Following the right-of-way of the former Florida and Alabama Railroad north from Milton, the Blackwater Heritage State Trail is one of Florida’s older rail-trail conversions.
Although the 8.1 mile linear paved path never draws within sight of the Blackwater River, it roughly parallels it, crossing a handful of tributaries.
At its north end, the trail is extended another 1.8 miles by the Military Heritage Trail along a greenway leading to the East Gate of NAS Whiting Field.
South of US 90, a lesser-used mile of trail continues along a forested right of way, ending where the railroad once branched off the east-west Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 9.9 miles linear
Headquarters: 30.63560, -87.04010
Address: 5533 Alabama St, Milton
Restrooms: At several trailheads and along the trail
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed dogs welcome.
Equestrian use permitted north of Milton in a signposted corridor up to Whiting Trailhead.
Our narrative starts at the Milton Trailhead. From Interstate 10 exit 31 (Milton / Navarre) drive north on SR 87 one mile to US 90. Turn left on US 90 and continue 4.5 miles to SR 87 in Milton. Turn right to head north one block and right onto Elva St to the trailhead on the right. For directions to other trailheads and parking areas, click on icons on this map.
With restrooms, a picnic shelter, and a bike repair station, the Milton trailhead off SR 87 at Elva Street fills up quickly some mornings.
Quite a few services adjoin the trailhead, including a “burgers and beignets” take-out and a bike shop.
With no desire to cross US 90 highway at the traffic lights twice to tackle the dead-end mile of trail extending south, we kept our focus on the ride north.
While we visited Milton trailhead by bike, we used a parking area adjoining a memorial park for local firefighters at the corner of Berryhill and Bruner two blocks north.
Crossing an unexpected bridge in a patch of woods just north of Berryhill, continue through a residential area with road crossings every block.
Munson Highway (CR 191) is the busiest of these, and you’ll cross it several times along this ride as it parallels the old railroad route north.
A gentle curve forested curve north of that crossing brings you in front of the Milton Public Library and the prominent visitor center for the trail a mile in.
Stop in for a peek at the exhibits and to use the restrooms. Parking adjoins it by the library. Cross Chaffin Street just past the center.
After several more residential road crossings, you can finally kick into gear on this ride on a straightaway paralleled by a rural road.
Once the road ends, the trail is quickly surrounded by a floodplain. At 2 miles, cross a bridge into this showy, deeply wooded corridor.
The railbed is above the wet stuff, flanked by titi swamps sporting soft white spiky blooms in spring, filling the air with a cloying scent.
Pitcher plants grow in boggy spots, but they aren’t easy to spot unless you get off your bike.
By 2.8 miles, pass the equestrian trailhead, which has a covered picnic bench and deep spaces like you’d find at a boat ramp, but for horse trailers.
The trailhead has water but no restrooms. Cross Munson Hwy again. Traffic is high speed along it.
A shaded straightaway resumes north of Munson Highway, the trail flanked by forest for the next three-quarters of a mile.
The canopy opens when a long bridge under power lines at 3.6 miles spans Clear Creek in a broad boggy basin.
Known for its bounty of white-topped pitcher plants farther upstream, this crystalline creek empties into Blackwater River a little more than a half mile south.
A sheltered bench is immediately north of the bridge. Pause and walk back to the bridge scan the basin for pitcher plants in the marsh below.
North of Pat Brown Rd a quarter mile later, a row of tall pines provide afternoon shade, the pavement flanked by chalky bluestem grasses.
Pass another sheltered bench at 4.6 miles. Soon after, a red clay road starts paralleling the bike path.
A vault toilet is trailside along the red clay road at 5.2 miles, with a little grassy pulloff serving as a rural trailhead next to a split rail fence.
Cross Parker Rd immediately north. The trail gently curves away from it into a corridor flanked by oaks and pines, with a sheltered bench at 5.7 miles.
It’s not your imagination, the trail is steadily gaining elevation. It’s hilly north of Milton, and it’s all uphill from here.
This wooded corridor crosses Munson Highway one more time at 6.2 miles, entering another gentle curve through a dense understory beneath cedars and pines.
Straightening out, it reaches Whiting Trailhead at 7.1 miles, where the Blackwater Heritage Trail officially ends.
However, the pavement keeps rolling north as the Military Heritage Trail, extending another 1.8 miles to NAS Whiting Field.
Shaded for a short distance past the trailhead, it breaks into full sun as it parallels the entrance road to the base, passing a bench at 8.4 miles.
A half mile later the grassy greenway meets the base gates, a no entry zone unless you have a military ID.
Turn around to start your trip back to Milton. This is the easy part, as you lose elevation steadily all the way back to the Visitor Center.
The round-trip ride to the Milton trailhead is 17.8 miles. Extend it to 19.8 miles by crossing US 90 to ride to the very south end of the trail and back.
See our photos of Blackwater Heritage State Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
The Clear Creek Nature Trail leads you to a wonderland of bright blossoms and lacy white-veined trumpets reflected against reflections of the sky.
Pitcher plants and orchids accent expansive coastal prairie landscapes and diverse pine flatwoods along a series of trails at Garcon Point.
East of Pensacola, Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park is a sweeping panorama of wet prairies, home to the largest concentration of pitcher plants in Florida.