Constructed as a tramway in the 1920s for a narrow-gauge railroad to remove massive cypress logs from the heart of the California Swamp, the Dixie Mainline Trail is one of the most remote rural routes in Florida. Along the swampy coastline of Dixie County, it is a traverse through the wilds of the Big Bend. Protected as part of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, the California Swamp is a place where tannic and salt waters meet, and where alligators are unfamiliar with human intrusion.
Length: 8.5 miles
Lat-Lon: 29.346890, -83.125159 to 29.441164,-83.187422
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: high
Open sunrise to sunset.
The mostly one-lane limestone tramway can be driven, biked, or walked. Pulloffs are infrequent. There are a few dedicated parking spots. Winter is the best time to visit due to the hefty insect population. Expect to see a lot of alligators. Do not attempt this route if the road is flooded.
At Old Town, turn left at the light to head south on CR 349. After 9.6 miles on CR 349, you enter the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Keep alert for the small brown “Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge” sign at 21.7 miles. Turn right onto the limestone road with the sign “Dixie Mainline Road Guided Trail,” and pick up an interpretive guide at the roadside kiosk (or print one out below). As you drive, don’t expect to go more than 20 MPH, and keep alert for oncoming traffic.
It’s likely you’ll want to tackle the Dixie Mainline Trail by car or on a bike, given its length. There is a grassy parking area near the western end off CR 357 if you’d prefer to walk a portion of it, and that end is the most interesting, making it a great finale for an east to west traverse. There is also a parking area at the eastern end at mile 3.3.
The trail starts out in pine plantations, which is what most of the upland areas of Dixie County have become over the past century – commercial tree plantations for logging. Where you see the “Salt Creek Point” sign, a 1.2-mile dead-end road leads to a boardwalk with a scenic view.
Once you pass through the marked gate at 3.3 miles indicating you are inside the refuge, a parking area is on the right. The habitat transitions to floodplain forest, extremely colorful during the fall months as the red maple and sweetgum show off their autumn leaves. Although the grandest of the bald cypress were logged long ago, you’ll still see massive cypresses reflected in the dark tannic waters of the slough that parallels this part of the trail. Watch for alligators and turtles along the banks and on logs.
A mid-point parking area is beyond the next road you encounter, which merges in from the north. The side roads are gated to vehicles but you can explore them on foot. Beyond the next gate, the trail takes you into a coastal savanna, a brackish habitat, as it crosses a series of one-lane bridges. The tang of the salt marsh fills the air. To the south, you see islands topped with cabbage palms and cedars.
The canopy closes in again as the floodplain forest becomes dominant. Look overhead for epiphytes in the limbs of the cypress trees. Another peek into the coastal savanna awaits as you cross Shired Creek after 6.7 miles. At the next pull-off, this one on the left, an old tramway leads into a slash pine forest.
The Dixie Mainline Trail ends at CR 357, one of the many dead-end roads found along the Big Bend. To the south is Fishbone Creek and Shired Island, where the road ends. To the north, CR 357 meets US 19 at Cross City.