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The Palatka to Lake Butler State Trail is a rail-trail on an old Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of-way. Three disconnected segments of the planned 50+-mile trail are completed, totaling more than 30 miles: 26 miles from Palatka to Keystone Heights, 2.2 miles at Hampton, and 4 miles at Lake Butler. Construction is underway between Keystone Heights and Hampton, completion expected in the summer of 2023. To the east, the trail ends near Palatka Airport where a gap into Palatka remains. The Palatka to St. Augustine State Trail is currently reachable by road route and the Palatka Urban Trail. The trail crosses and portions are shared with the Florida National Scenic Trail. (Map link and photos below.)
Map link... Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail
Location: Putnam, Clay, Bradford and Union Counties
End Points: Lake Butler to Palatka, 3 segments completed
Parking/Trailheads: Keystone Heights, Twin Lakes Park, Florahome; other parking areas available trailside (see map)
Mileage: 32 paved out of 50+ total when completed: Palatka to Keystone Heights, and segments at Hampton and Lake Butler. 6 mile spur to Gold Head Branch State Park.
Surface: Asphalt, 12 feet
Nearby points of interest: Ravine Gardens State Park, Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
Putnam Bicycles (Palatka)
The trail between Palatka and Keystone Heights runs largely parallel to SR 100 but with a wide wooded buffer, and a few sections away from the road. While the road view is largely blocked, the road noise is almost constant. This an easy ride, mostly well-shaded and almost totally straight with just a few large road crossings and including several bridges. Trailheads are located at Florahome, Twin Lakes Park, Keystone Heights, Hampton and Lake Butler; additional trailside parking is at the eastern trail end near the Palatka airport, at Grandin, and at a few other locations along the way. While there are no benches or rest stations provided on the trail, several small stores along the way provide refreshments, with full services at Palatka and Keystone Heights.
We explore the Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail from east to west.
The East Trailhead is roadside parking only, continuing a short distance to the east before the gap into Palatka. Westbound, the trail parallels SR 100 but with a wide wooded buffer. Limited unpaved parking is available at several road access points, but this is a remote area so we recommend sticking to the trailheads. This is a scenic ride, through Rice Creek Conservation Area and crossing the trestle bridge, then skirting the southern boundary of Etoniah Creek State Forest. At Florahome, the trail leaves the woods and runs along the road to the Florahome Trailhead - parking, restrooms and picnicking. Florahome Community Park here includes a playground and playing fields. A convenience store is located across the street.
A portion of trail runs along the southern boundary of Etoniah Creek State Forest. Forest roads are also bikeable. Activities include hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, fishing, hunting, nature study, and photography. A portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the forest.
The trail between Florahome and Grandin (2 miles) continues along SR 100 with a wooded buffer. Parking at Grandin is trailside at Sykes Rd., no other amenities. The trail crosses busy SR 315, be careful. Past Grandin, the trail turns away from the road through a scenic section, then rejoins SR 100 through Putnam Hill - refreshments available. At Forest Hills Rd. is roadside parking, and the trail again cuts away from the road, running through countryside to the trailhead at Twin Lakes Park - parking, restrooms, picnicking, playground and playing fields.
From Twin Lakes Park, the trail continues off the road for about 1.5 mile before rejoining SR 100 where it runs roadside, passing homes and businesses through Keystone Heights. After crossing very busy SR 21 (be careful, use the crossing signals), the Keystone Heights Trailhead is less than 1/10 mile with parking, benches and a fix-it station. Located between CVS and Wendy's, other food and shopping are nearby. From the Keystone Trailhead, the trail continues for 3 miles to its current end. Starting out along SR 100, it cuts away again at SE 57th St., then ends in one mile at the point it meets and crosses SR 100.
At SR 21 near the Keystone Heights Trailhead, a paved spur runs north, 6 miles paralleling the road to Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park. The park is a worthwhile stop, an unexpected highlight being the scenic ravine, carved out by spring-fed Gold Head Branch. Camping (RV, tent, and primitive) and 16 vacation cabins are available - the closest accommodations to Keystone Heights.
Past Keystone Heights, the trail corridor leaves SR 100 and runs through woodland and farmland, with sections along secondary roads. Portions are under construction.
Construction is underway between Keystone Heights and Hampton, 4 miles from SR 100 to CR 36. We viewed some sections off CR 18, a quiet road. Much asphalt has been laid, with completion projected for August 2023.
At Prospect Ave. (CR 325) in Hampton, Bobby Shepherd Ball Park serves as a trailhead (parking, restrooms, picnic, playground, playing fields). A 2.2 miles section of trail is completed here, 1.6 miles from SE 36th St. to Prospect Ave., and 0.6 from Prospect Ave. to Navarre St. (CR 18).
Continuing west from here is future construction, running through Starke to Lake Butler - about 12 miles.
The trail rejoins CR 100 at Lake Butler, ending at SE 6th Ave. (SR 231). From here west is future construction to Lake City.
The Lake Butler Trailhead, off CR 100 between SW 4th and SW 6th Avenues, has parking; restrooms, picnic tables and a fitness station, along with a section of old rail track, are located across SW 4th Ave. A deli, restaurants and stores are nearby, or ride a 4/10 street route to pleasant Lake Side Park with restrooms, picnic, parking, boat ramp, fishing pier, beach. From the trailhead and heading east, the first 6/10 mile to SR 121 runs through town with multiple road crossings.
After crossing SR 121 (being very careful), the trail enters a wooded area with bridges crossing Lake Butler Creek and Richard Creek. The serenity is interrupted for about a mile by activity at the adjacent West Fraser wood mill (around MM 52), but the peaceful surrounds resume after that. The trail passes one of the largest solar farms we've seen, visible through the trees for almost a mile. The trail then ends at CR 227. From here, east to Hampton is future construction.
Palatka Area Overview
- Palatka to St. Augustine State Trail
- Palatka Urban Trail
- Ravine Gardens State Park
- Gold Head Branch State Park
North FL Region - More trails plus Regional Overview map
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