Last updated on January 9th, 2017 at 09:34 am
In rural Northwest Florida, where the largest towns have 2,000 residents, a smooth wide blacktop bike trail winds through fields with farms and cows, under arching trees and on a historic train trestle over the Suwanee River.
It’s the Nature Coast Trail, 32 miles of paved bike trail centered in Fanning Springs near Fanning Springs State Park with three spokes — one to Cross City, one to Trenton and one to Chiefland. The region is about an hour west of Gainesville.
It’s a quiet and often scenic ride in a way-off-the-beaten-path region of Florida.
An ideal weekend for bicyclists would be renting a terrific cabin at Fanning State Park (a bargain at $100 a night with two bedrooms and a full kitchen) or camping at nearby Manatee Springs State Park. Then, you could explore by bike for a day or two and by kayak on the Suwanee River too.
The highlight of the Nature Coast Trail is the scenic train trestle located about three miles west of Fanning Springs State Park on the route to Cross City. The rusting metal trestle is located away from roads and cities, so it’s a quiet spot where you can linger and gaze into the swiftly flowing Suwanee.
Unfortunately, you can’t see into the tannic water because below the surface south of the bridge is the sunken 1886 paddlewheel steamer the City of Hawkinsville. The shipwreck is a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve. The ship had helped haul building materials for the trestle and then was intentionally sunk when the trestle was completed – the railway had made it obsolete.
The bike trail from Fanning Springs to the trestle is attractive and for a few miles afterwards the trail winds through a shady tunnel formed by trees. Heading west from Fanning Springs to Cross City, the path extends 12 miles. We turned around about half way, however, when the trail began to run adjacent to US 96, a busy divided highway.
Rather than experience the noise and view of highway traffic, we doubled back and rode the eastern leg of the trail, which goes from Fanning Springs to Trenton, a quaint town with some appealing restaurant options. This leg is 7 miles long and parallels a quieter country road with shade and farmland.
The leg from Fanning Springs south to Chiefland is 9 miles long, much of it along a hardwood hammock and the boundary of Andrews Wildlife Management Area.
There are trailheads in Chiefland, Trenton, Cross City, Old Town and Fanning Springs. The Chiefland, Cross City and Trenton Trailheads have the most amenities – parking, restrooms and a pavilion at each.
Along the trail there are covered benches where you could take cover in a storm or enjoy a picnic.
More resources for biking the Nature Coast Trail:
Nature Coast State Trail official site
Here are some reviews and tips on Traillink.
Manatee Springs State Park has an excellent campground and is eight miles from the Chiefland trailhead.
Reserve cabins at Fanning Springs State Park or campsites at Manatee Springs State Park through up to 11 months in advance by calling (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern) or TDD (888) 433-0287, or online at Florida State Parks.
I couldn’t find anyplace where you might rent bikes nearby, but this outfitter runs monthly multi-day bike tours that include the Nature Coast Trail.
What’s near the Nature Coast Trail:
Bicyclists who come for the Nature Coast State Trail often head over to Cedar Key for more riding, just exploring or to dine in some excellent restaurants. Here’s our guide to Cedar Key.
About 45 minutes southeast: The Withlacoochee Trail, which might be Florida’s best bike trail, one bicyclists want to put at the top of their to-ride list.