Roadtrip — Ridge Manor to Little Lake Harris

From the Tampa area or areas to the north, you’ll end up at Exit No. 301 off Interstate 75 (not to be confused with nearby US Highway 301).  From there, one of my favorite rides in the state of Florida awaits.  As development has continued to take over the State of Florida, this roadtrip will provide a nice change of pace.

Eastern Hernando County, south Sumter County, and parts of Lake County.  The Green Swamp, old houses, big oak trees, clay dirt roads, orange trees, rolling hills, amazing lake views.  It all lies ahead.

Ridge Manor

Starting out eastbound on State Road 50, it also doubles as US Highway 98 for a short distance.  Here is the unincorporated town of Ridge Manor.  Ridge Manor was developed in the 1960s, and roads were built, but the houses and businesses never really followed.  However, it’s really just as well.  Many of the sandy hills and pine trees still remain.  Aside from some development at Interstate 75, it’s a forested area.

A pedestrian bridge crosses State Road 50 and carries the Withlacoochee State Trail, a former railroad, and the state’s longest rail trail.

The Withlacoochee State Trail is 46 miles long. Its southern terminus is 6 miles south of State Road 50 near Trilby.  Its northern terminus is in the City of Dunnellon in Marion County.

 

US Highway 98 soon splits from State Road 50, heading south towards the small town of Trilby, Dade City, and eventually Lakeland.

An old configuration of State Road 50 runs just north of the current one, which is mostly just woods and old houses. For residents of Ridge Manor, the old road–Ridge Manor Boulevard–is home to Ridge Manor Community Park.

 

The next major intersection is with US Highway 301.  It’s still a two-lane intersection, with an older True Value Hardware store, a flag shop in an old Circle K/Lil’ General store, and a newer Circle K store.

Plaque at the intersection of State Road 50 and US Highway 301.

Withlacoochee State Forest

As State Road 50 ventures from the sandy rolling hills of the Brooksville Ridge, you will enter the Withlacoochee State Forest.  For the next several miles, the road is surrounded on both sides by tall trees, such as pines and oaks.

Typical view of State Road 50 as it goes through the Withlacoochee State Forest.

The Richloam Trailhead for the Withlacoochee State Forest is located on the south side of the road just past US Highway 301 on the eastern edge of Ridge Manor.  The trailhead is a hotspot for hikers looking to take in nature.  It is a very desolate area with no resources–bring your own water, snacks, and TP if you plan on hiking.

Richloam Trailhead entrance at State Road 50.
The Green Swamp is a key water resource for Central Florida. The swamp covers 110,000 acres and covers parts of five counties. It is the headwaters of the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Oklawaha, and Peace rivers.

 

Tarrytown

Tarrytown is a small logging community at the intersection of State Roads 50 and 471.  Shell and Sunoco gas stations are at opposite corners of the intersection.

4 miles north of Tarrytown along State Road 471 is the small City of Webster, and its world famous Webster Westside Flea Market.

Out of Tarrytown, State Road 50 continues eastbound on a two-lane stretch of road with farms and classic Florida Cracker houses.

Linden

The small settlement of Linden’s main goings-on is its farming community.  Also included in town is a former gas station/general store, three churches, and a cemetery dating back to 1842.

Linden.

From Linden to Mabel, County Road 772 runs parallel to State Road 50 and is itself the former highway.

County Road 772 between Mabel and Linden.

Mabel

The small community of Mabel was once the intersection of State Road 50 and the Seaboard Railroad.  This rail line ceased operation in 1988 and was re-purposed as the James Van Fleet State Trail.  Mabel now serves as the trail’s northernmost trailhead.

 

The James Van Fleet State Trail is a 29-mile long paved trail. Its southern trailhead is in Polk City, where it ties into the TECO Trail, connecting to Auburndale in Polk County.  In its 29 miles, the trail is arrow-straight, except for a single slight curve.
The trail–which is a Florida State Park–was named after U.S. Army General James Van Fleet.  General Van Fleet owned and lived on a ranch in Polk City until his death in 1992 at the age of 100.

 

 

Sumter-Lake County Line

Going from Sumter into Lake County, the highway scenery takes a turn from swampy and flat, to sandy and a little more hilly coming into the settlements of Slones Ridge and Stuckey.

Slones Ridge was settled in 1843 by Georgia-born Confederate Army Captain William Slone.  Cattle was raised, supplying beef to Confederate soldiers.

There is still a side road off State Road 50 called “Sloans Ridge Rd,” “Sloan” being an incorrect spelling. Until the late 1990s, signage on State Road 50 itself identified the settlement as “Sloans Ridge.”

 

Stuckey is a historically black settlement, formed during the era of segregation when black people were prohibited from buying property in the adjacent City of Mascotte.  There are a few older homes there today, as well as a Baptist church.

Mascotte

The City of Mascotte, population just over 5,000, is the next stop along Highway 50, and where the highway expands from two to four lanes.  Mascotte marks the beginning of the Orlando metropolitan area along Highway 50.

State Road 50 through Mascotte.

Mascotte was founded in 1925 and was named for a small tobacco-carrying ship.  The city’s official logo is similar to that of the City of Tampa, also a Mascotte boat.

Pay close attention to the speed limit signs in town, as the city has its own police force and frequently runs speed traps along Highway 50.

Mascotte is home to this road trip’s best eating place, the Rainbow Family Restaurant.  Go for the buffet, or go for their homemade menu items in this friendly establishment.

Groveland

As you leave Mascotte, you’ll immediately enter the City of Groveland.  With a population of 8,700 and growing, Groveland has experienced a rapid expansion to the east towards Clermont, six miles away.

State Road 50 in Groveland.

Groveland features a classic downtown district near the intersection of State Roads 50 and 19.  In hopes of one day making downtown safer for pedestrians, a truck route/bypass is being planned to go just north of the current route, as part of Groveland’s Downtown Master Plan.

A few old buildings in downtown Groveland.

The first turn in the roadtrip will be at State Road 19, going north.

Groveland is the junction of State Roads 50, 33, and 19. State Road 33 begins in Mascotte and ends in Lakeland, 40 miles south.  19 begins in Groveland and travels north 89 miles to Palatka.

 

State Road 19

Exiting the north end of Groveland, Highway 19 crosses Palatlakaha Creek along with a little swampy terrain.

Soon after, the elevation rises.  The landscape gives way to orange groves, red clay, and rolling hills.

State Road 19.
State Road 19.

The next roads are US Highway 27 and the Florida Turnpike, which run parallel to each other for about six miles.  Both roads pass over Highway 19 providing minimal congestion and no stopping and starting.

From the Turnpike, Highway 19 continues another four miles through County Road 455 and into the town of Howey-in-the-Hills.

Howey-in-the-Hills

The Town of Howey-in-the-Hills was founded in 1921 by William John Howey, who built the first citrus juice plant in Florida in the town.  The town, orignally called “Howey” was incorporated in 1925, and became Howey-in-the-Hills in 1927 to reflect the area’s rolling hills.

Palm Avenue in Howey-in-the-Hills.

Highway 19 runs through the center of town along Palm Avenue.  Houses from the 1920s through the present day dot both sides of the street.  To the east of Palm Avenue, the land is on a terrace descending towards the Little Lake Harris shoreline.

Small park in Howey-in-the-Hills.

Lakeshore Blvd. runs parallel to the shore of Little Lake Harris and is a scenic alternative to Highway 19 from Lakeview Avenue to Laurel Avenue.

On Citrus Avenue off of Highway 19 is the site of the William J. Howey Mansion.  Howey built the mansion himself in 1925.  The building still stands, and buyers are looking to preserve it back to its original state after years of neglect.

The Mission Inn Resort and Club is on the west side of Highway 19 near its junction with County Road 48.

Little Lake Harris Bridge

Upon exiting Howey-in-the-Hills, Highway 19 crosses over the mouth of Little Lake Harris, near its entry point into Lake Harris.  The bridge was built in 1950 and provides a direct link between Howey-in-the-Hills and the Lake County seat of Tavares.

South end of the Little Lake Harris bridge.
Little Lake Harris, the town of Astatula in the background.
Little Lake Harris and the Hickory Point Recreation Facility.

Hickory Point Recreation Facility is a waterfront park, the first left-hand turn after the bridge.  It features the largest boat ramp on Little Lake Harris, a fishing pier, a nature trail, brilliant views of the lake, and more.

 

Just three miles north of the junction of County Road 448, the City of Tavares is a small town alternate to the roadtrip, as well as State Road 19’s intersection with U.S. Highway 441.

County Road 448

The next turn on the trip, County Road 448 begins here and runs near the northern shoreline of Little Lake Harris until hitting County Road 561.

County Road 448.

Lake Idamere Park sits on the south shore of Lake Idamere.  Its parking area surrounds a baseball diamond, but the park offers more than just baseball.  Hiking, views of Lake Idamere, or simply having a picnic lunch await.  The baseball diamond and running track features Lake County’s first Miracle League playing surface, offering play to people with physical disabilities.

County Road 561

Making a right hand turn at County Road 561, you’ll now be on the east shore of Little Lake Harris.

As a longtime industry in the immediate area, sand mines line both sides of the road, taking advantage of the area’s white sugar sand.  Hills of sand can tower up to 75 feet above the adjacent road when mining is in high activity.

Astatula

At County Road 561’s junction with County Road 48 is the Town of Astatula.

County Road 561 approaching Astatula.

There is a single traffic signal at the center of town, the intersection of Monroe Street (CR 561) and Florida Avenue (CR 48).  The Astatula Town Hall is the northwest corner.

Florida Avenue west of Monroe dead-ends on the shore of Little Lake Harris, making this the city’s only public access point to the lake.

County Road 455

County Road 561 travels another three miles south until it reaches a newly-constructed roundabout intersection with County Road 455.

Making the first right at the roundabout will now put you westbound and south of Little Lake Harris.  This is a hilly route with some impressive climbs and drops for Florida.

County Road 455.
County Road 455.

The road trip reaches its final intersection with State Road 19 about three miles after the roundabout.

Why This Route?

For a few reasons.  First, it shows sides of Florida that many people don’t see or associate with Florida.  The route is largely undeveloped, showing Florida cracker houses, hills, clay, orange groves, lakes, horse farms, tree farms, and small towns that take one back in time.  A little something different that Florida has to offer.

Secondly, this one is a special one to me as my grandparents lived just north of Astatula until 1989.  This was the route we took on our visits, and very much how I remembered things as a kid.  A real trip down memory lane.

Anything to add?  Questions, comments?  Please comment in the box below.

 

 

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