North Florida’s climate offers the possibility of year-round outdoor recreation, while our infrastructure and conserved lands make this a world-class place to enjoy nature to its fullest.
TRAILS FOR EVERYONE
North Central Florida is a trail lover’s paradise, and the Gainesville area is blessed with a remarkable network of urban, rural, and wilderness trails for hikers, cyclists, paddlers, and horseback riders—whether you want to be on the trail for an hour or a day. Travel a bit farther afield, and you will find trails where you can spend a week or more.
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BEST TRAILS IN THE NATION
In 2008, Florida received the first ever Best Trails State Award from American Trails.
“Florida has embraced the value of greenways and trails with an enthusiasm and level of quality that is a model for the nation,” sad Bob Searns, chairman of the board of directors for American Trails. “Local and regional projects are delivering a first class infrastructure for residents and an example for tourists to take back home.”
Visitors to our area’s trails can view an astonishing variety of trees from live oaks to subtropical palms, a stunning display of bird life from our wintertime sandhill cranes to our summertime swallow-tailed kites, and an array of different ecosystems, from prairies that can shift from wet to dry and back again to hardwood hammocks, sandhills with longleaf pines, Florida scrub, and spring-fed rivers. You can choose to stay on trails within the city limits or use those same city trails to connect with trails that will take you farther afield, or you can drive a short distance and find some of the most magnificent wilderness trails in the country.
Gainesville City Trails
The City of Gainesville maintains an impressive array of urban nature parks, many with trails that are easily accessible for city dwellers. These trails are usable by hikers, skaters, cyclists and in some sections, by equestrians.
At Boulware Springs, which once provided the city’s water supply, trail lovers can connect with the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. For information about these city parks, visit the City of Gainesville Nature Operations website.
A growing network of trails is designed to provide an alternate transportation system, allowing hikers and bikers to travel the city without using automobile roadways.
Depot Avenue Park on South Main Street is under development. With its location adjacent to the Rosa Parks Downtown Bus Depot at 500 SE 3rd Street (Depot Avenue), the park will serve as the center for trails radiating in all directions.
At this time, trails extend northeast to the Gainesville-Waldo Road Greenway (Trails.com) southeast via the Gainesville Downtown Connector Trail to Boulware Springs Park and the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail (State Park Website | TrailLink.com) and west to the Shands/Archer Road Trail.
The Hogtown Creek Greenway was acquired in a partnership between the City of Gainesville and Alachua Conservation Trust, and connects to the Loblolly Environmental Facility. Resource Links: Alachua Conservation Trust
Additional shorter trails operate within park areas maintained by the city.
Alachua County offers several nature parks with hiking trails; find them here:
State Trails and State Parks
The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park stretches 16 miles from the City of Gainesville’s Boulware Springs Park through the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and the Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area, some of the most beautiful natural areas in North Central Florida. The trail is wooded and quiet even though it travels close to busy highways and country roads. There are even a few hills to climb and speed down! If you take your time and visit the La Chua Trail on Paynes Prairie, you might see bison, wild horses and sandhill cranes. Resource Links: State Park Website | TrailLink.com
Just south of Gainesville, you’ll find Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a National Natural Landmark. Within the park, 20 distinct biological communities such as wet prairie, pine flatwoods, hammocks, and ponds provide a rich array of habitats for animal life. The prairie is a prime wildlife viewing area. This park offers opportunities for hikers, bikers and equestrians to explore its natural and historical wonders, and is a popular bird watching spot especially in the winter, when thousands of migrant sandhill cranes arrive. Resource Links: State Park Website
La Chua Trail connects off of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and is within the confines of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The trail is ideal for hikers who want to view alligators, birds and other wildlife along the La Chua, or Alachua Sink, which gives its name to Alachua County. Resource Links: Florida Hikes
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park is a popular place that offers outdoor adventure to hikers, off-road bicyclists, horseback riders, and nature lovers. To ensure solitude and quiet for a true wilderness experience, the southern two-thirds of the park is designated for hiking only. The northern third of the park has horse trails, off-road cycling, and hiking. http://www.floridastateparks.org/sanfelascohammock/
Just outside High Springs in the northern part of the county, O’Leno State Park is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. One of Florida’s original state parks, O’Leno is located on the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee. O’Leno and its sister park, River Rise Preserve State Park, encompass over 6000 acres in Alachua and Columbia Counties. Equestrian camping is available at River Rise. Resource Links: Florida State Parks | Cabins and Lodging at O’Leno | Reservations
The Santa Fe River Canoe Trail is a paddler’s paradise that begins at the U.S. Highway 441 bridge over the Santa Fe River just outside High Springs and ends at Highway 129 just south of Branford. This lower section of the Santa Fe River is fed by an abundance of freshwater springs, some of which are located in the river itself. Resource Links: Map Quick View | Map PDF
Two other state parks preserve sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park includes the 1930s farm homestead where author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and worked in the tiny community of Cross Creek. Her cracker style home and farm, where she lived for 25 years and wrote her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Yearling, has been restored and is preserved as it was when she lived here. http://www.floridastateparks.org/marjoriekinnanrawlings/
Dudley Farm Historic State Park remains one of the best-documented pioneer farms in the United States, and demonstrates the evolution of Florida farming from the 1850s to the mid-1940s—through three generations of the Dudley family. An authentic working farm, the homestead consists of 18 buildings, including the family farmhouse with original furnishings, an 1880s kitchen outbuilding, a general store and post office, and a functional cane syrup complex. Park staff in period clothing perform daily chores, raise crops and tend to livestock. The farm features seasonal cane grindings, corn shuckings and heritage varieties of livestock and plants. Deer, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises and bluebirds are still seen in the fields. The park has a visitor center, picnic area and nature trail. http://www.floridastateparks.org/dudleyfarm/
Day Trip Trails
Here’s a list of trails just a short distance outside Gainesville/Alachua County, perfect for the day tripper who wants to see more of the real Florida.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park (near Fort White) has an excellent hiking trail through longleaf pine sandhills, and possibly the most beautiful canoe and tubing run in the world. See: http://www.floridastateparks.org/ichetuckneesprings/
Rainbow Springs State Park (near Dunnellon) is also a popular canoeing spot, with tubing available a short distance from the headspring. Walking trails lead through flower gardens with artificial waterfalls and a native plant garden. See: http://www.floridastateparks.org/rainbowsprings/default.cfm
Silver River State Park near Ocala has more than 10 distinct natural communities, dozens of springs and miles of trails. See: http://www.floridastateparks.org/silverriver/
The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway is a 110-mile world-class treasure with scores of interlocking hiking, biking, paddling and equestrian trails with connectors to state and national forests, county parks, riverways and other conservation and recreational lands. See:
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a 2000-mile self-guided highway trail designed to conserve and enhance Florida’s wildlife habitats by promoting birding and wildlife viewing, conservation, and economic opportunity. See: http://floridabirdingtrail.com/index.php/trip/trails/
Search the West Florida and East Florida sections for areas near Gainesville/Alachua County.
The Florida Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the United States, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. See: http://www.floridatrail.org/ and http://www.floridatrail.org/options/northflorida/
The Florida Trail in Osceola National Forest (Lake City). Resource Links: Florida Hikes
The Ocala National Forest is the largest national forest east of the Mississippi and offers an abundance of freshwater springs and trails as well as many outdoor recreation opportunities. Resource Links: National Forest Service
Suwannee River Wilderness Trail provides an infrastructure for self-guided trips down the historic Suwannee River, one of the longest rivers in North America to flow free of dams, levees or dikes. Take a boat, houseboat, kayak or canoe and make it a one day or multi-day adventure. For information on boat landings, cabins, river camps and sleeping platforms, visit http://www.floridastateparks.org/wilderness/ | Links to Greenway Partner Trails
Suwannee River Greenway at Branford (Branford, Lake City, Live Oak, High Springs). Resource Links: Trail Link
Withlacoochee River (North) Canoe Trail
The Historic Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail, on the Gulf of Mexico between the St. Marks River lighthouse and the Suwannee River, offers paddlers the opportunity to explore one of the longest undeveloped coastlines in the United States. These publicly-owned wetlands help maintain the water clarity that is key to Florida’s Gulf wildlife, rookeries and fisheries. The 105-mile trail includes eight primitive camping sites that are open September 1-June 30. The trail is part of a network of paddling trails that allows the adventuresome to navigate the full length of the Florida coastline—the longest paddling trail system in the nation.