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The Blackwater Heritage State Trail begins in Milton, FL, in the western Panhandle near Pensacola. The trail is a linear State Park, running on an old Florida and Alabama Railroad railbed. At Whiting Junction Trailhead, the trail links with the U.S. Navy's Military Heritage Trail and continues to the entrance to Whiting Field Naval Air Station. The paved, multi-use trail is used by bikers, walkers, runners, hikers, and skaters. Road bikers will like the longer, less interrupted stretches north of the Visitor Center. (Map link and photos below.)
Map link... Blackwater Heritage State Trail
Location: Santa Rosa County (Milton)
End Points: Milton to Whiting Field Naval Air Station
Mileage: 10 miles (Blackwater Heritage, 8.2 miles; Military Heritage, 1.8 miles)
Surface: Asphalt, 12'
Nearby points of interest: Milton, Blackwater River State Park, Blackwater River State Forest
Truly Spokin (Milton, rentals, sales, repairs)
Support and Advocacy:
Friends of Blackwater Heritage State Trail
The trail is mostly rural, wooded and shielded from the surroundings (except for Military Heritage Trail), with mixed sun and shade. Wooden bridges over creeks are scenic highlights. Benches are provided regularly along the way, with restrooms available at or near the trailheads, and at the 6-mile mark. There is drinkable water available at some trailheads. Other activities include hiking, rollerblading, picnicking, and horseback riding (except for Military Heritage Trail section). Birdwatching is also popular.
Note: The Blackwater Heritage State Trail officially begins about a mile south of the Elva Street Trailhead. However, few bikers start here because it would then require crossing busy US 90 at a tricky intersection (see map). Thus, we begin our ride report starting from the Elva Street Trailhead.
The Elva Street Trailhead in Milton (near the corner of US 90 and CR 89) has parking, restrooms and picnic pavilion - shops, restaurants, and a bike shop are nearby. At the trailhead, the Heritage Plaza presents some historical information.
We parked here and biked northward about a mile before stopping and checking out the Visitor Center (shown below). This section parallels SR 87 through town, but well away from the roadway. A few road crossings require normal precautions, but none were especially busy.
Note on Trailhead Parking: The Elva Street Trailhead has limited parking and typically fills up early on weekends. No worries, as more parking is available at the Visitor Center just a mile away.
The Visitor Center has parking, restrooms, picnic tables, grills, and a playground. The Center - staffed part-time by volunteers - provides information and historic exhibits, plus a meeting room available to rent. Leaving this trailhead are a few more road crossings, then the trail becomes quieter and more remote, alternating between wooded and open areas, and crossing some wooden bridges over small creeks. From here, the trail is less busy as well. It reaches the Munson Hwy. Trailhead in about 2 miles.
The Munson Hwy. Trailhead is also the equestrian trailhead, with parking, trailer parking, and picnicking; a restroom is located along the trail about 1/4 mile north. The equestrian trail parallels the paved trail, sharing the way over bridges. (The equestrian trail ends at the Military Heritage Trail.) Continuing north, use caution crossing Munson Hwy. Then, the trail continues through wooded sections with a couple more lightly traveled road crossings. The trail crosses Munson Hwy. once again, reaches a small residential area, passes a restroom, and then around a curve is Whiting Junction.
Whiting Junction has a small but shady roadside parking area and picnic pavilion. The Blackwater Heritage State Trail meets the U.S. Navy's Military Heritage Trail here. Now on military property, a sign advises that helmets are required for all bikers. From here, the trail leaves the woods and runs alongside E. Gate Road, with no shade and a few road crossings into small residential areas. There is a slight but increasingly steep uphill grade, to just before the trail end at an entrance gate to Whiting Field Naval Air Station. We noted other bikers using the roadway vs. the bike trail here, so with virtually no traffic, we also used the wider roadway to take a nice downhill glide on our return to Whiting Junction.
The City of Milton is one of Florida's oldest towns, now the county seat of Santa Rosa County. First settled in the early 1800's for lumbering, it was incorporated as a town in 1844 - a year before the Territory of Florida became the 27th state. A designated Florida Main Street Community, the Downtown Historic District is on the National Historic Register. Fires in 1885 and 1892 destroyed much of the town, but it was rebuilt and many of those later structures remain. Located along the Blackwater River, Milton is known as the "Canoe Capital of Florida" for the many rivers in the area - kayaking, canoeing, tubing and fishing are popular on the Blackwater River and nearby Coldwater Creek and beyond (see paddling links below).
The Milton Riverwalk is along the Blackwater River at the US 90 bridge, part of the Historic Downtown and near restaurants and shops. This is a boardwalk with picnicking, benches, and a gazebo, plus Santa Rosa County's Veteran's Memorial Plaza. The Blackwater Landing historic marker commemorates the town's shipping heydays, 1800's-1930's.
Russell Harber Landing Park is located on the opposite (east) side of the Blackwater River from downtown Milton, and just upstream (north). The entrance is off US 90, shortly before the bridge. The Park was a pleasant surprise - great river views, parking, restrooms, picnic pavilions, public boat ramp, and the "Old River Trail" for hiking.
This is a largely undeveloped slice of Florida and on this weekend autumn afternoon, we had virtually the entire park to ourselves - a peaceful and scenic place to relax, snack, and stretch our legs.
The interesting West Florida Railroad Museum is centered on the historic L&N Train Depot (1907), which replaced the original 1882 depot. The museum includes exhibits, a gift shop, several old railroad cars, and outbuildings. A model railroading club gives children (ages 3-12) rides on a scale model railroad on weekends - a popular local attraction based on the number of families we saw.
The Old Brick Road is Florida's Historic FL SR 1. About 6 miles are preserved here for biking and hiking, paralleling today's US 90 in East Milton. Paved "shoulders" have been added for biking as the bricks can be a rough ride. One of the few (and best) remaining examples of Florida's once 337 miles of brick highways, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Blackwater River flows through Blackwater River State Park and is a popular area for kayaking, canoeing, and tubing, but there's much more here for the outdoor enthusiast. The park provides parking, restrooms, camping (30 campsites, reservations required), picnicking, a playground, and 4.5 miles of nature trails for hiking. Swim at the white sand beach along the river. A portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the park. Wildlife may include deer, bobcat, black bears, turkey, river otter, and beaver. It's part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife rail. State Park fee applies.
Blackwater River State Forest, the largest in Florida, is known for its longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystems. Blackwater River, Juniper Creek, Coldwater Creek and Sweetwater Creek all flow through it, popular for paddling and fishing. Other activities include mountain biking, hiking, camping, horseback riding, and birding. The forest includes a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail, and is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
We stopped at the Bear Lake Recreation Area (one of several within the forest). Bear Lake was formed by a dam on Bear Creek, activities here include camping (reservations required), paddling, fishing, mountain biking, and picnicking. A 4-mile hiking trail and a 6-mile mountain biking trail circle the lake. Parking, restrooms, and shower. Day use fee applies.
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