Built to connect Jacksonville to Tallahassee, the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad drew a great deal of attention during the Civil War because of its value as a transportation corridor.
Early on during the war, an encampment named for Governor John Milton, Camp Milton, occupied a strategic spot along the rail line near Baldwin, where railroads met and still do today.
When Union troops occupied Jacksonville, the Confederates retreated and tore up a portion of the rail line.
The Battle of Olustee, Florida’s largest Civil War battle, occurred as Confederates waited near Ocean Pond to meet for Union troops marching west from Jacksonville.
Their goal was to follow the rail line to destroy the railroad bridge over the Suwannee River, a crucial link to Tallahassee. The Confederates pushed them back to Jacksonville.
In more recent history, the railroad was a CSX freight route. After decomissioning, it was acquired with the assistance of the state under the Rails-to-Trails program to be turned into a linear bike path.
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Eastern terminus: Jacksonville
Western terminus: Baldwin
Trailhead: 30.345345, -81.773513
Address: 1800 Imeson Rd, Jacksonville
Length: 14.6 miles linear
Restrooms: At most trailheads and at Camp Milton
Land manager: City of Jacksonville
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed pets welcome. Do not ride more that two abreast.
Surface is asphalt. Sheltered benches are provided as rest stops at regular intervals.
From the Imeson Rd trailhead westbound, the trail is in a utility easement under tall power lines, but it is flanked by forest.
Within a half mile it enters a swamp forest feeding the Cedar River. Soon after it crosses Commonwealth Ave, which can be busy at times, at an odd angle.
The overhead power lines continue as the tree-edged trail stays south of residences and just north of old mine pits. It crosses Bulls Bay Hwy at 1.1 miles, and Dolph Rd at 1.5 miles.
After Dolph Rd, the corridor is flanked by rural residences with large yards. Expect to hear some dogs barking. Residential access comes off McCaul Rd before you cross Jones Rd at 2.1 miles.
Trees help screen out the adjacent residences and mine pits as the character of the region changes, yielding to timber with planted pines.
Where the power lines end and the woods begin, it’s a relief. Within this forested corridor, cross Hannah Rd at 3.8 miles.
The trail goes beneath the overpass of Pritchard Rd at 4.4 miles, where side paths lead north and south.
Under a tightly knit canopy of oaks, the trail continues north of Whitehouse, reaching the Camp Milton Historic Preserve back entrance at 5.8 miles.
There is a restroom and bench here, as well as connecting trails into the preserve, which interprets the Civil War and early farm life in the region.
Just past the preserve, immediately after the Halsema Rd road crossing, is the Halsema Road trailhead with a covered picnic pavilion and portable toilet.
Either of these two stops make a good turnaround point for a short ride, or a good starting point westbound for a family ride that minimizes road crossings.
Now very much feeling like a rail corridor, the trail continues its very straight line before it curves slightly south on approaching Otis Rd at 7.9 miles, where there is a parking area to the south.
The next long forested stretch is interrupted only by a power line easement crossing the trail. Passing by the Brady Branch Power Station, cross its entrance road at 11 miles.
Once past the north-south power lines and back into the forest, you reach the outskirts of Baldwin in the next mile.
The trail parallels residences on Lafayette Street and crosses Palmetto Avenue before passing under US 301 and the active railroad line to arrive at Baldwin Station at 12.6 miles.
This is a nice stop with the Larry M. Carroll Memorial Park providing lots of shade and picnic tables, a railroad exhibit, restrooms, and water.
The trail continues west from here north of Baldwin down its forested corridor, interrupted visually by massive road construction to swing US 301 west of downtown as a four-lane expressway.
The trail passes under those bridges at 13.4 miles, ending at the Brandy Branch trailhead at SR 121 after 14.6 miles, where a portalet was in place and it looked like a restroom might be added.
There are five trailheads along the route. The eastern terminus at the Imeson Road trailhead is the closest access point for Jacksonville residents.
The Halsema Road trailhead is just north of the entrance to Camp Milton Historic Preserve at 1398 Halsema Rd.
It’s a very large unpaved lot with a sheltered picnic table and a portable toilet located near the entrance to the trail, which crosses Halsema Rd immediately north of the trailhead.
To the east of Baldwin, the Otis Road trailhead at 1380 Otis Rd is an unpaved parking area just south of the trail crossing along Otis Rd.
The Baldwin Station trailhead is at Larry M. Carroll Memorial Park off Center St in Baldwin. It’s housed in a replica of the old train station, with benches and tables under the open air structure.
You’ll find a permanent railroad exhibit here with a caboose as well as sheltered picnic benches set under the oaks, restrooms, and a water fountain.
The western terminus of the trail is along SR 121 north of US 90 and west of downtown Baldwin at 89 Brandy Branch Rd. It has a portalet and it looks like a restroom may be added. Don’t plan on water here.
Cyclists can also access the trail along the paved pathways of Camp Milton Historic Preserve.
Established strategically along the railroad line near its biggest junction, Camp Milton was the Confederacy’s largest and strongest field fortification in Florida.
Interpretive trails showcase the camp’s features, and are connected to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail by a paved pathway.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Protecting more than 20 square miles of forest northwest of Jacksonville, Cary State Forest has over 20 miles of marked trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use
With interconnections to adjoining public lands, the extensive trail network at Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park connects more than 15 miles of trails to many miles more
On a peninsula where the Timucua used the surrounding estuary for sustenance, Betz-Tiger Point Preserve provides more than six miles of breezy trails