One of the best Florida bike trails – the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail – is a well-shaded rural trail that makes a stop at a rare-for-Florida Civil War site.
We like to bring our bikes on our rambles around Florida, so the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail has long been on my to-do list.
The Jacksonville-Baldwin rail trail is a paved trail following a former railroad line that begins just west of Jacksonville and extends 14.5 miles west to the town of Baldwin. It has full facilities near the middle at Camp Milton Historic Preserve, a Jacksonville city park, which makes a great stop for a picnic and some exploration.
Camp Milton was the base for 8,000 Confederate troops who were defending against the Union troops who had taken Jacksonville. The Confederates erected three miles of earth and timber fortifications, traces of which have been found. Today you can see those traces (there’s not much left) as well as a re-creation of a late 19th-century homestead, a replica bridge, an arboretum and boardwalks.
The trail goes through several habitats, past two creeks and wetlands and at times the tree canopy forms a tunnel over the pathway.
Here’s a report on the trail from fellow blogger Chuck Morlock:
“The first three miles of the Jacksonville-Baldwin State Trail out of Jacksonville run along power towers, and for the first four miles or so you travel past residences, businesses, and small ranches, but then there are only occasional glimpses of civilization and only a few road crossings as you traverse a beautiful forest. Since this is an old railroad grade, the trail is basically flat with only gradual rises and dips.
“This is one of only a few trails I’ve biked which had highway-type speed limit signs (see photo) probably because it is maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation.”
“West of Helsema Road, signs warn of a nearby gun club, and I heard some gunfire in that area. (A skeet shooting facility is located nearby.)
“A new motorcross park is also near the trail and you can stop and watch the motor bikes jumping huge mounds of earth. “
Mudfish at 100FloridaTrails.com recommends starting your bike ride at Camp Milton because it has ample parking, good facilities and “this puts you in one of the nicest, shadiest sections of the trail” – from Camp Milton west to Baldwin. A paved path parallels Halsema Road leading to the bike trail.
Mudfish recently rode the trail and wrote to us with a little update: “We were impressed with some of the upgrades along the trail, especially at the trailheads.” While he still likes parking mid-trail, he said the trailhead at Halsema Road is also a nice option.
While at Camp Milton, watch for birds. The site was recently added to the Great Florida Birding Trail. Eastern bluebird, eastern meadowlark, palm warbler, and loggerhead shrike can be found in and around the fields by the entrance. Raptors like bald eagles, American kestrel, and sharp-shinned hawk (winter) may be spotted overhead. Check the creek area for songbirds like blue-gray gnatcatcher and Eastern phoebe.
Folks who have reviewed this trail at Trailslink.com add these useful comments:
- “The thick canopy makes for a refreshing ride, even in the afternoon heat, and the long stretches without stop signs make for a good workout.”
- “The entire trail is 14.5 miles journeying through the swamp, forests, wetlands, grassy plains, rural homes, small farms etc. The constant shift in scenery is stimulating and it’s even more fun to count how much wildlife you saw.”
- “What a gem! Started on Imerson and rode to the end on Blanding Trail and back, three hours of pure joy. There are mile markers at each mile, lots of benches along the route. This is a great path!”
- “A great ride with very few intersections.”
- “If you ride this trail after a heavy rain, bring plenty of mosquito repellent or ride like the wind!”
- “The rest area at the Camp Milton Historic Preserve fork is delightful. There’s a cement pad with picnic table, groomed grass area, clean restrooms and ICE COLD water in the drinking fountains.”
A two-minute video on the trail:
Planning your visit to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
Eastern trailhead/Imeson Road trailhead: From I-295 North, take Exit 9/Commonwealth Avenue. Drive west on Commonwealth about 1 mile to Imeson and turn right. The marked trailhead is on the left.
Western trailhead/Brandy Branch Road trailhead: take I-10 west to Exit 343/US Highway 301 and head north to US Highway 90. Turn left, drive west about 2 miles then turn right on Route 121/Brandy Branch Road. The marked trailhead is on the right.
Camp Milton trailhead: From I-10, Exit Chaffee Road. Go north to Beaver Street/Highway 90, turn left. Go to Halsema Road, turn right. Go approximately 1 mile to 1175 Halsema Road north. Entrance to Camp Milton is on the right.
Note: There is no entry or parking fee at trailheads or at Camp Milton.
Camp Milton Preserve
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.