department of Transportation. Perry serves as the crossroads for four major US Highways: 19, 98, 27, and the southern terminus of US Highway 221.
Lodging options are aplenty, with both modern hotels and older motels.
A nearby paper mill can create a distinct odor in town if the wind is blowing in the right direction.
County Road 361 out of Perry takes you to the gulf-front village of Keaton Beach.
US Highways 19/98 end their concurrency near downtown Perry. At the same intersection, US Highways 19 and 27 begin a concurrency towards Tallahassee.
Seven miles outside of Perry, there is a rest area on the west side of the road.
There are plenty of picnic tables, snack machines, and a restroom facility, all nested in a wooded area. However, the rest area closes at 7 PM every night.
After a little bit more of a scenic drive through the pines, you’ll come along the tiny burg of Lamont. Not much here in the way of amenities, other than a Chevron station and a post office.
The town is fed by a hilltop water tower on the west end of town.
At this point in the journey, the landscape begins to change from flatlands to the rolling hills northern Florida is known for.
The small community of Capps is where US Highways 19 and 27 split. US Highway 27 continues into Tallahassee, while US 19 continues into the City of Monticello and soon into Georgia.
US Highway 19 begins a northerly trek along the Florida-Georgia Parkway.
Between Capps and Monticello, US Highway 19 runs into a diamond interchange with Interstate 10.
Interstate 10 into Tallahassee
Interstate 10 varies from four to six lanes as it enters the northern reaches of the City of Tallahassee. It’s a drive very typical of north Florida. Pretty rolling hills and lots of pine trees. You really would never know the state capital and major college town were just a few miles away.
After a 26 mile drive along Interstate 10, we once again became reunited with US Highway 27. It’s a large interchange northwest of Tallahassee with every chain eating establishment and hotel.
We stayed at the Howard Johnson hotel just south of the Interstate 10 interchange. It’s not the most modern hotel out there, but the front desk staff was very nice and we got a good night sleep.
What Did We Drive?
Our rental for this trip was a 2016 Jeep Patriot. The car was plenty roomy for all of us, essential for a guy like me over six feet tall on a long trip. We didn’t pay extra for satellite radio, but we did figure out the Bluetooth which was helpful in streaming music. Plenty of cargo room for all of our stuff.
What I didn’t like about the vehicle was the acceleration. This vehicle was a slug that rivaled the Pontiac LeMans I had at age 18. Also, not terribly fuel efficient (we averaged, maybe, 25 miles per gallon), and the tank only held about 13 gallons. That meant more stopping at gas stations than I would have liked.
The vehicle was a free upgrade from Enterprise, and we got a slight break on the fuel.
I’d recommend the Patriot only if you specifically want an SUV and don’t mind a low-performance engine.
Please feel free to comment in the box below, and we’ll catch you next time.
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