In the 20 years since we first visited Cary State Forest, it’s more than tripled in size.
That’s thanks to the acquisition of large tracts of former timberlands west of Jacksonville, all of which can be roamed on their networks of roads.
Encompassing eleven different habitats, with major ones including longleaf pine, wet flatwoods, cypress domes, and swamp forests, this is a place of botanical beauty.
But it takes a walk or a ride to see it up close, and time to pause for the little things.
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Length: 21.4 miles in three trails
Headquarters: 30.401215, -81.924140
Address: 7465 Pavilion Rd, Bryceville
Fees: $2 per person
Restroom: At the S. Bryan Jennings Pavilion off US 301 at Pavilion Rd
Land manager: Florida State Forests
Phone: 904-266-8398 weekdays, 904-266-8396 weekends
Open dawn to dusk. Leashed dogs welcome.
Please be aware of hunting seasons in the forest and wear bright orange if you choose to hike or camp during them. Hunting is not permitted in the Cary Tract.
From Interstate 10 exit 343, Baldwin/Starke, head north on US 301 for 9 miles. After you pass the Bryceville fire station and a “Welcome to Cary State Forest” sign on the right. Keep alert for the first turnoff, Pavilion Road. Turn right and drive 0.4 mile to the trail kiosk and grassy parking area at its intersection with Fire Tower Rd. This is the parking area for all of the trails within Cary State Forest. To reach the headquarters building, turn left on Fire Tower Rd and you’ll find it on the right.
About the Forest
The original portion of the forest off US 301 in Bryceville is where we’ve explored and enjoyed the beauty of the pine flatwoods and seepage bogs along the Cary Nature Trail.
This is the location of the S. Bryan Jennings Pavilion, built in 1972. When we visited it, it was an environmental education center with adjacent family campground.
It’s since been renovated into an open-air pavilion, and a youth group campground established elsewhere, plus a more formal campground established just south of Pavilion Road.
But the forest is now has additional tracts checked across the landscape between Bryceville and the northern Jacksonville suburbs.
In addition to the original tract, now called the Cary Tract, there are now three more: Monticello, Norfolk Southern, and Thomas Creek.
The Norfork Southern Tract is along Pritchard Rd north of Old Plank Rd. It currently only has a walk-in entrance and old roads to explore.
The Monticello Tract, which interconnects via forest roads with the Cary Tract, has a walk-in entrance at the western terminus of Garden Street.
The Thomas Creek Tract spans between US 301 and Thomas Creek Rd south of Callahan. Its forest roads are accessible from an entrance off US 301.
Although hikers are welcome to use any of the multi-use trails in Cary State Forest, only the Cary Nature Trail is designated hiking only.
It’s an easy walk on a loop through the pine flatwoods with several outstanding highlights, including a boardwalk through a cypress dome and pitcher plant bogs.
Biking and Equestrian Trails
Currently the only blazed multi-use trails are on the Cary Tract, accessed via the same trailhead as the Cary Nature Trail.
These trails are much longer, best suited for offroad biking with fat tires or for equestrian use.
The 7.8-mile Red Root Trail is the easier of the long trails for cyclists, as it follows existing forest roads. Watch for the red blazes.
The 12.2-mile Fireline Trail follows where fire lines have been built in the past, and may be again in the future. It has teal blazes.
It’s definitely best suited for equestrians, as it ventures into the swamps and wet flatwoods, but hikers are also welcome to give it a try.
Don’t wander out there without a map. Download the park map from the button at the bottom of this page to see the location of these trails. They start from the main trailhead.
With six sites, the Cary State Forest Campground is in the pine forest just south of Pavilion Drive and immediately east of US 301. Leashed pets welcome.
Given its proximity to the highway, there is some road noise but the pines help to filter it. It’s an easy walk over to the Cary Nature Trail and the S. Bryan Jennings Pavilion.
Electricity is provided at the sites, and they can accomodate either car campers, vans, or RVs in spaces up to 45′ deep. A dump station and bathhouse are nearby.
All campsites must be reserved in advance. Fee is $14 per site, up to 8 people. Your food must be protected from bears, as they roam this forest.
Seasonal hunting is permitted in a portion of Cary State Forest in accordance with FWC regulations for fall deer season and spring turkey season.
During those open seasons, other forest visitors must wear bright orange for their safety.
Please consult the FWC Hunt Dates link below for a map of permitted hunting zones and exact dates of upcoming hunts.
Hunting is not permitted in the Cary Tract, where the nature trail and campground are located.
See our photos of Cary State Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On a walk through Camp Milton Historic Preserve, discover Civil War stories through a grove of historic trees that have tales to tell beneath their leafy shade