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The Nature Coast State Trail is a 32-mile rail-trail built on an abandoned Atlantic Coastline rail bed. Biking is east-west between Cross City and Trenton, and from the "hub" at Wilcox Junction south to Fanning Springs and Chiefland. The Trail highlight is the historic Trestle Bridge over the Suwannee River just east of Old Town. Much parallels US 98/19 or SR 26 with little shade. Other Trail sections are further from the main roads, with more shade and less road noise. Located far from Florida's major cities, the Nature Coast Trail is not as well known as other State Trails, so it's typically uncrowded, plus we found certain quieter, shadier sections to be pleasant recreational biking. (Map link and photos below.)
Map Link... Nature Coast State Trail
Location: Dixie, Levy, Gilchrist Counties
End Points: Trailheads at Cross City, Old Town, Trenton, Fanning Springs, and Chiefland.
Mileage: 32 miles
Surface: Asphalt, 12'
Nearby points of interest: Suwannee River, Manatee Springs State Park, Fanning Springs State Park, City of Hawkinsville (shipwreck)
Support and Advocacy:
Friends of Manatee Springs Parks
(Manatee Springs, Fanning Springs, Nature Coast State Trail)
Mileage stated here is approximate and measured to or from the western-most junction of a triangular trail "hub." Originally, a second rail line from Chiefland joined at Wilcox Junction, heading west to Cross City. After the Nature Coast State Trail was built on the former rail beds, another junction for biking was added, heading east to Trenton, and a triangular biking hub was formed. The 2 closest trailheads to the hub are at Old Town, about 2.25 miles west (across the Suwannee River Bridge), and at Fanning Springs, about 1.75 miles south. In our view, both trailheads are at or near some of the best Trail sections for recreational biking, much tree-lined, and except for crossing US 19/98 in Fanning Springs, most is away from busy road noise, until US 19/98 (again!) in Chiefland, near Trail's end.
From the western end of the Nature Coast State Trail, it's about 1.2 miles east to the Cross City Trailhead (historic depot, parking, restrooms, picnic), located just off US 19/98 in Cross City (pop.1,712). Continuing east, the trail is mostly aside the highway (60-80 foot buffer) with little shelter from sun or wind for next 6.7 miles. It then enters a shady 2.65 mile section to the Old Town Trailhead at SR 349 (no facilities, grass parking along fence). While there are some open straightaways after leaving Cross City, fewer trees means less debris on trail, plus few road crossings and a wide field of view are all ideal for road bikers looking for speed. (Hello gators with road bikes.)
From Old Town, it's about 3/4 mile to the Historic Suwannee River Trestle Bridge (dating from the early 1900's). Just south of the bridge, resting at the bottom of the river, the "City of Hawkinsville" shipwreck is a designated Underwater Archeological Preserve. Built in 1886, the paddlewheel steamboat was later used to transport materials to build the bridge, which ironically, put the boat out of business. In 1922, being expensive to maintain and no longer profitable, the captain brought the boat here and sank it.
Biking over the bridge, it's another 1.5 miles to Wilcox Junction. The trail remains nicely shaded with few road crossings until approaching Wilcox Junction. Here the trail forks - straight (east) to Trenton, or right (south) to Fanning Springs and Chiefland.
Continuing east from Wilcox Junction for about 1.5 miles, the trail passes the second connector in the "hub," then crosses SR 26, and continues alongside SR 26 to Trenton (pop. 2,125). Trees line only the north side of the trail here, but given the east-west orientation, they provide little shade. Covered benches are at regular intervals. On this ride, it was late October and we encountered some debris here, mainly acorns constantly crunching under our wide, recreational bike tires. We saw no road bikes on this section that day. Nearing Trenton, just past the Trenton Elementary School, the trail bends away from the roadway and enters one of the nicer 1/2 mile sections of the trail. Wooded with a couple of boardwalks, it's 1/2 mile to the Trenton Trailhead. We saw walkers and others relaxing, enjoying the natural setting here. The plan is to eventually extend the trail 9 miles to Newberry.
The Trenton Trailhead (parking, restrooms, picnic) is at the old train depot (1906). The depot is available for event rentals, with a bandstand on the large platform. A city park adjacent to the depot has playing fields and a path that leads into "downtown" Trenton, the county seat of Gilchrist County. We are told there is only one stop-light in the County and it can be seen here, just down from the depot.
From Wilcox Junction, the trail runs south for about 1.75 miles paralleling Florida St. - quiet, tree-lined - to the unpaved Fanning Springs Trailhead (parking only, no facilities). The trail then crosses US 19/98 and continues to Chiefland. Note: About 1/10 mile before reaching the trailhead is a cut-off to a (former?) Sheriff's sub-station, where a shaded, paved lot is used by some for trail parking (a sign from the trail lists restroom and picnic table here). Fanning Springs State Park, entrance 1/2 mile west along the sidewalk, is an option for cooling off.
From Fanning Springs, the trail crosses busy US 19/98 and continues south 9 miles, paralleling CR 207 (Old Fannin Road) buffered by trees, with a portion along the boundary of Andrews Wildlife Management Area - a mostly quiet, well-shaded ride (north-south trail orientation here). A few cross streets, busier approaching Chiefland (pop 2,169). A directional marker points the way to Manatee Springs State Park, about 6 miles west. In Chiefland, the trail again crosses US 98 (Main St.) to the Chiefland Trailhead (parking, restroom, picnic). The old depot (built 1913) now houses the Chiefland Chamber of Commerce and the Train Depot Museum. The trail ends just 2/10 mile past the depot at SE 4th Ave (CR 345).
The open straightaways near Cross City will appeal to road bikers looking for speed. Recreational bikers (like ourselves) will find the quietest and shadiest ride to be from the Old Town trailhead east to the hub (trailhead west 2.65 miles is also very nice), and then south to Chiefland. The short section from the Old Town trailhead east to the Suwannee River bridge is popular with hikers and tends to be a draw for families on weekends. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine the Nature Coast Trail being overly crowded. In our experience, the most popular section with local recreational cyclists seems to be the well-shaded leg (north-south orientation), Fanning Springs to Chiefland. Enjoy.
For other bike trails in the region, see Bike North Florida.
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