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One of state’s best bike trails: Nature Coast Trail in rural northwest Florida

Last updated on April 28th, 2020 at 08:51 pm

Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park

The Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park crosses the Suwanee on a picturesque train trestle. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park

A scenic stretch of the Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park.  (Photo: David Blasco)

Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park

Convenient spot to snack or take shelter along the Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park

Nature Coast Trail near Fanning Springs State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Fanning Springs State Park

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.

An hour south: Crystal River, a magnet for manatees and those who love them.

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.



A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

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Geoffrey Sherwood

Friday 8th of May 2020

We rode part of the trail yesterday. We parked in Trenton and rode 10.5 miles towards Cross City. The bridges up to and across the Suwanee were cool. The rest of the trip from Trenton to where the trail forks off to the south to Fanning Springs is totally boring. You are almost riding on a sidewalk near a moderately busy road. Riding by the prison is the only slightly interesting point along the ride. On the way back we took the south fork past Fanning Springs. Immediately the scenery improved and it was a pleasant ride down to US98. That is a major road and we did have to wait a while for traffic to clear. Immediately after crossing we got to the best part of the trip (well, except for the Suwannee crossing mentioned before) with wide borders to either side of the trail and very tall trees coming together over the trail to form a green tunnel. We went about 1.5 miles south from US98 to NW 160th St. Nice ride. Then we turned around and went back to Trenton, just over 28 miles in all. We will certainly never do the Trenton-Fanning Springs ride again. I will say that the trailhead at Trenton is nice with bathrooms (though my wife said the Ladies had no paper and wasn't the cleanest) and an old train depot. Plenty of parking on the grass. Where we turned around at 160th there was a sign for the Andrews Wildlife Management area. Looking at the map now, 160th looks like it goes into the area and over to the Suwanee. We may try that next time, probably parking in Chiefland because we didn't do the southern part of that leg, then riding 160th into the area.

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